A couple weeks ago, I accepted an invitation to get coffee with someone I’d never met before. Asking someone you don’t know well out for coffee seems normal, but I mean it when I say that I’d never met this person before — I didn’t even know what he (or she) looked like. The idea was to have fun and maybe make a new friend. The initiative came from a new campus group called Argo UMich.
Argo finds it can sometimes be hard to meet people outside the confines of class, something students across the University can related to. finds it can sometimes be hard to meet people outside the confines of class. It’s intimidating to strike up a conversation with someone who just happens to be walking across the Diag in the same direction as you — as Argo explained in an e-mail with the Daily, “If you’re not in the same class or club, you don’t have an excuse.” Sometimes you’re too busy to join new clubs or take on more extracurricular activities. Maybe partying isn’t really your scene because you prefer talking to people one-on-one in places where you don’t find it necessary to shout over the music.
You probably know you’re capable of being funny and interesting — that you’re able to hold a conversation, but only if you’re given the chance to get one started. And it can be hard to maintain relationships when you’re not involved in activities with your friends, instead having to schedule times when you can meet up in person. With all of those things in mind, I signed up for a Friday afternoon slot at Sweetwaters on East Liberty Street. At the very least, I figured I’d be able to enjoy a hot cup of tea and some macarons.
Argo sends e-mails to each pair of students a few minutes before their friend-date is supposed to start, providing each with a link to the other’s Facebook page and offering a short list of questions to get the conversation going. But since I don’t have data on my phone and was coming straight from class, I didn’t have a chance to so much as glance at my mystery-friend’s profile picture, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to recognize whoever I was meeting. Almost as soon as I walked in, though, I was greeted by another girl with the words, “Hi, are you here for Argo?”
Over hot drinks, we got as far as the first question Argo had sent along — What is something you used to do as a child that you wish you could still do? Then the talk went in a totally different direction as we discovered a strong passion we both shared: a love of art. We swapped preferences for paints and the best places to buy art supplies (agreeing on www.dickblick.com, nodding sadly to the Walgreens that was once Michigan Book & Supply). We complimented pictures of one another’s pieces that we had on our laptops and phones. When it was time for both of us to leave, we looked up and found the hour had flown by.
As Argo had hoped would be the case, we had fun. Though the organization doesn’t match people for their preferences, instead using time and location to set up the coffee dates, we were able to find an area which we had a lot in common, and that’s what Argo hopes for: “We know there is something really exciting and powerful about meeting someone new and discovering all that you have in common and all that makes you different — and we don’t think students get the opportunity to connect with one another in this way very often, if at all.”
Though I haven’t kept in touch with the girl I talked to that rainy Friday afternoon, I did enjoy myself as we shared stories of something we both love doing. And I was able to relax because I knew we had each chosen to be in that place at that time, listening to one another. “Both parties sign up for our service,” Argo says. “So both parties want to meet someone new. … That eliminates a lot of the anxiety we feel when we don’t know if someone actually wants us to talk to them.”
Overall, the response to Argo has been very positive: “We don’t personally know the majority of students who signed up for friend-dates, and that’s been really validating because it tells us that yes, there is a problem, and Argo might be the way to solve it.”
Ultimately, they want to help people recognize that there are others out there who feel the same way they do — who understand how, without a class or club to provide a connection, starting conversations might seem a little weird.
“You can’t just strike up a conversation with the person next to you at the dining hall without getting, at least in some way, a ‘why are you talking to me?’ vibe,” Argo explains. It’s hard to turn strangers into friends, and Argo understands this — it’s what spawned the idea for the organization in the first place. As students become comfortable with Argo, and as it becomes a part of the culture here on campus, the organization aims to continue expanding its reach by taking the openness it promotes outside the boundaries of friend-dates. “Eventually, our hope is that after using Argo a handful of times, students will learn that they can talk to anyone, and even more so, that they should.”
Susan LaMoreaux can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.