“Hi, friends, how you doin’?”

I utter  these words dozens, if not hundreds, of times a night. Mostly to people  I’ve never seen before and may very well never see again. But I always  do it intentionally — and sincerely. Asking this is the perfect way to  set the tone for how I’d like people to feel when they sit down at my  bar: Welcome, and among friends.

Which is exactly why people go to bars.

If  all you wanted to do was pound some drinks, you could comfortably (and  quite more affordably) do so in the privacy of your own home. But in a  bar, even if you go there solo, you’re never really drinking alone. At  the very least someone like me, your bartender, is there to chat with  from time to time.

But, more often than not, the people who  arrive at my bar alone end up deep in conversation with the people next  to them, be it over a sports game (if said bar has a television), over  the latest dumpster fire of a breaking news alert, over the beer  selection, the weather… the list is long and varied.

And this isn’t just small talk.

I’ve  seen genuine friendships, business partnerships, potential romantic  interests all forged while I’m at work (which is a large part of why I love the service industry so much).

Talking  to strangers can be not only worthwhile but also downright enjoyable,  even when we have friends just a few key taps away. It might even allow  you to make a meaningful connection.

A lot of people actually want to engage

It’s  not that our parents were wrong telling us to not talk to strangers as  children, but for everyone old enough to know the difference between a  potential conversationalist and a possible serial killer, talking to  strangers is pretty free of risk.

What’s the worst that can  happen? Your interest in starting a conversation is one-sided? Your  attempts are rebuffed? There’s an awkward moment? You realize that,  regardless of who initiated contact, you don’t actually want to talk to  this person? That’s pretty much it. There are no expectations with strangers; there can’t be, you don’t know each other, you owe each other nothing.

And yet, you’d be pleasantly surprised at how many people are ready and willing to engage.

Alright,  so this is where I get to throw down boilerplate rules of engagement,  particularly when it comes to men approaching women: Read the room,  folks. This piece is not a How To Get Strangers to Talk To You guide.  That would be creepy and weird.

The point here is to explain how  interactions with strangers can be truly meaningful. They can be! It’s  awesome! Unfortunately, some guy out there reading this is going to say See, catcalling/talking to women who show no interest in being approached by a strange man is totally fine. (No, no, no, Trevor; that is never okay.)

One  of my favorite examples, of how simple — and rewarding — talking to a  stranger can be, is during the women’s World Cup championship game last  year. I was in a bar in Portland, Oregon, at 7 a.m. with nearly a  hundred other people, none of whom I knew. Somewhere in the last 20  minutes of the second half, the bar’s internet went down and we lost the  projection of the game.

Chaos ensued. Someone behind me cried.  But then, in pockets around the sea of people frantically cursing  technology, people started pulling up the game on their phones.

A  woman sitting in front of me had hers out and without even thinking I  leaned over and said, “I’m so sorry, can I watch with you?” She turned  around and said, “Of course!” When she looked around at how many people  were straining their eyes, she started narrating what was happening for  those too far away to see the tiny screen.

The internet clicked  back on a few minutes later, but everyone in our corner of the room were  fast friends for the rest of the game.

Not all relationships have to go anywhere

If  Tinder and its band of merry swipesters were the only available  examples available you could certainly argue that no, no, talking to  strangers is no way to establish a meaningful connection. As someone who  has been on — not to mention witnessed secondhand — their fair share of  Tinder dates, believe me when I say, I get it.

However…

First  dates with a stranger you met on the internet often fail to build a  connection because that’s what at least one party is hoping to get out  of it (same can be said of hitting on someone in a bar). Is this working? Do I like them? Do I want to see what they look like naked? All of these questions have bounced through my head when I’ve been on a Tinder date and I can’t be alone in that.

There  are, however — at least if you’re truly earnest about simply wanting to  have a conversation and aren’t hoping for a phone number, or a free  drink or, I don’t know, a favor of some sort — zero strings attached to  engaging a stranger.

Once you both leave the bar/the train/the  cafe/the line for the bathroom, you needn’t ever see each other again.  And that’s okay. In fact, the transient nature of the moment might just  be what made your connection meaningful: it was unnecessary, and therefore a pleasant surprise.

It’s not just you

The  #MeToo movement went viral, into the corners of nearly every industry,  and has touched the lives of women worldwide for two very specific  reasons:

  1. Sexism, misogyny, and rape culture are deeply entrenched features of society.
  2. The incredible power of the message embodied in those two words: Me too.

They  tell the speaker, in whatever context, that they are not alone, that  someone else understands what they’re saying and feeling, and who  doesn’t want to hear that?

We expect our friends and family to,  at the very least, sympathize with our daily grievances — empathy would  be nice but I’ll take what I can get — but to hear a stranger laugh at  your story, or to look aghast on your behalf? That, my friends, is worth  so much more than racking up likes on Instagram.

When Facebook  first launched (yep, I remember when Facebook first launched) I remember  wondering if it’s popularity had manufactured our desire to share our  random thoughts, photos, and comments with a virtual audience, or if the  platform was so popular because it tapped into a natural desire to do  so and simply gave us a space to share.

When I think about that  now, whether Facebook was the chicken or the egg, if you will, in that  relationship, the answer is obvious: Humans are hardwired to tell stories. That need to share, that omg you guys you have to see/hear this; those group texts, the comments, the likes — it’s part of what makes us human.

Technology has given us a way to talk to strangers from a distance,  and while it feels good to see those thumbs up next to your posts and  pictures, nothing beats the rush of making a connection IRL. I might get  paid to talk to strangers, but I can’t think of a better way to make a  living.