Not So Remarkable Coincidence May 13, 2008

Not So Remarkable Coincidence

I was at my cousin’s wedding this past weekend. He lives in Ohio but the wedding took place outside of Chicago (where most of the family and friends live).

During the ceremony/reception, I saw a girl there… she wasn’t in the immediate family (she was white) but she did look familiar. In fact, the few times we made eye contact, we gave each other those brief glances that said: I know you from somewhere

Midway through the reception, I thought I figured out how I knew her. I decided to throw it out there…


I was right! (Go me!)

She didn’t know my name but that wasn’t important.

It turned out the reason I knew her was because she was my (newly-married) cousin’s neighbor back in Columbus, OH. When I was *much* younger, my family would visit his fairly often. The kids would play outside and sometimes the cousin’s neighbors would join us, she being one of them.

It must have been 15 years since I last saw her. But she still looked vaguely like her younger self.

We didn’t know each other very well at all but we made some small talk.

We discussed our jobs. She worked in the athletic department at the college she graduated from. I was a math teacher. She said she had a friend who taught math in the Chicago Public Schools. We talked about that for a bit. Teaching in the city is a tough job. I work in a fairly affluent suburb, far away from that world.

After a few minutes of this, I realized I knew someone who graduated from Christine’s university. Not only that, but the girl I knew had been a part of Teach For America and now worked in Chicago. It was a girl I went to middle school with back when I lived in Tennessee and we still kept in touch.

How weird was that?

She said her Chicago friend also fit that description…


My friend’s name was Kim.

So was Christine’s.

I mentioned a last name.

Then there was an eerie silence for a couple seconds.

“Kim was my roommate for two years in college,” said Christine.


So to recap: My friend from 8th grade went to college in another state and was roommates with a girl who had lived two doors down from my cousin.

The first thoughts that I had were: How amazing. What a small world. What are the odds of that?

But when you think about it, was it really that big of a deal?

Surely, there were other people at the wedding party who would know at least one of the acquaintances I’ve met in my life — someone we would never guess we were both connected to.

If you ran an experiment where two complete strangers made a list of all the people they’ve ever known and compared them, I’m sure overlaps would turn up between a large number of those pairings (but I don’t have any evidence to back that up). When you consider the two “strangers” to already have a connection (like guests at a wedding), I would think the “random” connections would turn up even more frequently.

The amazing thing about the connection between Christine and I was that we were able to ferret out who it was.

Very cool. But not all that remarkable.

Now, I’m just thinking of all the explanations other people would give for the same “incredible coincidence”…

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Damn Hemant, I was all geared up for some kind of romance story and you let me down! 🙂

  • The nearly unfathomable odds of that exact occurrence happening exactly that way cannot be avoided. Clearly God intended you to meet for a greater purpose.

  • Cindy

    That’s right…start planning your wedding right now! (She is single, right?)

  • You got her digits, right? It’s clearly a sign from god.

  • TXatheist

    I thought this was leading to a romance story also. Don’t worry, Mrs. Right will come along. Natural selection works this way(not god)

  • I think that you mean “sexual selection” works this way.

    You’re prime pickin’s Hemant. You just have to know when to wave around those tail feathers.

  • Kate

    Just for once, I think you should stop analyzing the logicality of the coincidence and decide to take it as a “sign” – romance story!!!

  • The stars aligned, the spirits strove for your meeting, Cupid drew and flung an arrow (and missed – he always was a poor shot). Yet, you are right, odds are it would happen. Don’t you just love completely plausible alternative explanations?

  • cipher

    I don’t know, Hemant – Jung thought this sort of thing happens all the time, and I don’t think he brought God into it. He thought it was just the way the universe works. Can’t one be an atheist without being a radical materialist?

  • Arlen

    You could probably do a little experimentation on this by running down your list of Facebook friends, viewing each friend’s “friends we have in common” list, and looking for connections between folks you never would expect to be connected.

    For me, my spheres of friendship are fairly distinct. I went to school in one town, went to church in another, moved several hundred miles away to college, and then moved over 1,000 miles away from my college. It is both incredibly rare and exciting to find out that any of my friends from different “spheres” know each other. Although, like George Costanza, I can get nervous when worlds start colliding.

