Because I have Crohn’s Disease, I’m on a medication called Remicade which I take intravenously. Every 5-6 weeks I spend an afternoon at the Doctor’s office, sleeping in a reclining chair while medicine drips into me. Last Friday I had an infusion, and as I was waking up from my nap, the PA who administers the infusion suggested I check who was in the chair at the other end of the room. Three big chairs down from me was a former teammate of mine from Team Challenge, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s Half Marathon Training/Fundraising Program. The PA knew that we were friendly through our involvement in the program, and she was amused that we had been in the same room for so long without recognizing each other. (I was asleep, a valid excuse!) I hadn’t seen my teammate since we had returned from our race in Vegas last December, and I was happy to catch up with her. She told me that she had finished graduate school, started a new job, and was preparing for this year’s race.
The next night, Kirios and I went out with my friend/coworker and another coworker happened to walk into the same bar as us, right behind us. Neither of us are friends with him, but we know him fairly well, so we said hello to him and remarked on the coincidence. By the time he finished saying hi back, he was already up the stairs on a different floor from us.
Why is saying hello to an acquaintance so easy with some people and so painfully awkward with others? It happens all of the time – you’re on the metro, at an event, or even at the supermarket and you spot someone you know. In my experience, one of three things generally happens:
- You say hello. You smile and ask them how they are. You inquire about their family/significant other/mutual friends you also haven’t been in touch with, or you reminisce about the class you took together or the crazy party you saw them at last. Five to ten minutes later you part ways feeling satisfied that you ran into someone who you never see. You might even send the other party an email or Facebook post the next day saying it was nice running into him or her. In extreme cases, you might even make plans to intentionally see this person in the future.
- You say hello. You smile and ask them how they are, or vice versa. Maybe there’s an awkward hug. (Ever notice how these always happen at the bar, but are way less likely on the train or at the supermarket?!?) And by the time the other party says “I’m good,” you’re both making your way to the next person, place, or conversation. You generally feel nothing. Occasionally, you’re dissatisfied – you think you deserve more than 30 seconds of the other person’s time, or there’s sadness over a relationship that was once meaningful and is now reduced to hi and bye. But chances are this person doesn’t mean a whole lot to you now, even and if they do, you both clearly had other, more attractive reasons for being where you were than catching up with each other.
- You duck and cover. Maybe you’re at the mall and you can’t bear the thought of anyone seeing you buying Spanx for that upcoming wedding, so you suddenly decide to stop and bury your face in a clearance rack you had no desire to browse. Or you’re at dinner with friends and spot a guy you went on one and only one truly awful date with – you lift your menu up high and slouch lower in your booth. As long as you don’t make eye contact, there’s no obligation to go there…
Most of us ladies have grabbed a friend by the arm and run away from creepers at the bar, but the practice isn’t limited to creepers. I’d like to tell you that I always say hello. After all, a few nice words can go a long way, and what’s the worst that could happen? But I’ll admit it – I’m definitely a flip-flopper on this issue, depending on the person and the situation.
I do frequently say hi. I ran into my old boss at the mall last year; I walked up to him and said hi, I introduced him to Kirios and he introduced his wife to us. We talked for five minutes and then continued our shopping. Monday morning my boss sent an email gushing about how touched he was that we went up to him, and how lovely it was to meet Kirios. I thought all of the fuss in the message was overkill, but was glad to have made his day.
But there are also plenty of times I back off and lay low. I haven’t seen him for at least five years, and we weren’t close then. I probably wouldn’t have recognized her if she didn’t Facebook friend me after that one party. Or my glasses prescription is out of date and I’m only 96% positive that’s the person who I think it is. I’ll say hi if someone is with other people I’m friendly with, or if we make direct eye contact, but if it’s just me and him or her on the train, I’ll keep reading my paper. Go ahead and call me callous or a coward. Pretend you don’t do it too. I know you do. The duck and cover is here to stay.