The aftermath of the Hurricane. The aftermath of the election. What's the spirit of New York right now? I went on a fact-finding mission in my Timberlands and my construction jumpsuit yesterday. I am an anthropologist of sorts. Anthropologist-matchmaker, if that makes any sense. (Usually it doesn't.) I was hopeful about the state of affairs on human connection. After all, I have gotten buckets of positive energy sent my way on the loss of our house, and meanwhile there are Hurricane victims who are much worse off. So I wake up at the crack of dawn and I'm thinking, like that old Dunkin' Donuts commercial: "Time to make the dates happen."
But out in the coffeehouses of the city, not so much. The isolation is deafening. We can't even blame the Hurricane for the shell-shocked nature of New Yorkers these days. Prior to hurricane season this year I was with my seven-year old son in Starbucks, and we were searching for a seat. He said, "I want to sit over there in the Computer Lab." He was referring to the communal table. Something has gone wrong with our ability to socialize.
There is so much opportunity for human connection this week. New Yorkers have been outpouring charitable donations, volunteer labor, blankets and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. There is a palpable energy of friendliness, community and good will. But my findings revealed that noble intentions haven't translated into an easier time for singles to meet. They should, though.
In the Blackout of 1965 in New York City, my parents lived at 4th Avenue and 10th Street. My Dad was at NYU Law School and was walking home with a fellow student when the lights went out. He invited the guy over, knowing that my mom would be there with dinner, and it would be wrong for his friend to have to be alone in the dark. My Mom had been at the gynecologist's office in the neighborhood that evening. She befriended a random woman in the waiting room who lived uptown and was stuck without safe passage. Naturally, my mom (not yet a Jewish mother but obviously in-training) invited the woman over for dinner as well. The two guests met that night and the rest was history. They fell in love and got married.
I've always loved that story. I was barely a gleam in the doctor's speculum but that night must have been the start of my matchmaking proclivities. The most pertinent part of the story is that my mom (Jewish mom in-training or otherwise) would not have invited a random stranger to dinner under normal circumstances. Don't get me wrong, she is extremely hospitable. But she follows social norms, and it is just not a very socially acceptable thing to do.
I believe when you breach social norms and make yourself vulnerable, great things can happen. You can effect change. This is the time. That Billy Joel song is playing in my head. He says, "We lived through a lifetime and the aftermath." What is the aftermath of a lifetime? I certainly don't know, but one thing is for sure: the aftermath of a lifetime is even further beyond our control than the aftermath of a hurricane or an election. "This is the time, but time is gonna change." You can bet that Obama knows this. You can know it too.
Imagine you only have four years to accomplish your next goal. Whether that is finding the One, having a baby, starting a business, how might you get started?
"Is that a weathervane in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" Okay, maybe that's not the best pick-up line in the world. But any pick-up line is better than no pick-up line. And judging from my anthropological findings around New York City this week, a cheesy pick-up line might be just the ice-breaker we need. Or shall I say glacier-breaker?
"How'd you do in Sandy" or "How'd you weather the storm?" might be a little more socially acceptable. There may be something to be said for some social norms. Trying times can go either way, when it comes to human connection. We feel vulnerable, so we want to go back into the safe shell of workaholism and isolation. Or alternatively, we feel vulnerable, so we reach out for the hope that love and connection can provide comfort. Two roads diverged in a taxi line. "Are you going to the Upper West Side too? I hear they have power and Internet there." It's so easy to reach out, yet so hard.
So when you're out and about this week, think about the next four years, and stretch outside of your comfort zone to talk to a stranger. Reach across the aisle to find a bipartisan solution to a problem you are facing. Get yourself one step closer to your goals. This is the time. Take New York City by storm.