  • cipher

    Although, like George Costanza, I can get nervous when worlds start colliding.

    You’re killing independent George!

  • You’re killing independent George!

    Cipher, not to get too argumentative as we have been sparring a bit in an older thread, but you now owe me a clean monitor. 😉

  • When I was a kid, I went with my grandparents on a trip across several states for more than a week. About 400 miles from our home, we stopped to see if some people with a flat tire needed help. It turns out that they knew some people my grandparents knew.

  • the Shaggy

    I think what a lot of people are not asking is:

    Hemant, did you do it up?

  • bob

    When I was 20, living in Virginia, I joined the USAF. One day while in the dinning hall at basic training in San Antonio, TX, I spotted a fellow who looked familiar. I couldn’t just walk over to him. We had to stay with our own group.
    A few weeks passed before we were granted some freedoms. I ran into this fellow outside and asked him where he was from. Turned out, we were in the 6th grade together in San Diego, CA. I moved to Virginia in the 7th grade. Funny.

  • cipher

    You’re killing independent George!

    Cipher, not to get too argumentative as we have been sparring a bit in an older thread, but you now owe me a clean monitor.

    I almost said, “You’re killing independent Hemant!” but I was afraid that no one would get it!

  • Viggo the Carpathian

    I was in London in ’94, well over 2000 miles from home in a strange city, in a strange night club and ran into a guy who lived right up the road from me at home. We had never met before but we knew a bunch of the same people, he just happened to be on business travel.


  • Ahh, the power of coincidence. I applaud you for using this term instead of ones like fate and destiny. The power of percentage is at work!

  • Siamang


    (Taking the cue that “New Atheist” means “atheist willing to call God a childish superstition.”)

    Albert Einstein described belief in God as “childish superstition” and said Jews were not the chosen people, in a letter to be sold in London this week, an auctioneer said Tuesday.

    The father of relativity, whose previously known views on religion have been more ambivalent and fuelled much discussion, made the comments in response to a philosopher in 1954.

    As a Jew himself, Einstein said he had a great affinity with Jewish people but said they “have no different quality for me than all other people”.

    “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

    “No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this,” he wrote in the letter written on January 3, 1954 to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, cited by The Guardian newspaper.

    The German-language letter is being sold Thursday by Bloomsbury Auctions in Mayfair after being in a private collection for more than 50 years, said the auction house’s managing director Rupert Powell.

    In it, the renowned scientist, who declined an invitation to become Israel’s second president, rejected the idea that the Jews are God’s chosen people.

    “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” he said.

    “And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people.”

    And he added: “As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

  • Iztok

    How about this. Last week I was in SoCal (LA) and met a friend of mine that I haven’t seen since 8th grade (we are both in mid 30s). She was in LA that day work related too. Considering she lives in San Diego, CA now and I live in Charlotte, NC and we both grew up in Slovenia (former Yugoslavia) it is quite interesting one would say.

    No it is not faith or whatever. It is just good to be able to meet some friends from distant past.

  • Ahh, the power of coincidence. I applaud you for using this term instead of ones like fate and destiny. The power of percentage is at work!

    I like serendipity. It’s romantic without being superstitious.

  • I am with writerdd. I was expecting a romance story too. Is she hot? Did you get her number? That is the stuff we like to hear about 😉

  • MercuryBlue

    I’ve got a similar-ish story. A couple weeks ago, I was reading archives for the LiveJournal Daily Quiz,, and copying random funny bits to my roommate. She looked at the username attached to one of these and asked if I was sure of the username, then asked to see the user’s profile, then told me this person was someone she knew from college. (Also, oddly enough, named Kim.)

  • I was playing pool in a bar in Hampshire when a visiting American (from Arizona, I believe) challenged me to a game. We got chatting and drinking and it turned out that he is the cousin of the wife of one of my best friends from school. Thereby confirming the myth that everybody in England knows each other because it’s “such a small country, not like America”.

  • Karen

    Hemant, did your eyes meet across a crowded room? Were the birds singing or the fireflies twinkling? It must have been the Holy Spirit!

