If you’re lucky enough to know Kay Robinson, you will agree that at some point in your life/career, you will be either, A. the introducer, or B. the introducee. Kay has a phenomenal skill which includes connecting friends in different cities, forging their friendship, and then hatching friend-babies again and again. Last night, I was the introducee. Let’s pause there for a moment.
At two different points during meals with coworkers, I have provoked giggles as a result of how I use (or misuse) chopsticks. Both times were all in good fun, but in the short span of time I have been in China, needless to say, I have developed somewhat of a complex. When it comes to using chopsticks, I am the absolute worst. If there were an Olympic competition for chopstick-using, I would be the guy back home in his country, pissed off and practicing because I didn’t qualify for the Games. Back to Kay Robinson. So I met up last night with an American guy who Kay knew when she was in graduate school and his mom was her internship supervisor when he was like 13 or something (yes, this is a real connection). It doesn’t get more intimidating than, “Meet me outside of Gucci,” and next to Prada, Hermes, and the Apple store. And so, we met. We walked to a nearby restaurant to consume, what he argued to be, “…the best dumplings in Beijing.” Not only did this new introduction order in fluent Chinese, he navigated himself around that restaurant as if he owned the place. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed, yet thoroughly impressed.
Now, here’s the thing, y’all. I’m a pretty confident dude. I can hold my own. However, as soon as we sat down, something was glaring at me, taunting me: a set of chopsticks. As soon as the first plate (of like eight) hit the table, and before I could control myself, I blurted out the annoying disclaimer, “Listen, I’m not that great at using chopsticks.”
This is like saying, “I’m really nervous,” in a interview, or, “I haven’t warmed up,” before an audition. Don’t do this. Disclaimers are lame, and thankfully he forgave my self-prescribed ignorance, allowing us to move on. And then, it got intense. I went for the first dumpling, eager and excited, perhaps even hopeful to prove my chopstick-assertion was actually just modesty. Before I knew it, I fumbled the first dumpling. And like a true Oklahoman, my chopsticks and I went to rescue said-dumpling from the table (500 second rule, right?). Wrong. My new friend’s chopsticks leapt across the table to stop me, “No, no, in China, people don’t eat off the table,” he whispered. I felt like a dog. I felt like that kid on the outside of a cotillion class, just desperate to know which fork is which and why the hell there were so many rules. I digress. After a few bites, I couldn’t continue. I did the, “Whew, I’m full,” belly-pat midway through the meal – you know, the one when you’re on a date and you just hope the other person is picking up the, I’ve-barely-eaten-but-I’m-finished-eating, sign, when in all realty you’re just super nervous and could sit there all night. That pat. That was where I was at last night. And he was right, the food really was stellar.
In all of this anxiety, the conversation was also really stellar. But midway through the meal, it hit me that making friends is hard, especially when there’s no benefit on the other end – meaning, why one more person, why this person? And, in life, it’s so incredibly accurate that the way in which you use your chopsticks (or these, as a metaphor for our confidence, our self-awareness, etc.) is actually pretty relevant in showing people who you are. More so, this reality is an important component in showing you who you are (or is). We’re adults. This isn’t sharing Legos and walking home with a new BFF (#LYLAB). Confidence is key, connection is everything.
Other than finding love or finding people who intellectually stimulate you, making friends becomes less and less important when you’re already active and engaged within your own group or community. Unless you’re in my situation, unless your new. You see, in this case, making friends becomes essential. And you rely on the Kay Robinson’s in your life to help you and guide you, even from 7,000 miles away. My request here? Be open to being the introducer. When someone emails you to connect with a new friend or colleague or city-sharer, take them up on the offer. Be open, be welcoming. Forgive them of their chopstick trespasses (as they forgive those who chopstick against them).
This particular guy I met up with last night was great, and helpful, and provided a quality dining experience. But, alas, he also has no real obligation to me. So the ‘ball’ is now in my court to send a follow up, “thank you,” email, and coordinate a future time to hang out. Remember, the introducer owes the introdcee nothing. Make the effort, but also be the effort. And finally, acknowledge that this is a challenge, and that it doesn’t always come easy. Among many others, this, my friends, is the start of more discomfort, more dissonance. And if dissonance is leaning, I’m certainly sure to grow. Here’s to more fumbled dumplings, learning a new language, and navigating around new cultural sensitivities (including my own).