This is a repost of an (only slightly facetious) article I wrote in 2015.
Where much of fiction is devoted to the most tumultous kinds of relationships–those of lovers, family, and enemies–let us never forget that there is another kind of relationship which is much more important, and in fact essential to everyone’s daily functioning. I speak, of course of the stranger.
I am infinitely grateful for all the strangers in my life, all seven billion of them. I am enriched by the fact that they don’t know who I am, and waste no time thinking of me. The great number of conversations we don’t have is a source of great joy. And it’s heartening to think about how much we care about each other, under a thick layer of distant abstraction. It’s a special kind of love, the kind that is tolerable in large quantities.
And yes it is true that I don’t mind losing a few strangers, that losing a stranger can even be a happy occasion. But that’s just the kind of relationship that strangership is. Another way of looking at it is that strangership is such an abundant gift that it’s no problem to skim a little off the top to form more mundane relationships.
On the other hand, to lose even a few percent of my strangers, say a hundred million, that would just be unimaginably awful. It is already difficult to imagine the lives of celebrities, who don’t so much lose their strangerships as have them be unrequited. But I suppose even one-sided strangerships can lead to great rewards.
Indeed, there seems to be a great deal of flexibility in strangers. While the bread and butter stranger never interacts with you at all, there are many ways that strangers can interact briefly or incidentally. There are all the people I walk by and don’t look at. There are the people who provide service at stores, restaurants, and banks. And of course there are many strangers who interact with me online. Of course, not all these interactions are positive, which is why I’m glad that this is not the default kind of stranger. But the few strangers who do interact with me make me feel connected, and part of a larger society.
I very much look forward to a life which continues to be filled with so many strangers. If you are a stranger, thank you!