I travel quite a bit at the moment. I like it. It satiates my general curiosity about humanity and what the world has to offer. It’s nothing compared to what my buddy is doing right now, but it’s still cool. Plus, I when I’m doing it, it’s usually because I’m performing at that location, and I like to perform.
All in all, it’s a win.
When I was younger and I traveled, I used to have conversations with all sorts of my seat mates. Part of it was because I didn’t know how to set boundaries with people. Part of it I’m sure was thanks to my doe-eyed friendly midwestern smile that was beckoning for people to chat with me. And part of it was simply because it seemed like the polite thing to do if you’re going to be sitting next to someone for a while.
True story: I met a guy supposedly part of Ghana royalty on my way back to Ohio once. I have no idea if he was telling the truth. I also have no idea why I took him up on his offer to sit by him on the plane rather than staying in my own seat. Again, no boundaries and overly polite.
Well, things change. Though I’m sure Ghana royalty continues to rule…right? I never fact checked this dude at all. Sometimes I think I made it up but I’m certain I didn’t. As sure as anyone can be when reality is fluid, of course.
Now that we have distractible devices in the palm of our hands, it’s easy to have an excuse not to talk to the person next to you. But more importantly, I often don’t want to. And I’m usually able to show that in my short responses or body language, if it ever even comes up at all.
I struggle with this because on the one hand, I really like talking to people. I love connecting with strangers and finding out more about their life and going on a sort of treasure hunt to find out what we might have in common. But on the other, I’ve discovered over the years that setting healthy boundaries for people is absolutely necessary to my own well-being. And, perhaps most importantly, I like to do my own thing on an airplane. Often, that thing means working. And if you get between me and my work…boy oh boy…you’d better watch out.
I’ve found myself perpetually grateful that I’ve sat next to people who don’t really want or need to chat. Maybe there’s a lost art form of conversation that we’re losing in the process of becoming more disconnected from each other with our technology. Or maybe people were always this way but my big eyes and friendly smile likely invited even the shyer types to start a conversation.
I like to think I still have plenty of that friendliness. And I have been known to chat with the people next to me, though it’s usually just in short spurts. I had a whole physical conversation with a guy next to me on a recent flight after I saw an intense bolt of lightning hit the side of our airplane and felt the plane shake (and the electricity pop out for a second). I needed to confirm with someone else that what I saw and felt actually happened. And I talked for a while with a woman next to me on a recent flight because she had her dog with her. Honestly? I just wanted her to pull out the dog and let me pet it. But she slept most of the time and so did the dog, so it was all in all pretty disappointing.
Point is, I think there’s balance to be had. You can retain your friendly nature while still keeping healthy boundaries up. And if the person next to you on an airplane doesn’t want to chat, it’s not your job to make small talk. It’s okay to do your own thing. Enjoy the sweet, sweet silence.