The Joy in Making New & Unexpected Friends

With our busy lives, letting new people in often ranks low on our list of priorities. But what happens when we take a chance on someone? Sometimes… magic. 

by | May 29, 2019

Science has an extraordinary way of telling us what personal connections do to our brains and bodies. Whether it’s the dopamine rush or the boost of oxytocin, we chemically react positively to connection. But even with that in mind, how do I explain how I stumbled into something like love with a 75-year old man last summer?

It was just like any ordinary Friday. I was thumbing through a tabloid magazine at the convenience store when I got a text from my friend David, who told me to meet him at the sports bar around the corner for happy hour. 

I resented the fact I was so predictable, that my friend thought I’d be OK with dropping whatever I was doing on my Friday night—which, at that moment, wasn’t anything too rousing—to join him at an overcrowded sports bar. So goes the rub of having close friends who know you: they know your schedule, too.

‘Going to the jazz bar,’ I replied. ‘Meet there instead.’

I never expected David to show up at the jazz bar, but it was enough to get me through the door of a new place on my own. In his book Microadventures: Local Discoveries for Great Escapes, Alastair Humphreys suggests that thrusting ourselves out of our comfort zones—even if it is close to home—is an opportunity to add some spice to your life.

So there I was—reading the room, feeling awkward and uncomfortable and excited to be somewhere new and different. The room was crowded and the only open seat at the bar was next to a man who stood barely a foot taller than the barstool next to him.

There’s a critical moment during interactions with strangers when we convince ourselves we’ll be fine as long as we don’t make any eye contact. By avoiding eye contact, it’s easier to stay inside our private worlds, like a hermit crab retreating to its shell. We go for the automatic opt-out.

I caught his eyes on mine as I sat and smiled. He seemed unfazed as I approached.

“Evening.” He smiled openly and nodded.


“There’s a critical moment during interactions with strangers when we convince ourselves we’ll be fine as long as we don’t make any eye contact.”

He was ready for anything and nothing, entirely at peace and lit from within. He told me his name and we slid into an easy rapport for the next two hours. By the time I left, I’d learned that Howard and his wife were avid travelers over the course of their 41-year marriage, having recently returned from Cuba. In fact, he said, they were hoping to retire there within the next five years. He’d left his native British home in search of an ‘adventure of the heart,’ as he called it. I told him about my own convoluted path to Denver, memorable travels, and my own bucket list, which “Visit Cuba” had recently snuck into.

Our surprisingly intimate exchange made me feel a thousand things. Things like:

We live for connection. I’d even dare to say we are wired for connection.

Part of being human means that we come into the world needing others. We can’t survive alone. In good company, we desire to share our stories, to laugh, and to be heard. Whether we’ve only just met or we’ve been friends for a lifetime, we need each other. Seriously, human connection is essential to our social health and our overall well-being.

Love is closer than we think.

It’s important to know what we want, but it’s also just as important that we don’t hold so tightly onto our preconceptions about what love and life should look like. Howard was unexpected, but Howard was also surprisingly delightful. Had I allowed myself to be so limited, to only see him through the lens of my assumptions and expectations, I would have missed out on the gift of his presence. 

Love comes in many forms.  

There’s the kind of love we talk about when we think of family and friends who know and support us unconditionally. There’s also the love we feel from life itself — nature, for example, when we allow ourselves to be receptive to it. Yet there’s another kind of love: the pure experience of acceptance and genuine connection in the eyes of a stranger. It renews all assumptions we might have held about where and when we let someone new in.

We need to give love.

How often do we give ourselves to people and pastimes that hinder growth? What if we allowed ourselves to express love in ways both big and small with the understanding that love only expands when we give it? How different might our lives look if we let go of our flimsy agendas and began cultivating love just because we can?

Wellness 3.0: Dr. Rachel Abrams | Wired for Connection

Podcast: Understanding the Human Animal, Love, and Right Relationship

Dr. Rachel Abrams joins Wellness 3.0 to discuss the evolution of the human animal, the science of connectedness, our need for social ties, and right relationship. As humans, social relationships are integral to our social health and holistic wellness, and we may just be in a cultural crisis.

Like I said, I never expected David to meet me at the jazz bar that night, but I owe him big time for helping me create an adventure of the heart that I didn’t even know I needed. I may never see Howard again, and I know we made each other’s nights because we engaged in meaningful conversation and truly connected. In two hours’ time we became the unlikeliest of friends. Befriending Howard was a powerful reminder of the many reasons why it’s so important to take the risk of friendship—and love in the purest sense—whenever we can. I love Howard for re-kindling that inclination in me, and I’ll make sure to tell him so myself if I ever make it to Havana.

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