How to play the rousing game of ‘getting to know someone you’ve never met’

Moves in the Game

You’re in the middle of a game that has only 3 moves. No more, no less. Until it chances upon a catchier name, the game shall be called “getting to know someone you’ve never met.” The goal of the game? Quite simply, to have an encounter with an acquaintance. An encounter in imagination or reality.

Let’s consider the 3 permissible moves in the game.

1.) The Note of Praise. First move: send the person whom you’ve never met a note of praise. The note to the stranger could take any shape but the one we’re after,  in order to “have an encounter,” would be the one that is most suitable. We’re praising the stranger in hopes that the stranger will become an acquaintance. The encounter may occur, magically, during the silence that dwells in the moment of the note’s leaving the hand or, just as magically, in the acquaintance’s windfall reply. (Best not to think of it as a reply as such; best to take it as a windfall. Surprise!)

But no chance of encounter, mind you, unless you’ve written something suitable. Hence, the appropriate note of praise would doubtless be short (nix the loquacity), eloquent (out with the cliche), a touch clever, and perhaps a touch touchy. Something like this perhaps?

Dear P,

Just a short note to say that I very much enjoyed reading your brief sketch, “C,” which appeared in the Nov. D issue of The New Yorker. Like most recent transplants to New York, I subscribed to the magazine mainly in order to pass: seemed like a good idea before I’d spent a year or two reading it. Your piece, though, is something else. The mood is so soft and homey, the transitions so simple yet elegant, the love of the everyday so evident.

Thanks for this, this little gift of redemption. Kindly, AT

2.) The Cordial Invitation. The second move: care to dance, no strings attached? Care to join me? Care to take a turn about the room? Nothing more than that. Anything more = pulling one over, fucking him over. No selling, no getting, no working, no hustling. No wiggling or needling or getting around. An invitation doesn’t figure in the mutual advantage or the mutual benefit. It doesn’t offer something for something, nothing for nothing, or something for nothing. It carries no “furthermore’s,” no riders, no amendments. I’d say that it is naively, hence goodly profligate with time: unhurried, unbothered, lovingly patient, rollicky by nature. “Care to” properly means: “I want us to get to know each other. Wanna?” Apart from that, we part.

3.) The Blessed Thanksgiving. The final move, and now we’re out, is the act of giving thanks. It could be argued that thanksgiving bears more on the act than on the person. It could be argued, but it would be false. Gratitude thanks the other (formerly, the stranger but here she is on her way to being an acquaintance: hurray!) for this. The “this” matters but only to the extent that it serves to connect the “I” and “you.” Done well, the good thanks has a very nice touch.

Good & Bad Sequences

The 3 moves can be combined to form good or bad sequences.

Good sequences: A) Praise, (reply), thanks. B) Invitation, thanks. C) Praise, invitation, thanks. D) Thanks, praise, invitation. E) Thanks, invitation. Etc.

Bad sequences: A) Invitation, invitation, invitation (Pathetic busybody). B) Praise, praise, praise (Sycophant). 3) Thanks, thanks, thanks (Hanger-on). Etc.

Some especially adroit sequences may take you out of the game. Fun! E.g., Praise, invitation, thanks. Stranger –> Acquaintance –> Possible friend?

A Thought Experiment: The Death of the Salesman

What if this were how you lived your life with regard to how you comported yourself toward strangers and acquaintances? Most of my days–I say this in earnest–are spent making 1 of 3 moves when in the presence of strangers or acquaintances. (True, more moves are available with friends, lovers, etc.) What’s nice in this way of life is that it rules out all of the following: hustling, vanity, pride, shamelessness, self-branding, self-promotion, selling yourself, solicitations, requests,  unbidden inquiries, unbidden pitches, unbidden proposals, etc. <–I’ve tried all these, including the etc., and they don’t work: don’t work for me, for others, for anyone well. (With regard to proposals, etc.: a good proposal is really just an invitation to get to know the other better. Seriously. Think about it.)

Caution! Caution! Caution! The Importance of Forgetfulness

Any move must be forgotten in the very instant it reaches finality. With one conversation partner, I spoke of blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. I still like this image. I wanted him to blow dandelion seeds into the wind. Blow, close your eyes, let go. Gone.

Now then, the praisesong is followed immediately by bon chance! Thanksgiving is followed immediately by vale! The invitation is followed immediately by my hand’s letting go of this note and… by the lost note’s disappearing into the dark void.

Have a lovely weekend! Bye!

2 thoughts on “How to play the rousing game of ‘getting to know someone you’ve never met’

  1. A thousand times yes! I think two parts of this speak to the importance of getting out of one’s own way: both being unselfconscious enough to make the first move, and restraining oneself enough to forget.

  2. Agreed. The German philosopher Gadamer once said that one of the most important features of any play whatever was “self-forgetting.” What a nice term of art is that!

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