Musings on Mormonism

In search of good conversation

Let it be known: I really like hearty conversation. Unfortunately, for some reason it is very hard to find in this world.

So, today on the way home from work on the train, I was fortunate enough to have a nice, friendly, and surprisingly satisfying conversation. Here’s what happened:

I was sitting behind a girl that I thought was pretty, but she was reading a book. Past experience trying to talk with people, especially pretty girls, reading things on the train has made me a little wary of trying to strike up conversation, as their motivation for reading is usually some combination of a) they are really digging their book and b) they don’t want to talk to you or anyone else (although it might be just you exclusively)*. Anyway, I kept trying to muster up the courage and boldness to talk with her, but in a way that wasn’t too bothersome (somehow being pleasantly bold is, I feel, the great challenge of approaching strangers), and just couldn’t do it. She was reading a book about flowers and looked like she was really into it**.


So my eyes started to wander in search of something I could comment on to bring up some conversation, with the book-reading girl or someone else (it’s really helpful to have some sort of neutral object or happening to comment on to start up conversation). Across the aisle, I saw a woman in uniform with a Seattle Seahawks lunchbox – I was born in Seattle and grew up in Portland! This was the “in” I was waiting for!seattle-seahawks-rugAs soon as she turned in my direction to look at something, I asked if she was from the Pacific Northwest. It turned out she was and, because she was friendly, open, interested in talking, and we had interesting topics to discuss (east coast vs. west coast culture, her military experience, and her lunchbox), a very pleasant conversation ensued. In fact, the conversation just flowed, without any awkward pauses to speak of (an uncommon treat!). Soon enough, her stop came, and our conversation ended, on a rushed, albeit positive, note. I seriously doubt I’ll ever see her again, but I hope both she and I will have many more such pleasant encounters with people.

Afterwards, it left me wondering, with gratitude and curiosity rather than wistfulness and disappointment, why such seemingly chance but fulfilling interactions are so rare***? And why, when they do happen, are they so distinctly enjoyable? Perhaps they are a tender mercy shown to me by the Lord, who knows how much I love and appreciate being engaged with people and understands how deeply I experience the absence or deficiency of human contact and interaction. Any thoughts or related experiences, friends?

*One experience in particular sticks out in my mind – I saw a not-unattractive girl reading “Freakonomics” and I thought “Cool, that girl likes economics, she must be smart! And I’ve read that book, so I have an in!” Pleasantly but not without some boldness, I asked how she liked the book – she gave me a very brief, nondescript response, and as I hadn’t read the book in quite some time and she didn’t give me much to work with , I couldn’t come up with any sort of interesting comment to keep the interaction going. So it ended. Truthfully, I think she really wanted to read her book and really didn’t want to talk to me.

**Part of me wondered if her apparent absorption in her book was somewhat self-consciously affected because of the mysteriously handsome half-Asian guy eying her and her book from the seat behind. The egoist in me thinks that is precisely what it was πŸ™‚

***unfortunately, they seem especially rare among the exceptionally pretty girls, which makes my chances of wooing and marrying an exceptionally pretty girl pretty slim (that, and many other reasons of course).


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  1. * Greg says:

    Great Post Bryce!
    I had similar experiences during the YSA New Years Dance. But I was usually the one to start the interaction I don’t know if it’s Boldness or Stupidity, but I do it anyway. I usually started the conversation on which ward they attended, how their new years eve was and overall what they were all about. I met a lot of new faces and some old ones from previous encounters at that same Marriott or a YSA function. But I do have a question for you, what is your definition of “pretty”, is it just your personal attraction to a certain girl. I say this because every girl is pretty, but it’s the way they conduct themselves that make them beautiful. And of course in the church that’s a 10 out of 10.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  2. * Mark says:

    The idea of two perfect strangers meeting at random never to meet again fascinates me. It is terribly unfortunate that social rules dictate that we never communicate with someone we meet in passing again, unless we meet them again, at random chance. Old friendships can seem to grow boring quickly, especially when it is so hard to find those that you hit it off with.

    Good Post Bryce.
    And yes, I give you permission to laugh a little today, if you really want to.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  3. * Bryce says:

    Interesting remarks, amigos! Mark, thanks for the permission to laugh a little today. I think I might know what you mean about those social rules – if you’re too forward about indicating interest in seeing a person you’ve just met again at a later date, they might get spooked, so usually it’s good form just to play it cool and say “see ya around!” But then you might never see them again! Fortunately, the LDS community, interconnected as it is, makes future chance encounters much more likely. But outside the LDS circle, unless you work with the person, or go to the same bus stop every day, etc., once you say goodbye it’s goodbye for good 😦 I am also fascinated by chance meetings of strangers. Looking back, I can really see that I’ve been blessed with a lot of these chance encounters which have ended up turning into really great friendships. It makes me want to better define “chance encounter”, because I think there is more than just chance at work.

    Greg, I love that you don’t let the boldness/stupidity ambiguity keep you from putting yourself out there and meeting people! I think we miss out on many opportunities when we get caught up with carefully keeping up appearances (and I, for one, hate missing out on opportunities!). I suppose the argument could be rightly made that stupidity or tactlessness merit careful avoidance, which I agree with and have had to work to incorporate into my life, but anyway, that’s great that you got to make new friends and keep the old at the dance. As for my definition of “pretty”, I hadn’t really stopped to think about it before, but I think I agree with you that it is primarily about physical appearance (if that is what you meant by “personal attraction”). I think “cute” and “beautiful” are more holistic terms which take into account the whole person, not just what they look like but what they do and are.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  4. * Eleesha says:

    How did I not know you had a blog? It’s interesting how you value conversations so much. I only like talking to strangers on planes or in lines when I can’t otherwise be doing something that I find more productive like reading a book. Good to know your perspective. Perhaps I should change my perspective and view the world in a new light.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  5. * Bryce says:

    Eleesha, I don’t know how you didn’t know I had a blog – I’m sure I told you once (I think it was in a gchat, so you were probably simultaneously thinking about doing something productive, like reading a book!). Don’t get me wrong, I definitely have my pensive, introverted moments when I just want to be left alone, but overall I do place a pretty high priority on being connected and involved with people (and as a result, it makes me less productive – I think it is an interesting psychological and economic tradeoff). I would wholeheartedly recommend branching out in your perspective (not just you – we all ought to readjust our perspectives in some way). I strongly believe that missionary work in the Church will finally blossom as President Hinckley envisioned as we become more warm and open in our interactions with people, but not before. I think I’ll write about that some time.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago

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