I have a confession to make: I’ve always been oddly, unhealthily obsessed with the notion of strangers.
You know the ones, sitting idly opposite you on the subway to work, reading that book you bought but never got around to. Perhaps it was that well-put-together looking devil who shot you a dimpled grin in line on your lunch break, or the cute barista whose eyes lingered on yours for just a moment too long as he handed back your change, just long enough to telepathically shout “Hey, you! We’d get along real great!”
We’ve all met them, the infamously elusive and under-studied Stranger Soulmate.
In the brief amount of time it takes to reach your train station, hit the front of the lunch line, or collect your latte, you’ve somehow managed to project an intricate life together with this person, and, as you obviously know nothing about them, you kindly, thoughtfully, take the initiative of filling in the blanks. You’ve always been good like that.
His parents probably live on a small property in the country, he’s probably an artist whose love for foreign cinema is matched only by his passion for classic literature and unusual penchant for Sylvia Plath quotes. He probably has two younger brothers, instilling in him a rare and endearing maternal disposition; and, whats more, he’s probably looking to settle down with someone- someone just like you (insert game-show cheering!)
Sure, in reality you know nothing about him other than the fact he’s got a crooked gap between his teeth, a freckle on his middle finger, an adventurer’s tan and kind eyes – but it doesn’t matter. In that fleeting moment, he’s everything you didn’t know you’d always wanted. Surely enough, though, as quickly as he arrives, the cruel tide of everyday life takes over and he’s gone—the idea of him is sucked back to a sea of lost potential and unfulfilled promise.
This is when most emotionally stable humans let out a simple, defeated sigh, shrug and return to their lives as mature, responsible adults. I am not one of these people. While others might surrender happily to the natural currents of life, my love is a boat that swings and turns bow first into the fickle breeze of romance.
I hold on—oh boy, do I hold on. I hold on like a starving man might hold on to a bagel, like a returning soldier might hold on to his newborn son. Like building a sandcastle with loose, dry sand, I push for a connection with these oblivious bystanders. I refuse to let go, to realize their inherent roles as passers-by. I stare nervously, I scribble my number onto crinkled napkins, I concoct intricate plans to “accidentally” bump into them on the street where I’ll gasp “Oh, sorry, let me grab that for you,” and they’ll reply, “Sure, but only if you let me buy you a drink”.
So far these futile attempts at inducing love have failed to eventuate into anything more than a pitiful nod, which leaves me wondering: why do I do it?
Most people underestimate the significance of a moment. The paradox of a moment is that an instant in time can be more significant than the sum of all moments up until then. Perhaps this is the root of my obsession: a romanticism for the speed at which life can change and the desire for it to do so.
You see, I quite honestly believe that every stranger we pass on the street is a connection lost. Every stranger holds the potential to divert our direction, be it for a day or a lifetime. Call it the butterfly effect, sliding doors, whatever—it’s an idea that I find both incredibly liberating and terrifying at the same time.
This casual determinism is my way of rebelling against the fatalistic views of love instilled in us from birth. Does popular culture not force-feed us the belief that love is a divine destination predetermined for a mere lucky few? Am I so terrified by the prospect of missing out that I’ve grown obsessed with forcing fate’s hand?
I suppose you could argue that these glorified strangers—the ones we fall for in fleeting silence—they’re the necessary catalyst for the unattainable notion of some cinematic, utopian idea of happiness, a counterweight to the often depressive nature of being an over-thinking, 20-something romantic. It’s as soothing as it is frustrating. It is the ability to consciously shift our scorned affections onto the mere projection of a person: someone who can’t let you down, someone who can’t hurt you.
It’s only when these encounters leave you feeling empty—as though, in all your giddiness, you stupidly missed destiny’s cue—that one must grow weary of their romantic disposition and accept that maybe, just maybe, fate need not have its hand forced after all.