h2>Dating : Let us listen.
This wasn’t the first time a stranger had started a conversation with me on public transport. The last time I think I was on a London bus passing King’s Cross. But this time it was on the F Uptown Metro heading into Manhattan.
If you know me well, you will probably know I’m not one for turning down a seat on the metro. I live by the motto that I like to stay as still as possible and I’ll take a seat over standing any day (by the way, you’d be surprised how much you can still exercise whilst trying to stay as still as possible). So when I saw a seat become available on my commute this morning I gladly sat down. As usual I found my book in my bag, opened it to my bookmark, and folded the paperback cover over.
In the next minute or so I heard someone next to me ask if they could see the cover in a very cautious but interested voice. I looked up as they spoke and started to smile, peeling the cover back to reveal ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ by Brené Brown. The sub-title caught my neighbours eye “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be…” she recited quietly before trailing off into a new sentence. “Do you mind if I read over your shoulder?” “Not at all, you are welcome to take a picture of the cover too if you like? Brené has many books so you might like this one or one of her others” I replied. At this point, my neighbour started to explain her current predicament whilst searching for her phone. And it’s at this point that I started to listen.
“I have a neighbour who loves to create drama you know…” She spoke whilst we made eye contact. The neighbour two floors above her had too much time on her hands and found any excuse to call to ask if she noticed a smell of smoke, or bleach in the ventilation; if she needed help organising her home or other household tasks. These comments or suggestions bothered my fellow commuter so much that she described feeling utterly devastated by the passive aggressive remarks. “I can’t just let it go like normal people” She insisted as I continued to nod in acknowledgement. We had passed 6 or 7 stations already by now. “It’s just I have insecurities, and I suffer from attention-deficit disorder so I can’t always cope.” After a while she asked “Do you have insecurities?” I was taken back a little by this question and I hesitated before replying. Should I tell a stranger the truth? Should I gloss over it politely? I looked down at the book and dug deep “Yes I do. People often judge me based on my youthful appearance..” “So you mean you’re not 16!” She chuckled, smiling for the first time.
I noticed my destination was the next stop and my fellow commuter could sense me fidgeting. “What do you think I should do?” She posed questioning with a sincere sense of despair. “I don’t know, but from what you’ve told me I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit for how well you’re coping already.” I tried to reassure her but felt that sinking feeling in my stomach as I replied — did I make the situation worse? What did I say?
A sense of surprise and relief slowly dawned on my fellow commuter “Oh really? You think so?” I reassured her once more, telling her it was nice to meet her whilst I gathered my belongings. “It was so nice to hear your story, I hope you like the book” I said before I got up to leave the train. Walking along the platform as the train left the station, I remembered I felt the same sense of shared humanity after the conversation I had on the London bus. Listening, for the sake of nothing more than hearing what someone needs to share, lifts a weight off both your shoulders.
If, like me, you’re thinking about how to get some help handling these type of conversations better, The City of New York is providing free training to all New Yorkers as part of their ThriveNYC initiative. Maybe I’ll see you there.