I and a couple of others were waiting for a bus of Japanese high-school students at the Basketball Hall of Fame. We were part of the group that was hosting them/showing them around. While we waited, a local kid (high school senior), hurried into the museum, followed a few minutes later by his mother, with money for lunch. She'd driven him there, but he'd rushed in without money, and she wanted him to be able to get food.
Her mission accomplished, the mom didn't leave, but struck up a conversation, talking about her kids' (the son and his younger siblings and older sister) experience of school, kids getting labeled as troublemakers, racism (she was Black), the difference between being African American and being Afro Caribbean (her husband's from Jamaica) and so on.
I really enjoyed talking with her. We talked for a long time--basically until the bus with the Japanese students arrived--and afterward I was pondering why people confide in strangers. Here are some thoughts:
- We talk to family and friends about problems, but if the problems are intractable or complicated or long term, then our family and friends can eventually know them intimately. They can be fatigued hearing the same litany of stuff from us--but the problem still weighs on us and we can want relief, and for some of us, talking provides relief.
- A stranger doesn't have years of experience with us that might undercut the story we're telling (at least in their eyes); they don't remember the times we failed to keep a promise or the time we were too terrified to get on the roller coaster or the time we hollered at our kids in a supermarket. If the stranger's willing to give us a sympathetic listen, they're likely to be totally in our corner.
- A stranger probably won't make irksome suggestions, but if they do make suggestions, they won't come with a whole lot of historical baggage attached--not like when our parents tell us for the seventy-millionth time that maybe we should try using the envelope method of budgeting or our smugly relationship-ensconced friend gives us dating advice. It's much easier to consider a stranger's suggestion on its merits **or** to just dismiss it.
I haven't ever really talked at length about personal problems to a stranger in person, but I've done it online--for some of these reasons ... I don't do it anymore, in part because nowadays, in the places I'm active online, I'm not in the company of strangers anymore, and also I guess because the airing of problems doesn't give me relief or clarity in the way it once did.
What about you all, though? Thoughts on why people confide in strangers?
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