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a person whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.

Although the dictionary definition of it seems relatively clear, I’ve found that there’s always a blurry line in real life when someone is considered “familiar” or not. Too often did I feel that we had crossed that chasm, only to find out that was not necessarily the case.

The difficulty is in the fact that it’s not an exact science. There are people who I’ve talked to a couple times and quickly felt a connection – some of my closest friends came out of very brief initial interactions. Then there are other times where I can talk to someone on multiple occasions and still walk away feeling like we barely know each other.

Warming up to someone and losing that “stranger” feeling is something that is very subtle, but often changes the way I interact.

The first change is what we talk about. No longer are we typically confined to the age-old conversation starters like the weather or classes, but much more interesting topics. We might talk about our stresses, our latest accomplishments, updates on our family and friends. I also find that we tease and joke around a lot more, as opposed to the more cordial conversations I typically have with strangers.

My self consciousness also falls away with people that I consider to be familiar with. I find I’m constantly examining myself when talking to strangers, worried about how I look and come across. With people I’m familiar with, I can almost feel that weight leave my shoulders. There’s a strange sense of comfort (particularly with friends), where I feel that I can say what I want without being judged. I can mess up without feeling dumb, we can sit silently and still enjoy our company, and there’s no such thing as a joke falling flat.

That human connection is something that I’ve found to be the best indicator of whether or not someone is a stranger. Seeing someone often or being near someone isn’t indicative of familiarity. There are plenty of people that I see often or recognize, but we don’t know the first thing about each other. That’s also why I’ve rarely gotten familiar with anyone purely via the internet because it’s difficult to replicate all of these emotions online.

In these trying times it’s sometimes hard to keep up with those personal interactions, and often we feel we are surrounded by strangers. But hopefully when we emerge, and having gone through this crisis together, we can establish even more connections – maybe even get to know some of those strangers in our lives.

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