“Now Why Don’t She Write.”
For those old enough to remember the movie Dances With Wolves, one of the early laugh lines, tinged with sadness, is when the foul mule driver Timmons comes upon stagecoach people who had been killed by Indians. They’re out in the middle of the sweeping Dakota prairie, oceans of yellow billowing in the breezes.
“People back home are saying, NOW WHY DON’T SHE WRITE,” Timmons says with black humor. Of course, he suffers the same fate himself later, but at least demonstrates love for his precious mules.
I wonder the same thing, but in a different context, when I meet genuinely interesting people, give them my business card, and never hear anything again.
Over this past year, I have met engaging people in various settings, often shopping at TJ Maxx or in a grocery store. I usually carry my business cards with me. I hand one over, after this person, almost always another woman, and I have had a lengthy, lively conversation. There’s clearly a connection. Well. Okay, for me anyway. She says she’ll be in touch.
She almost never writes. Or texts, or emails or calls. They rarely have a card, so I can’t follow up.
I know she doesn’t have an arrow in her back in the middle of the Dakota prairie.
So what gives here? Why do people clearly state their interest and not bother to follow up?
Many folks seem to have a very hard time opening their circles up to new friends. If you’ve ever been to a networking event, you’ve seen how people can gather in tight cliques. It can be very intimidating to join one when everyone’s back is to you. It feels like high school politics writ large.There are ways to break into those groups, but this is different.
You have to wait for someone to choose, at a distance, to continue the connection, or to respond to your outreach, if you tagged first.
People can be terrified of what’s new. Even if they really want a brand-new friend, the effort it takes to make one is more than they’re prepared to make. It requires an investment, as well as being curious enough to want to explore and expand their own friendship boundaries.
This morning I got a tap on the virtual shoulder from Erin Gartner, whom I had met at the Khongor Guest House in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia, in early September. She and her partner Jan Bryan are adventuring the world and sharing their tales. I wrote this piece about them on Medium because so many people want to do this kind of thing. We exchanged contact information. I just got back. Erin tagged me first.
This is the exception. Erin, Jan and I have a lot in common, and while that doesn’t always argue for a continued connection, in certain ways what which makes us different tends to bind us faster than those things that people want to know which make them comfortable. Safe.
Where do you work, what kind of work, kids, blah blah. The vetting process. In many ways, the verbal version of approaching a stranger with the hand held up or out, open-palmed, to show that there are no weapons.
Jan and Erin recently went hurtling down a Siberian river. Next year I am headed to Siberia to travel by horse with my favorite folks at Zavkhan Trekking.
You see my point here. Perhaps because I’m a journalist and author, I am always and forever on the lookout for the stories people inhabit and how what makes them different defines and drives their lives.
People like Erin and Jan, who are already out seeking different, are also interested in those doing similar things. That expands their world rather than threatens it. They’re hardly worried about being out-cooled by someone else. They’re already damned cool themselves.
As is each and every one of us in our own ways.
Yesterday I connected with the extraordinary Margaret Kruger, who is a pilot, rider, diver and much more. We intersected across many spheres. Those things clinched a friendship, and like other folks on Medium ( Ann Litts, Terri Ducay) I intend to meet her and continue that relationship.
Others may be intrigued, briefly, but because of some deep discomfort or the pain of feeling small by comparison to you or me, they take our cards, smile, nod, promise and promptly nod off somewhere in the safety of their sameness.
This isn’t a criticism. It is, however, an admonishment to not take such behavior and implied rejection personally. We are very tribal, and as such, increasingly, we like to hang with our own. For some the world feels like a threatening place, and just easier to retreat to and stay within the boundaries of well-defined human territory.
If you have ever been scammed (my hand is up) raped or assaulted (my hand is way way up) or badly treated by society, whether because of your skin color, religion, lifestyle choices or gender identity, the compulsion to play hermit crab and keep close to those who know us best can be pretty strong. And in many ways, well-justified.
But hiding out doesn’t always pay the kinds of dividends we think it will. The appearance of safe can also lead to serious bouts- well justified- of FOMO.
Our confidence never grows, we play small, and we don’t meet folks whose lives might be the awesome sauce we needed to spice up our existence. The very inspiration you and I need to crawl out of our existing shells and find a bigger one which allows expansion.
When I joined the Army, this happened when a captain in my office insisted that I come out to the drop zone. It was 1974. In no time, I was skydiving. Talk about a game-changer.
As someone who has suffered from social anxiety and found ways to work with those feelings, I have found that by chasing down, being curious about and befriending interesting folks, they have by example and through friendship opened doors, inspired me to do incredible things and live a life that many envy. I was a journalist in the Army. I had to go interview folks to get a story. That taught me to deal with my inner demons. The gift was that I discovered that everybody has a story. Often, a very good one.
I have also found that because generous folks liberally sprinkled fairy dust on my existence, it is my turn to give back. Lots of folks could care less, ain’t interested, and Please. Just. Go. Away.
Fine by me. This isn’t about gathering ego points for being considered awesome (or whatever ego need we’re trying to feed). What I like to do is share and connect people, gear ideas, adventures, and the resources that have added value to me. What gets me excited are people who decide to take The Big Leap, whatever that may be, and that leap re-frames their lives.
The next time I head to Florida to visit my cousin in Naples, I hope to swing by and see Maggie, if she’s not out flying. Or if she is perhaps she will let me sit right seat. And let me hang upside down in the straps if we do barrel rolls over the Gulf of Mexico. I can almost guarantee you that by the time I get back to wherever I may be living at the time, I am likely to a take trip out to my local puddle jumper airport to see who’s instructing, logbook in hand, ready to get that damned VFR rating that I left by the wayside thirty years ago.
People you like ignoring you? NEXT. The world, and Medium, are chock-full of fascinating folks. I have found that most respond to friendly and respectful outreaches. They often become article inspiration and fodder, and by virtue of their own engaging existence, they are just as curious about you and me because they know their value.