We asked 50 strangers deep questions. Here is what they had to say.
October 27, 2022
Sonder: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.
In exploring my sonder, I decide to approach strangers with deep questions on a few quiet evenings. Yes, there were the risks of rejection, discomfort and skepticism. But, there was also the exhilarating possibility of forming a connection that otherwise might have never existed. During these chance encounters, I gleaned lessons from the lens of others, heard intimate life stories of love, regret, fear and purpose and discovered beautiful glimpses of humanity.
Have you ever fallen in love?
When I asked this question, I braced myself for blunt answers, of a simple “yes” or “no.” What I received was far more vulnerable and hopeful than I could imagine.
As one person said, “You lose track of everything—time, space. It’s a time to share, time to give, time for memories to be created and for moments that you can never get back. That’s what love feels like.”
It’s a time to share, time to give, time for memories to be created and for moments that you can never get back. That’s what love feels like.”
I found him scribbling down notes in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. When I asked if he had ever fallen in love, his response was one that I had never heard before. Love, what I had thought of as a purely romantic feeling, not able to be logically explained because it was so unplanned in its course and its path, was broken down into scientific terms by him.
“I have experienced the neurochemicals that one would associate with the feeling of butterflies, and that which one would describe as love, yes,” he said.
When I prodded for more, he responded, “He went to my high school. We were both in the same math class. I saw him one day and experienced all of the stereotypical symptoms that one would get when they are experiencing romantic attraction…Nothing ever happened. He doesn’t know I exist. 100% does not know I exist,” he responded.
“There was a time when I had just gotten out of the shower and looked at my body and thought that if I had reduced a bit more of my studying I would have had more time in the gym and that would have been more desirable for a future partner,” he finished. – 26, male
“I’m married, with my now husband… My biggest regret was not going to college right after I graduated high school. I was a young mom, so I went to a trade school to become a medical assistant. I got pregnant at 13 and had him at 14. I had no choice but to finish school and go to work right after. I had to right after high school go to a program that didn’t take too long, nine months, because I had another mouth to feed.” – 39, female
“In high school, I felt like I was in love. Although we were fun and very loving, we were too young and we definitely got too jealous. We were just being young and didn’t know anything else.” – 22, female
“In love? Yes. When I met my boyfriend at 18, I was living with my parents. I felt like someone finally understood me. I confused love with my personal needs. After that, I broke up and realized that I wasn’t in love. I found love in my first child. When I saw his face, it was like…eye opening. I felt warm, all these bright colors…I felt happy.” – 40, female
I found love in my first child. When I saw his face, it was like…eye opening. I felt warm, all these bright colors…I felt happy.”
“We met on Instagram…I commented on one of his stories about In-N-Out burgers in California, and that’s how we started talking…everything was through text. We were at a stage in life where, speaking for myself, I was more concerned with my career. I denied two of his dates. The third one, he said, ‘This is the last time I’m inviting you.’ We decided to go to Atlantic City…Once we saw each other, we got butterflies. The first date lasted for hours… and this December we got engaged.” – 34, female
“I’ve been dating my girlfriend for a couple years. So we met right as the pandemic was starting, and we spent a lot of time alone together in close quarters, and I quickly realized we shared a lot of interests. It was definitely meant to last.” – 30, male
“What happened? Um…I was in college, and I met someone really special and kind. We went through some things. I almost died; she had some family problems. That really just put us closer together. We got to see who we really were, and we got to fall in love that way. You get all that?” – 25, male
What is your biggest regret?
“I don’t take time for more people. All the time, I keep away…When you come from another country, another culture, another religion, sometimes I feel afraid that people don’t want to talk with me because I come from another country. And now, I started speaking up because I realize if I continue to feel afraid to talk with another person, I’ll never meet more.” – 40, female
“I would regret that my marriage didn’t work out. Not because I think it should have worked out or that I regret getting divorced. I don’t regret that I got divorced, but I regret that things didn’t work out how I imagined they would.” – 41, female
“My biggest regret is sort of an ongoing thing. I’m definitely more of an introvert and as a result, I don’t stay in touch with a lot of people I wish I did. Even just certain friends, certain family members, I wish I could reach out to them more often and keep that relationship going.” – 30, male
“Coming to the United States [for an internship]. I cannot take care of my family back at home, Thailand. I’m not from here.” – 19, female
“Not being outgoing enough. Not taking the opportunities in front of me to be like, ‘Oh, let’s make new friends,’ or, ‘Oh, let’s do that!’” – 16, female
“I don’t think I have a regret in life because I think everything has helped me and given me something.” – 34, female
“Dedicating time to people that weren’t worth it, like old friends that didn’t reciprocate the same type of energy and care that I did.” – 18, female
“Not going on to get a master’s degree after college. I just liked the challenge and because I got married, I didn’t go ahead with it, but I would have enjoyed the challenge of getting a master’s degree.” – 61, female
“Not pushing myself to do better in school, I think at the beginning of high school, I could’ve done better. I could’ve tried harder. I think I try now, so I don’t look back and think ‘I could have.’” – 22, female
What is your biggest fear?
