Strangers on a Plane (Friend-Working)


I have a new friend. We met a year ago today on an airplane. She was flying into Boston for work, and I was on my way home from a school reunion. We’d both dressed in our ‘plane’ clothing and had books to read, with no intention of anything other than keeping ourselves individually occupied during the flight (like most people do).

Somehow, we started talking. Then our conversation continued off the plane and into my waiting friend’s car until we dropped her off downtown. The conversation was an assortment of personal observations, interspersed with information on what to do in Boston.  If I hadn’t had to rush home that day, the three of us would have probably spent the afternoon together.  I knew nothing about her as far as the basics go (age, marital status, number of children, etc.); I just knew that we talked well together, and I enjoyed it. Before we parted, we exchanged Facebook information. I told her to take a picture of herself near a specific statue and post it for me before the day was over (which she did. Good girl!).

After that, there were the occasional comments on posts, the ‘likes’ and the random base-touching that everyone on Facebook shares.

Two days ago she was in town again. Through Facebook she let me know ahead of time in case we could get together. I picked her up from the airport and we got to spend a few short hours together in a whirlwind tour of Boston.  

How great is that?

At one point I thanked her for reaching out to me to let me know she’d be coming back, and we talked about how some people could consider it unusual to randomly take up with a stranger like we did with each other.  I think she said that even her husband was slightly surprised that she was making plans with ‘that girl she met on the plane’.

She is my friend.  I knew that almost as soon as we started talking on the flight last year. If her trips to Boston continue as annually as they seem to be starting out to be, I expect to see her each time she’s in town (I have her next two visits planned out already), and I need to start thinking about a trip to Minnesota (but not until the statue of Mary Tyler Moore is back up).

Who ever really knows what will come out of meeting or interacting with a person for the first time?

Friendship is often taken for granted; the first reason is probably because most of them begin geographically – who lives closest to you, or whose desk is closest to yours in class.  Then, friendships become almost situational, circumstantial, and organization-based – who you work with, people who share the same marital or parental status, and activity/theme/church-exclusive groupings.

After we ‘grow up’ we narrow those groupings further down by cherry-picking the people we want to spend the most time with and call only those people friends. We become regular in our habits and lifestyles, and even in those isolated relationships.

For some, friendship turns into responsibility, where it becomes conditional and based on how much time is invested.  Or, it becomes compartmentalized and sorted – like everything else in our lives – in order of importance.

It’s a shame that we forget how to play when we get caught up in our own situations. Do you remember how easy it was to just jump into play with another child at a park? As grownups, we forget how easy that was – or, how actually necessary it still is. We get so bogged down with life that we even forgo outings with friends for a night inside to relax, forgetting how much more we can get out of just playing. I know there have been many times that I’d made arrangements in advance with friends, yet when the night came up I “didn’t feel like it.” The result is always one of two things: I don’t go out and later on wish I had, or I do go out and realize “I should do this more often.”

We even whittle down our groups of friends. Do our friends have to be organized? Bounded? Limited? I find it funny that even on Facebook, where friendships take so little maintenance, that people feel the need to shorten their friends list simply because they have too many and they don’t talk to all of them enough. Too many friends?

There is no such thing as too many friends. If you know that it is really true that a smile can change someone’s day, then you have to be able to see the possibility of one distant acquaintance saying the right something to you at the right moment that has a great impact on you.

We become complacent in our friendships, forgetting how necessary they are until there is some major and unfortunate upheaval in our lives (like divorce or death) – it is only then that we realize how important it is to have friends around us, when we are looking for someone to lean on, and we learn that anyone can be a true friend.

Old friendships provide ground-bases and the comfort of familiarity; new friends provide new perspectives and experiences. Keeping some of them closer than others does not de-value the possibility of impact from those in outermost circles.

There have been so many personal habits adopted as good business tactics (establishing connections, proper greetings, maintaining contact, communication and even apologies). Making the business more personal will improve the business itself. The funny twist is that now these good habits have become largely business practices only. Business journals emphasize the importance of networking, developing contacts and interacting with as many others as you can to improve your career or business, but what about friend-working? Friend-working improves your life.

I don’t believe in coincidences as random occurrences; I believe that they are meant, and that every interaction with a new person is significant. I’m fortunate to have many friends in many different circles (and I enjoy mixing them up together). I have one friend I’ve known since high school; we’ve never really hung out, but we had a random hour together at a bus station shortly after graduation that I will never forget, and she will always be very special to me (I see her only very occasionally now); I have another friend I ‘met’ through a misdirected email – two years later I met her for the first time in person at my wedding, and now 15 years later with no face-to-face contact since (and no marriage, either), we are still very close.

(Don’t get me started on my ‘regular’ friends!)

You never know who is destined to be a part of your life, whether it be solely in the memory of the encounter itself or an actual, lasting friendship (even with limited contact). Their significance lies in the connection felt between you – and, yes, this can be simply a matter of situation and timing, of different stages each are at in life at the time.

Look around you. Smile. Talk to people. Anyone can be your friend.

Everyone can be your friend.

Even a good one.

(Thank you, Jennifer.)

The Man That Got Away

I have a playlist that begins with Judy Garland singing that song, “The Man That Got Away”. The next song is always “One Less Bell to Answer” by Marilyn McCoo and the Fifth Dimension; the next song is always Marty Balin’s “Hearts”.  I started this playlist back in the days of mixtapes, before I even had any type of first-hand experience with good-love-gone-bad, and it segued its way onto my first mp3 player and onto my iPod now. Those three songs in particular – the staples of the list – have always drawn me in with that relatable sadness, even without the practical knowledge.