    I would love to have a nickel for every “couldn’t possibly be a coincidence” story I heard like this from Christians. When you live in a supernaturally-tinged world, there’s a magic wand waving just behind every weird twist in life.

    Actually taking the time to consider the odds and puzzle out that coincidences do happen all the time – even extraordinary ones – is too difficult. It’s much easier and more fun (spine-tingling!) to assume that goddidit.

  • When you live in a supernaturally-tinged world, there’s a magic wand waving just behind every weird twist in life.

    Growing up, I took cues from people around me and equated every coincidence with divine intervention, convinced that God was trying to tell me something and trying to discern the message.

    I was chosen to “lead devotion” in my world history class in high school. The night before, my then best friend and I were listening to some Christian music on shuffle, and one song came up twice in a row. We were convinced that God wanted me to play that song and talk about it.

    Of course, when what I thought He was telling me started consistently failing to come true, that was probably one of the first ever serious blows to my faith (actually, the very first was a satanic firefly at summer camp, but that’s another story). I recovered, of course, determining that I was simply not yet adept enough at discerning God’s immediate will for me.

  • Oh, hush. All of you. 😛

    When I have a good romantic/scandalous story, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

  • My coincidental meet-up story: my wife and I were on our honeymoon driving around Europe and England for a summer. On a whim we drove up from Bath to Tintern Abbey in southern Wales, a ruin in the middle of nowhere that is famous because Wordsworth once wrote a poem about it.

    As we were wandering the grounds I noticed a girl I recognized because she went to the same college my wife and I had just graduated from and one of my roommates had had a major crush on her during Junior year. She didn’t know me though. Anyway, I went up to her and said “Sarah?” She gave me a strange look and said “Yes?” I said, “Do you know Dan Inouye?” She gives me an even stranger look and said “Yes?”. I said, “I’m his roommate from Wheaton.”

    Turns out she was touring England and went to the Abbey on a whim that day as well. She also happened to need a ride to Bath, right where we were going, because the Britrail pass had been late and was now waiting for her at the post office there. So thanks to this fortunate coincidence we were able to give her a lift.

    She wasn’t the only classmate from Wheaton we crossed paths with that summer. We ran into another friend we knew as our tour groups passed each other in the hallway at Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. We met up later in the gift shop after the tour.

    How random is that? 🙂

  • Josha

    Two friends in my fraternity were talking about their families this past semester. Turns out they are both related to the same family that came on a ship to New England in the early years of America.

    Interesting but the genetic relationship is much diluted by this point.

  • Jen

    I have had some weird stories like that.

    When I studied abroad, there were a few people who ran into old friends also studying abroad- a first grade friend here, a high school buddy there. I never did. But at work last week, I met the cousin of my high school biology teacher, who only mentioned her because I was wearing an old t-shirt.

    I think Facebook really brought to light how many of my friends who I thought would never know each other actually did in fact know each other. I agree with the whole spheres of friends idea- I don’t want my friends from this area of my life to meet my friends from another area of my life. My high school friends do not need to meet my college friends, who do not need to meet my Real World Working Job friends.

    I remember Slate had an article after 9-11 about how many people in America were actually affected by the deaths- 3000 people died, and they knew X people who knew Y people, and 3000 x X x Y = about a million people directly or indirectly affected from 9-11.

    Also, if I were the girl Hemant wrote about, and I decided to google him when I got home form the wedding, and I found all these matchmakers, I would probably run away, possibly to Ohio.

  • Jenn, when this girl google’s Hemant and sees he is a big ol Atheist, there’s about a 50% chance she will run away farther than Ohio. lol Sorry Hemant. Im learning in my life now that cool people I encounter want much less to do with me when they learn I am an Athiest housewife who probably eats her own young.

    Also, isn’t this thread a little like the “seven degree’s of separation” theory? I think the concept is everyone is about 7 people away from having someone in common? Im a little rusty on that whole thing…. but I do play ” Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon” quite often. Still stuns me to this day.

  • OK, I’ll try that again…

    Stacy, it’s actually 6 degrees
    here’s the wiki link

    and baby’s taste so nice 🙂

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