March 12, 2012

Telling Strangers Our Life Stories

You know that familiar scene. Budget rom-com, man just been dumped during honeymoon. He heads over to the holiday resort bar and the unsuspecting barman just trying to do his job has now turned into this depressed man’s new best friend. Slumped on the counter, the nice barman says ‘it’s alright mate, I’m all ears’, but really is trying to tell him he’s probably had enough, and hiccuping/crying at the bar probably won’t win his bird back. 

This scene is no doubt exaggerated for comic effect and I feel I mashed up a scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall with a bit of He’s Just Not That into You: both main characters complain to complete strangers in bars who actually end up getting some really solid love-life advice that helps turn their ship around.

So how is it that actually the most unfamiliar people can give you the best advice?

This weekend, I went on my very first hen party weekend. Yes, a veil and L plate were involved and funny games, but it was civilised, relaxing with a stocked up fridge of yummy food and enough wine to last a month which of course was consumed very quickly as we got overexcited about our weekend away. We had a lovely lady visit us on the Saturday to cure us of our hangovers by giving us manicure/pedicures. Very chatty and upbeat, we sat in the chair and each began unravelling stories as she made our feet look pretty. We had only just met her, but she had a warm personality we each found we had lots in common with her and she asked the questions that sometimes your friends might forget to ask. 

I found myself unable to stop and asking what she thought about certain situations regarding career, boys, star-signs, well, and life. I’m not suggesting the conversation was life-changing, but she was able to give an honest objective opinion on the stuff I was saying and answering with heaps of life experience and without any real attachment to the situation. She told us that doing her job visiting people she’d hear all kinds of stories: funny ones, awkward ones and downright tragic ones. But the beauty of it, is  unlike actual therapy, she doesn’t have to take the problems home with her, and her clients don’t have to worry about who she’d tell. It is a straight forward matter of a frank conversation where both parties leave afterwards without having to think about it again.

It made me wonder: sometimes when we ask our friends, parents, colleagues what they think, and most of the time of course the advice is brilliant. But, there must be times when they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or they say a certain response because they think it’s for the best or they are too close to the situation.

I’ve also realised I’m quite partial to confiding in random people. I once exchanged the details of something bothering me during a tube journey from Victoria all the way home to Seven Sisters to a total stranger next to me. Luckily he didn’t seem to mind and was rather polite in listening to me waffle on. I asked what he’d do in the same situation. We then parted ways when reaching our separate destinations and bid each other a goodnight, the problem was magically solved. All I needed was someone uninvolved to state the complete obvious.

SO, this made me think of something else (I do that a lot apparently); and that is the way people use Twitter. Seems to me that people are more than happy to tell their followers (many of whom they will have never met) the ins and outs of their daily life: the annoying boss, the embarrassing moment in Starbucks, the boy they fancy on the Tube, what colour socks they’re wearing. I asked someone the other day if they’d post the same information on Facebook. They said no. It’s because, strangely, they’d feel more judged by the close network on there than the people who quietly listen from afar. Ironic really.

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