About 6 years ago we were sitting in an outdoor cafe in Barcelona sipping on sangria like all good tourists do, wondering what we should see next. It was late fall, and tourism had dropped substantially, leaving the cafe empty except for us.
A couple in their early 50s came outside and made a beeline for our table. We both wondered why they would come over to sit so close to us when the entire place was empty, and we were doubly shocked when they stopped at our table and asked to join us.
“Uh, sure,” was about all we could muster. What kind of people do this?
They were seasoned travelers, having been all over the world as they carved out an incredibly adventurous life in between their careers and rearing children. We were fascinated by their stories, especially because they looked so average. We thought lifestyles like that only belonged to super-rich or glamorous people.
As we were winding up the conversation they asked where we lived and we told them, and they mentioned wanting to come to Seattle at some point. We told them they should, it was a great place, and of course we would love to see them if they did.
This is when it got awkward.
They gave us their contact information and asked for ours, and we hedged, saying we left our business cards back at the hotel. You see, we didn’t actually mean it when we said we’d love to see them, at least not in the “let’s make plans now” kind of way. Didn’t we need more time to get to know each other first?
(Kind of a strange thought when you realize there was no more opportunity to get to know each other if we didn’t exchange contact information.)
“How weird was that?” we thought afterward. Can you imagine coming up to random strangers and then making plans with them so soon after meeting? We failed to make the connection between their social habits and the incredible life they lived.
When we left Barcelona, we emptied their contact information in the trash along with all our receipts and other loose paper. We shut the door on a new relationship before it even had a chance to start.
Making the First Move
Fast forward to today, where we are sitting in a 150-year-old farmhouse in the hills of Slovenia with Russ and Michelle, a couple we didn’t even know a year ago. We met them in Thailand last fall.
These strangers became fast friends as we shared our time in Thailand. But would it last after we parted, when life was less convenient?
Before they left, they mentioned this caretaking job in Slovenia 7 months down the road and said we should look them up if we came that way. We casually agreed we would and said our goodbyes, not even knowing if we’d be in Europe at the same time.
So what changed between meeting the couple in Barcelona and meeting Michelle and Russ in Thailand?
(Click here if you don’t see the video below. And listen to the intro music – that’s our friend Russ playing and singing!)
It’s a particular North American thing to say “I’ll call you” or “we should get together sometime” as a parting comment. We don’t really mean it most of the time, and even when we do, we don’t mean it enough to make concrete plans.
Without that date on the horizon for a phone call, dinner date, or afternoon stroll, it simply won’t happen. Your good intentions get covered up in the busy-ness of life, and before long weeks or months or years have passed and the opportunity to extend the friendship, deepen the bond, or make the first move has vanished.
I would love to reconnect with that couple we met in Barcelona, if only to tell them how much their actions impacted us at a time when we were just starting to question our way of living. We can now see the connection between the fabulous life experiences they shared and their willingness to make the first move in creating new friendships and shared experiences.
It works the same way in your life, whether you travel or not. When you meet someone interesting but don’t follow through, you lose the opportunity to add them to your life.
- That funny woman at the cocktail party who would be so perfect in your circle of friends is just a fond memory if you don’t follow up. All it would take to make it a reality is a warm invitation to your next book club.
- The guy who explained how to perfectly grill the eggplant from your garden at the grocery store is just someone to briefly recall the next time you fire up the grill if you don’t do something. Imagine how many gardening and cooking tips you could share by inviting him over to your next BBQ.
- That couple at the baseball game who loves the team and hotdogs as much as you do will likely be sitting somewhere else next time you score tickets. Why not ask them to tailgate next time or invite them to watch the playoffs with you at your local pub?
It’s Your Move
This transition is a mental hurdle that requires just one simple action in the moment. (You know how much we love deadlines to spur action.)
As you go about your week, mentally add a deadline to your “good intention” thoughts and statements. When you think, “I need to call him,” put it on the calendar to make it happen on Tuesday at 4:00 pm. When you run into an old friend at the grocery store and can’t remember why you drifted apart, ask her to join you for a walk around the park on Saturday morning to catch up. When you meet someone interesting for the first time, make a followup plan to connect again before you leave, even by email.
Most people are not good at this. In fact, you will likely be the instigator of all your interactions at first. Don’t let this dissuade you.
In a worst-case scenario, the new friendship doesn’t start or the other person doesn’t respond or timing just doesn’t work, which is the exact same thing that would have happened had you done nothing.
Every other possible scenario includes a blossoming new friendship and a lifetime to make memories together, potentially in a beautiful old farmhouse in scenic Slovenia.
If you cringe at the idea of making the first move, check out our book, Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident for a primer on speaking up.
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Many thanks to Eurail, who provided the train passes we’re using to complete the European leg of our adventure. The best way to see Europe is by train, especially if you’re lucky enough to travel through the German and Austrian countryside to come to Slovenia.