That quick jerk of the eye and head. We all know it. Sometimes it’s followed by a smile—“Hey, how’s it going?” Other times, by nothing…but a weird, short-lived sense of guilt.
Of course, I’m talking about pretending you don’t see someone you know. On the street, in the subway, in a restaurant, out for a run, or the worst, in an elevator. Your past comes back to burst the bubble you now live in, and you think, “Huh, was that Alex from high school? What’s she doing near my office?” As if Alex from high school couldn’t possibly work in the same neighborhood where you work.
So you continue walking right past Alex, despite knowing that you made eye contact and both of you hesitated making the next step. But then you feel like a jerk. Man, what if she had something really interesting or nice to say? Where were you going that was so important you couldn’t stop to say hi?
But then again, she didn’t stop either. So it’s fine, right? Well, kind of, not really. You still feel like a bit of a jerk. But you begin to rationalize, as one does with all guilty feelings.
The way I see it, there are four categories of ignoring acquaintances. They’ll be rated, of course, on a scale of one to four awkward handshakes between Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, where one awkward handshake means, “Huh? Who?” and four mean, “Oh shit, what have I done?”
The no-time-gotta-go snub
This happens! I’m late to lunch dates with my friend all the time. I might text or email you later to say, “Saw you on the street but was late for a meeting! How are things?” Or not, and I’ll just wait until the next time we bump into each other. Whenever that is.
I feel least sorry about these, because it’s the most legitimate reason.
The I-don’t-feel-like-small-talk snub
This can take two forms, really. A) Our conversations are never really enjoyable because they’re so shallow. Remember the last time we stopped on the sidewalk to catch up? Right. Why do that again? Or B) It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other. Like years. What could we possibly have in common other than that one thing from way back? Let’s not bring that up for the sake of finding something to say, shall we?
Still, these are the ones I feel worst about. So many what-ifs.
The not-in-the-mood snub
One has to be in the right frame of mind to stop and chat with a passing acquaintance. So maybe I just ignored you if I’m not having a good day and don’t want to talk to anyone at the moment, thanks. On the other hand, if I’m having a really great day, I’ll be damned if I’m going to make small talk with someone I know whom I just happen to pass on the street. (The corollary to this is if I’m listening to a really great song/podcast/show on my headphones.) Try again, pal!
I feel kind of bad about these snubs. I should probably chill out a bit.
The I-never-really-want-to-talk-to-you-anyway snub
Let’s face it. We’ve just never really clicked. We’re friends of friends, or friends of one of my exes, or maybe we ran into each other at the same birthday parties a couple times but frankly, you weren’t very fun. Something like that. I don’t feel compelled to be your friend in any way and I bet it’s mutual. That’s fine, no need to disturb this equilibrium. I saw you from half a block away and neither of us paused for a nanosecond.
Come to think about it, I don’t feel so bad about these, either.
Have a good day!
Obama-Sarkozy image via the Chicago Sun-Times.