“My mom is cheating on someone. I can only talk with my friends but I can’t tell my dad…because if I do tell my dad, I would feel like I’m the person who broke up my family.” – 20, female
“Show [that] I’m weak. Sometimes I cry. [My biggest fear is] letting other people know I have feelings, because as [a] single mom, you need to keep strong…keep strong for your children so they don’t see you cry.” – 40, female
[My biggest fear is] letting other people know I have feelings, because as [a] single mom, you need to keep strong…keep strong for your children so they don’t see you cry.”
“Not doing enough. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough. I feel like I’m never doing enough. I feel like I could always do something more.” – 39, female
“My mom would always be disappointed in me because she would always criticize me for everything. Even though I got straight As, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t doing everything she wanted me to do. I got a job, went to school…when I took my gap year, everything that went wrong in her life was my fault, it seemed like. And when I went through my depression, that’s when my family lost respect for me.” – 19F
“Death. Losing people. Losing friends, family.” – 22, female
“Not having the people I love around me. Being by myself. I like being surrounded by others; it makes me feel secure.” – 18, female
“Being a disappointment to my parents. Because they did a lot for me, coming to America, and I want to be able to make them happy as they grow older.” – 18, female
“Being alone.” – 18, female
“Disease. Covid-19, Monkeypox…It’s uncontrollable and hard to handle, because health is really important and you cannot really know your condition right now. Maybe I’m fine right now, but tomorrow I’ll be sick, so that’s my fear.” – 19, female
“Failing at being a mom.” – 32, female
“My biggest fear is waking up, working a 9-5. Living a typical boring life. I want to get out there, live an exciting life, and look back and have no regrets. Live in other countries, meet new people.” – 19, male
“My biggest fear, what keeps me up at night, is not realizing my true self worth.” – 25, male
“The death of my parents. I am dependent on them, I have known them all my life. I’m an only child. I’ve developed a substantial attraction to them, such that I can in no way imagine my life without them…That [answer] seems sufficient.” – 26, male
“Expecting so much from myself that I never get to my standards and goals and end up disappointing myself.” – 23, male
I don’t want to be alone.”
“Losing my mom. I actually take care of my mother…She got sick, I was the one who was there to get the ambulance…she had a brain injury, and now I’m taking care of her.” – 29, female
“Heights. It’s honestly more the walking up, the thoughts that flood my mind like, ‘Oh my god, I could fall over this railing.’” – 30, male
“Being alone. I don’t want to be alone.” – 61, female
What is your life purpose?
“To help people…I think a lot of people struggle, and I try my best to lighten their struggles…My brother struggled a lot with drugs, so I’d like to help him and anyone that he…took a toll on…the domino effect of drugs pretty much.” – 27, female
“To tell my testimony to other young teenagers, young girls, that…might struggle in life or have gone through situations and thought, ‘I just messed up my life forever.’ I am a firm believer that if you want something, no matter what age or what you’ve gone through, you can still [achieve] it.” – 39, female
“I think we’re all just here for a reason, and I don’t really know yet.” – 14, female
“My dream is to be a nurse. So to really help others, and find themselves really. Make them as comfortable as they can be. Make them feel like they have someone, someone to help them with whatever they need.” – 16, female
“To help animals. I’m going to school for marine biology, it’s to help animals that can’t help themselves or don’t know how.” – 18, female
“For my family, I want to have a nice job, so they can live comfortable their entire life after [my graduating college].” – 19, female
“I want to be a cop and detective one day, and I just want to help at least one person in life and save a life…Since I was younger, my dad was a cop and security guard and he helped people along the way…a lot of people hate cops, and I want to change at least one person’s view on it.” – 19, female
“I really feel like it’s to help others. I graduated in psychology and child studies, and I want to go in for counseling. Personally when I was younger, I felt like I didn’t have people, so I want to be that resource for younger kids that I never had.” – 22, female
“To write books.” – 14, female
“To make myself happy, to make my family happy…pretty much it, I don’t think I have much of a life purpose after that.” – 23, male
“I can see myself starting a life with my girlfriend, potentially my wife to be, and at that point, I think it’s going to be serving my family…raising successful children that have a positive impact on society.” – 29, female
If you only choose to ask, to take the first step in approaching others, you will find daring outcomes of human connection and vulnerability.
As I listened to the raw responses, a faint outline of the essentials of human existence—love, regret, fear and aspiration—started to appear. We are all more similar than we believe. Although the canvas of responses was distinctively unique, many were painted in the same subtle hues of emotion and experience.
If you only choose to take the leap, you will find a new world of possibility.
If you only choose to ask, to take the first step in approaching others, you will find daring outcomes of human connection and vulnerability. ”