The man … the one … that got away.  We all have one, right? That one demon, lurking behind the scenes, the one who the mere thought of can send your mind into a tailspin. You can be the most ‘together’ act on the planet, yet within seconds of contact with this person you are Sophie Fisher in Music and Lyrics (portrayed with painfully embarrassing precision by Drew Barrymore) when she runs into her old flame – an incoherent, babbling mess.

What is it about this person we’ve held onto? And why is it that the mere thought of that person can wreak such havoc with our minds?

As much as I’ve loved those songs my whole life, I resented most of the lyrics – it’s the same resentment I have towards everyone’s favorite movie line from Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.”

That’s not how it should be!! (I feel strongly enough about that to add two exclamation points!) I concede to a point that there is a certain romance to it, in the way that if you feel very strongly for another person that you know that they return the same depth of feeling – but to think that another person is needed to feel complete is actually quite sad. 

Feeling that way means that you will spend your life searching – for your own personal puppet master.  Life is about having experiences, and not waiting for ‘the right person’ to come along and give them to you. What if you never find that ‘right’ person? Will you settle for someone who’s almost right? How is it that we are made to believe that the quality of our lives is dependent on other people? In the name of love?

People grow and change on a daily basis (then again, some don’t); how is it that we feel the right to put upon someone else the responsibility of making us happy? Wouldn’t that restrict their own evolution?

The personal changes we go through that come about through experience can also directly affect a romantic entanglement, if the two aren’t moving at the same pace. Some relationships are only meant to be temporary.

I can hear many people arguing with me now that “if two people want to stay together, they will work at it.” While that statement isn’t totally wrong, it’s not totally right, either; not in the way that most people mean.

Love of any kind is effortless. You know that, because it happens that way. Can you really be specific in answering the question, “Why do you love – ?” Your answer is always a curious combination of reasons; however, if you took stock of the people around you that you care about you will find that you have pretty much the same reasons for caring about them – just in different amounts, but the person you ‘love’ always has one little element that you can’t quite explain, something that puts them in higher regard than the others. Did you have to work at that? No, it came naturally.

The ‘work’ a relationship needs is simple consideration for your partner – and that is how you need to look at the other: as a partner. Neither is ‘in charge’. Whoever takes the reins in some instances cedes them in others, playing off of each other’s individual strengths and still allowing the other to be his or her own individual. We are only able to provide this consideration for another if we have the same consideration for ourselves. This is why we must each be complete on our own. This is the element that makes relationships effortless. You can’t pour from an empty cup – that is work, and that is the ‘work’ people are really referring to regarding relationships, whether they know it or not. If you are not whole on your own, it is hard to be what makes someone else whole. Whether you desire to do that for them or they expect that from you, it is a heavy responsibility.

Have you ever known someone who changes like a chameleon with every new relationship he or she is in? That person is denying individuality and sense of self in sacrifice to ‘the relationship’. That is also a measure of work, and eventually the effort it takes will become too much.


Happiness is a choice. It is for everything else; it is also a choice in a relationship – and that choice can only be made by each party in the relationship. You can’t sell anyone something they don’t want to buy; you can’t convince anyone of anything unless they already believe it on some level. If someone doesn’t want to be happy, they won’t be, no matter what anyone else does for them.

So, here I am. I know what I just said, and I believe every word of it. And there is still that … nudge of occasional melancholy when I think about that one. Am I unhappy? No. Am I lonely? No.  So, why, then?

I was talking to a new friend, one who doesn’t know me as well as others do and who does not know him. She said, “It’s because you’re human.”

You know what? That is not an answer I can accept. First of all, I’d already accepted my ‘human-ness’ when I admitted to being hurt by the end of the relationship (and, boy, was that a hard pill to swallow!); secondly, it’s really not an answer, because it still perpetuates the idea that it should be ‘normal’ for us to want to give our power away.

I believe that we are here to experience life, and that includes its polarity. I definitely got both sides of the experience! Doesn’t dwelling negatively on the past imply regret? I don’t regret the relationship. I learned a lot about myself then – and even more afterward. I can even honestly say that I enjoy what I’ve gained since then (even if the lesson hurt at the time).

I have this crazy, flip-side way of thinking occasionally, that questions whether or not my fascination with the ‘man that got away’ music could have actually drawn the experience into my life in some strange, cosmic way – I can picture my higher consciousness laughing at me, “Well, you asked for it!” 

(Although I have to admit that when it did happen, I was at an age beyond when I thought it would have! I guess I expected myself to know better when I was older.)

I do realize, too, that (because I am human) the lower, negatively-charged thoughts can spring up when I’m overtired, stressed, or hormonally challenged. Spiraling downward on a bad day or during tough circumstances is normal – another reason we need to keep ourselves happy all on our own to prevent the downslide from going too far down.    

My friend asked me if he knew I thought of him that way. I had two simultaneous thoughts: He has to know; I’ve made it painfully obvious and Does it matter? This is not about him; it’s about me!

I did give that question further thought, though; more from the perspective of whether or not I would want to know if someone felt that way about me.

Honestly, I don’t think I want to know. It would make me feel bad – or worse, it could make me feel pity.

That last thought was a slap in the face – I do not want to be pitied! Yes, my ego is standing straight up at that thought. I don’t deserve anyone’s pity – for anything. Especially not something that my ultimate happiness, my existence, doesn’t depend on.

If I am responsible for my own happiness, then it is not the thought of him that gets me down occasionally; it is something in me. If it is some kind of lack I am feeling, it is up to me to fill it, because it’s no one else’s job to do that for me. I do realize the freedom in knowing that, too.  

I’m actually more complete now. So, then, what did I lose?

But fools will be fools…”

— shut up, Judy.

We are not here to ‘catch’ other people.

And that means that no one ‘gets away.’

So, I’m good.

(I still love those songs, though.)

(You should hear me sing them!)

hbr