After a long day in an office with defective air conditioning and inane “banter”, one of the highlights of my week is to go on a nice long walk to clear my head. On these walks, unless they are good friends, it is my hope that I do not bump into or even see anyone I know. This would pretty much be 90% of my “Facebook friends”, work colleagues, random acquaintances, ex-lovers and or that guy you used to work with at TGI Fridays for that one shift – basically people that I haven’t properly interacted with in over a decade.
This week, on one of my blissful walks I could see in the distance a guy (for reasons I will not go into) I have actively avoided for some time. On seeing him, I had the following choices: 1) carry on walking like an adult, tap him on the shoulder and engage in small talk; 2) carry on walking in the same direction and hope he did not see me; or 3) inconvenience myself by crossing the road, walking in the opposite direction and adding 30 minutes to my journey just so that I could be certain of avoiding him. What did I choose? What most rational 29/30 year olds would do in that situation: inconvenience myself and walk the opposite way.
When I made the decision to turn the opposite way so that I was certain of not bumping into this guy, I felt a mixture of shame, sadness, but overwhelming relief. The sadness and shame was likely ego driven and based on the fact that I now had to alter my route by lengthening it and choosing a far busier (and dangerous) path. At the same time, the guy I was avoiding was going about his business without a care in the world. Conscious that my longer walk in suit trousers was exponentially increasing the risk of destroying them by inner thigh chafing, I also contemplated my reasoning in taking the route of self-preservation – was it fear or just the desire to be left to listen to my podcast?
It is a blessing and a curse to be able to spot people in the distance when I am out and about. I almost always spot them before they spot me giving me a head start in making a decision to engage or avoid. This is a blessing because I can avoid unpleasant encounters with people you used to date for example. It is a curse because I am not fully in the moment, but constantly scanning my surroundings to make sure the coast is clear.
Avoid eye contact at all costs
There are times when my radar fails me and eye contact is inadvertently made with the person you want to avoid. You still have the same options as above, yet somehow walking away will make you look like a socially retarded coward. You could also be someone who has transcended their ego and does whatever they want to do – I fear I’m not old enough to be completely unconcerned by what people think of me. When inadvertent eye contact is made, the mask comes on: I try and engage in conversation or acknowledge the person. More often than not, and to my dismay, they pretend not to see me but go about their business! This is fine if you have somewhere to walk to. It is nightmare if you are in a confined space, like the tube. I have lost count of the amount of ruined tube journeys I have had because me and a person I “know” pretend not to have seen each other. Our egos will ensure that neither of us give up our seats or get off the tube just so that the agony can be prolonged. Sometimes the agony is so unbearable that I have been known to just get off the tube – something my good friend takes pride in doing.
Lets get social
I like to think of myself as a social person, capable to chatting to anybody. I’m sure that if I had bumped into the guy I succeeded in avoiding we would have had a nice conversation and made empty promises about how we should meet up. However, it is precisely that sort of fakery I am keen to avoid. This is why I avoid the situation at all costs. In my more insecure moments, I have even questioned whether I had some form of social anxiety because I was actively avoiding people and places. While this might be true on some level, on another more basic level I just want to be left alone and not have to put on that social mask. Sometimes we need to be reclusive because it is good for sanity. Having endless “stop and chats” (coined by Larry David) in the crowded streets of London is something I would rather avoid. But, sometimes it’s easier to just be nice and say hello. If the person you say hello to ignores you, that’s their problem.
If you see me it the street don’t pretend not to have seen me because I would have seen you first! Either way, I will say hello – it’s healthier that way.