It is entirely possible to be in the company of friends and yet to feel alone and isolated. It does not even necessarily have to relate to being somewhere else on an emotional or intellectual level. I was with a group of friends the other night and while I appreciated their company, there were a few lengthy moments when I felt that I could just disappear entirely without my absence being noted.


I can’t help but wondering if this has happened to you, too. It so happens that all three of these friends of mine work for Starbucks. Not only that, but they all happen to work at the very same store.

There were quite a few times when they would start discussing things that were happening at the store, customers that came into the store that were bothersome, and other phenomena that I could not and would not ever understand or appreciate.

All I could do was to just sit there and nod my head as though I had some kind of knowledge or grasp on what they were discussing. Even though I did work at Starbucks four years ago, it feels as though it has been a lifetime ago and I just don’t feel that I am even close to being the same person that I was in the summer of 2005.

What do you do when you are sitting in a group of people and you are the sole person who has nothing to contribute because you can’t relate at all? It happened six years ago at a dinner I attended with an ex-girlfriend. Someone brought up the theory of string physics and somehow I was the only person at the table who had no idea what they were describing. I mentioned something about how I had read an article about string physics and how I found it to be fascinating.

After the meal, my then girlfriend powerfully rebuked me for speaking when I had nothing substantial to add to the conversation. I should not say anything, she said, unless I knew what I was saying. I wonder if that rebuke remains the reason that I will not pitch in with ideas unless I know them to be of some use.

What do you do when you are in similar situations? Do you stick it out and hope to get involved in the conversation, wait for the conversation to shift to something that can possibly involve you, or do you just enjoy the conversation as it is?

3 Comments

  1. There should always be communication rules for including others in a conversation, Gordon. It can be easy to forget “outsiders” when you’re surrounded by insiders.
    I usually find asking a question brings the conversation around to being less exclusive because the niche gets filled with a need to know and most people who are sensitive will pause to bring you up to speed and include you from that point on.

  2. Hi Gordon,
    I know what you are talking about. I belong to a multi-lingual country and there are 15 other official languages in India which I am completely unaware of.I remember people from some other state started talking in their own language which I was clueless about. I felt idiotic first, then I bluntly asked them to speak a common language….
    And when a group started talking about something which I don’t know about? I take a long wash-room break 🙂