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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Chen

on talking to strangers

It’s a different world out there now. We already look away when we pass others on the street, pretend we don’t notice anyone, stick to our own personal space, but now with the pandemic we are super aware of keeping our distance.

And as we all congregate in our little bubbles, it gets increasingly difficult to meet new people. Let alone schedule an interview with them, ask them about themselves, get vulnerable with them, connect with them on a deeper level, and record it all to share with the public. I have no idea why I decided to speak to 100 men during the time that we are all meant to self isolate, but here we are. And it’s been a weird time, sending cold DMs to randoms on Instagram, asking female friends to connect me with men, texting exes, even using dating apps to find fresh meat.

I remember feeling very insecure at the beginning of the series, just asking people I knew to recommend men to me, assuming that if I knew who referred them, that they should be cool. This reminds me of when I was 21 and I moved to New York, and sublet a room from a woman. The place wasn’t amazing, but she offered to bring in a new bed and we settled. I didn’t stop to think that I was taking her room, so I actually wouldn’t be living with her. Instead I would be living with her roommate, a complete stranger, that I never met until I had already committed and paid for 6 months. I’m sharing this now because I totally did the same thing in the first series, assuming that any friend of a friend of mine is immediately safe. Silly me. And my interviews reflected this insecurity, I was defensive, I wanted so badly for them to understand me before I bothered to understand them. This made me realize how much we just talk at each other, and wait our turn so we can talk some more. There is little work on understanding one another.

Once I had this realization, I suddenly got very quiet. I just let the guys talk forever, hoping this would compensate for all the over-talking I did with the others. But here’s the thing, we can’t trade one for one like that. We do this thing where we try to pay it forward in the next one, rather than accepting things for the way they played out and just do better with the learnings you received.

I had this huge fear of not going through with an episode once I had reached out to him on some social platform and spoken to him on the phone that I felt like I couldn’t opt out. I could feel my entire body cringe when I would ask him after, okay, when are you available to record the interview? Knowing how much I had no desire to speak to him, but maybe it’s just working through my trauma of taking things too far when intimate with a man that there’s no turning back. I would be so fucking thankful when a guy would cancel or ghost on an interview so I wouldn’t have him as part of my precious 100 men.

Knowing about this fear, it took a lot of courage for me to record these interviews live in Mexico. I realized after I contacted these men online, I had to set up a time to meet with them, the same version of the prescreen phone call to see if this is a fit for the both of us. Because afterwards I had to take them to my place, or go to their place, or meet at a quiet place to record their interview. Like, this had a physical intimacy that I happily avoided when everything was virtual.

And I realized how much I was hiding behind the screen. I would just take anyone who messaged me online, or whoever my editor would suggest, assuming they were all good enough options and completely ignoring my intuition.

And of course, I got mad at myself off of this. Like hello, who’s show is this again? I had to check myself and remind myself who the fuck I am. So began a hunt for men that had either similar or opposing experiences to mine so that I could have a debate about it.

In my attempt to find new interviewees for the show I scoured through Clubhouse for men more willing to talk about tough subjects. I creeped on Instagram and judged their public speaking abilities. I googled their work and added them on LinkedIn to validate their worth as one of the 100 masked men. I went from choosing anyone to being ultra picky and finding unicorn men that had an impeccable story to share. How dare I judge one person’s story to be better than another?

Although I got better at speaking in general, this was still not a conversation. This was just an exchange of perspectives, of thoughts and opinions and experiences. I’m just noticing how much we really don’t talk. We just hear and speak and take turns.

I guess it was a good thing I got my karma. Guys asking me what the purpose of my show was, if it was sponsored, if it was going anywhere. Why was it anonymous? What’s in it for them? Good fucking question. Not a lot, if you follow the same credentials I was using. I’m a total random wannabe podcaster that just started interviewing 6 months ago with a cheap ass mic trying to get guys to talk about feelings. Wtf am I doing?

But also, why do we have to have a reason to speak to each other? Why is there always a purpose, an outcome, something that has to come out of it? I was reminded that we are feeling beings that think, yet it seems like we are always in our heads that we forget to feel the life around us. And to let things happen naturally.

It’s amazing how much we judge others, as a projection of how much we judge ourselves. Is it worth talking to this person? What do they have to offer me? And we never stop to think, well, what am I to them?

So I decided to stop chasing. I let men come to me. The ones that would be open to speaking, and usually those were travellers. Show me one person who doesn’t like traveling. The reason we all love traveling is that we are finally present in the moment. We open ourselves to the world and receive whatever life brings us. And if that involves an encounter with Miss Amanda Chen, well, so be it.

The next couple episodes are a free flow of first-time engagements with men during my travels. It has been incredible capturing this intimate moment and I’m so excited to share it with you. I look at it like a verbal dance, asking questions, re-framing questions, feeling the flow of the other person and finding a groove. And just getting entranced in this other person’s energy, not knowing where it’s going to go. We usually talk to people with intention. We often want something out of them, or assume they want something out of us, an answer, a decision, something concrete to move forward with. But when the conversation is just for nothing, the conversation has room to play.

With season 3 being all about liberation through dialogue, let’s free ourselves from the constraints of expectations out of conversation. Let's stop rehearsing how we plan to speak to someone in our heads and just see what happens.

Prefer to listen rather than read? Check it out on the podcast:

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