In Time of Crisis, Make Friends

As hard as I tried (which was only medium hard), I didn’t make a new BFF in Vegas. Didn’t even meet a potential one. There was a brief chat with a girl who couldn’t find her way to the pool, a great story from a local retiree who told me she saw Paris Hilton coming out of the Wynn bathroom once (she didn’t wash her hands!), and few good deals from Mike, the Long Island-native blackjack dealer who really tried to pay me. But no BFF. Next time.

I may not have done any people-meeting in Sin City, but there was certainly some bonding on the way there. See, we had a little emergency on my plane. Well actually it wasn’t little at all. Maybe half-way through the flight, I was awoken by the stewardess on the intercom. “Folks, we have a medical emergency, if there is a doctor or a nurse on board, can you please come to the front.” Suddenly everyone on the plane sat up to get a better look. I couldn’t tell exactly what was happening, but I knew from the stewardesses’ brisk walks up and down the aisle that the situation couldn’t be handled from 35,000 feet in the air. So maybe a half-hour after the initial announcement came the one I’d been expecting for the last 29 minutes. We were making an emergency landing.

It turned out a woman had a stroke on my plane. Which is terrifying. Her poor husband, who stayed remarkably calm, was on board too. And now, as far as I know, they’re stuck at a hospital in Denver, which I can only assume is not home.

This is terrible and awful for all the obvious reasons. What intrigued me from the friendship perspective, however, was how the crisis brought the rest of us together. As soon as the flight attendant announced the emergency landing, the strangers in my row and I became best friends. We briefly discussed what happened, but then moved on to where the one guy was from (Vegas) and why the middle seat woman was flying for the first time in four years (a family member’s 80th birthday). I learned that the Vegas-native bought his 18-year-old daughter an iPad for graduation and she’s enjoying it while she recovers from the “enhancements” that his ex-wife bought her. Middle Seat hated taking off and was not thrilled to be doing it twice. They both got a kick out of my phone call to Matt, who was already settled at a poker table in Vegas, when they overheard “Are you even listening to me? Can you stop playing long enough to listen to me?” Shuffle up and deal stops for no one.

After our pit stop, passengers were chatting across the aisle and between rows. The crowd went from every-man-for-himself to Kumbaya in the course of one hopefully-not-life-threatening disaster. And isn’t that so often the case? People keep to themselves, breezing through their days with eyes straight ahead until something unexpected throws them off course. It’s this jolt out of the ordinary that propels regular folk to open up to strangers. I assume it’s the need to bond with someone over a shared experience, but in retrospect, it seems too bad. I was seated in a row of three friendly adults, yet not one of us spoke to the others until we found out things weren’t going as planned. And we didn’t bond to complain—everyone on board was totally fine with our necessary detour—but it was as if this surprise gave us permission to begin the bonding process.

This doesn’t only happen in times of crisis. What about when Oprah gave her whole audience cars? Those strangers were hugging as if they were long-lost sisters. What is it about surprises—good or bad—that brings people together? Have you ever seen this happen firsthand? Why do you think most of us wait for an emergency landing, or keys to a shiny new G6, to start opening up to the strangers among us?


Filed under The Search

8 responses to “In Time of Crisis, Make Friends

  1. Cindy

    I’ve experienced this so many times!For terrible reasons, like after 9/11, to fun reasons, like trudging through fresh snow after a huge snowstorm and bonding with strangers (who I probably passed a thousand times in the street and never interacted with). It feels so good to connect with people at those moments. I think part of the reason we don’t do it more often is that we are caught up in our own thoughts or our own distractions (I love the uninterrupted time reading on a plane) and it seems more pleasurable than starting a conversation with a complete stranger. And then when I do, I remember how good it feels.

  2. Ana

    I think its exactly as you said. Many of us (yes, I’m totally guilty) are stuck in our heads & our to-do-lists, and our podcasts & books…it takes something extraordinary to jolt us truly awake & in the moment where we can then notice those around us & enjoy them. The world somehow feels more alive & present after an unexpected disaster or celebration. We should strive to be like this ALL the time, but its hard! Oddly, when I was younger, I looked at every plane ride as an opportunity to meet someone (maybe a cute guy!)—and ended up having some pretty cool conversations, but after too many rides in a row where no one pulls their nose out of their book or their earbuds out of their ears, I started to do the same.

  3. Sharing something that is out of our control — an emergency, a startling announcement, etc. — is such a powerful human connection. It’s like everyone’s eyes (or hearts) are opened at the same time, and interaction seems less vulnerable; it’s less risky, perhaps, to make a connection with someone who has experienced the exact same thing.

    Glad you had fun in Vegas! And I hope that poor woman is all right.

  4. What an eventful flight! It is true that in crisis mode, people tend to bond more. I got stuck in an elevator for 1.5 hours (which doesn’t sound like long until you’re stuck in an elevator!) at my last job with 5 male contractors from India. It was very quiet in there until I started asking them about their families back home. We bonded in a humid 4 X 5 space!


  5. To me, this just reiterates my thought that we’re all looking for reasons to connect with each other–excuses to talk and meet and interact–but that for whatever reason we’ve tamped those instincts down. Emergencies and surprises and things that make us go “we’re all in this together” give us a socially acceptable way to connect.

  6. The same thing happened to my parents this spring, although it happened when they were landing, so they didn’t have to do an emergency landing.

    It is true that huge events – both good and bad – bring people together. I haven’t really been through a really great or really terrible experience that has resulted in bonding. To some extent, there is a parallel between this concept & the bonding that occurs when you study abroad. THat’s reaching a bit, but you are all in a foreign country and away from your family/friends/comfort zones. So friendships seem to form much more quickly and in my experience, they are lifelong friendships.

  7. Marcia

    This is your best post ever!

  8. Pingback: Celebrations Turn Into Friendship | MWF Seeking BFF

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