We’ve all been there. We meet many people in life. Often we forget their names (at least I do), but seldom do we forget their faces. And then, months later, we’re beside them in a checkout line or in the same elevator (hit the emergency button!), and we know we know them, but do they remember? Do we bring it up? Do we say hi? Or do we pretend we don’t recognize them? Or, even better, we don’t see them?
This most recently happened to me while I was at Kroger. Two guys live above me in my apartment building. We share many acquaintances (44 mutual friends according to Facebook), but we’ve run into each other about three times in the last year. The furthest our conversation has gone is “What’s up?” while one of us holds the door.
Suddenly I found myself at the self-checkout counter beside my neighbor. What do I do? Do I say hi? He’s focusing on his screen. Let me focus harder on mine. Or should I interrupt him to say hey? Am I rude to say nothing? Or is it weirder to say something?
As is typical of most questions I pose on this blog, I don’t have the answer. As an extrovert, people expect me to be willing to break the ice with strangers and/or vague acquaintances. But I’m also shy. As a kid, I hid behind my mother’s legs – or I walked into rooms underneath a blanket.
I rigorously follow elevator etiquette (though I also think American hostility to random chitchat is bizarre – until I’m the person in the shades who is like, “Why are you talking to me?”). I am also more comfortable striking up dialogue with a complete stranger than I am with saying hello to the person I’ve met before.
So no, I didn’t say hi to my neighbor. I glued my eyes to that self-checkout because, gosh, what is the code for bananas (4011), and rushed to finish before he did.
A few experiences have reinforced my decision to rarely remind people that “hey, Derek, how are you? Do you remember we used to be friends?” The most poignant one is the time I went to a water aerobics class with my friend. Our instructor turned out to be a woman named “Jasmine,” who I went to high school with (at least I think we did?). Jasmine and I shared at least four classes every year from freshman through senior year.
Me: “It’s Cazey.”
Me: “We went to high school together.”
Jasmine: “Where’d you go?”
Me: “First Colonial…?”
Jasmine: “I don’t remember you.”
Me: “You used to bring Hardee’s biscuits to senior seminar. Every morning.” Desperate: “At 7:25 AM. With Mrs. Phillips.”
Jasmine: *nods* “Okay, so everyone, get in the pool.”
Me to my friend: “I swear I’m not crazy. We knew each other.”
Later in the class, I tried to jog Jasmine’s mind more. “You did track and shotput,” I told her.
Jasmine: “I did.”
Me: “You have a twin who went to a different high school, but one day senior year she and you switched places.”
Jasmine (to the class): “Let’s do some laps in the pool.”
Me internally: “Am I forgettable? Has she forgotten we knew each other? Or is this the evil twin? People usually tell me I’m not forgettable!”
I didn’t tell Jasmine bye after class. I didn’t think she would remember.
Another time, I ran into a friend who I also went to middle and high school with. In this case, “Jack” called me out: “Cazey?”
Me: “Hey. Jack, right?” Though I definitely knew his name was Jack.
Jack: “Did you lose a lot of weight?”
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I was a fat child. But I lost all my weight in high school. I did not lose weight in college. Like, at all.
Me to Jack: “Uh…I lost weight in early to mid-high school.”
Jack: “You look good.”
Me: “Thanks. It was nice seeing you.” You obviously don’t remember me well.
On the topic of weight loss, I go to the gym five to seven days a week. Going that often I see all the other gym-goers. And I’ve been seeing them every day for the last three years. But the heck if I know their names. It’s not like the gym holds a monthly happy hour, and it's not customary to ask someone their name when they’re asking to “work in” (which, by the way, makes me uncomfortable when people do that because you’re rushing me).
Or is it normal to share your name? This is when I get self-conscious. Maybe I’m the socially stunted one who doesn’t readily offer my identity in haphazard interactions with people when I should be?
I’ve now found myself confronted multiple times with a face that looks familiar, and then it hits me: they go to my gym. I see them every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. They do legs on Mondays. But do I know them? Do I say hi? Again, am I supposed to say something here? They could just as easily say something.
We definitely see each other. Full eye contact is made. But then I continue to the restroom, or to another checkout aisle, or I look at my phone screen because that is every millennial’s security blanket.
Last week this happened again. There’s a guy at my gym with a noticeable faux hawk. My roommates and I went to paint night. Across the table from me, face hidden behind the canvas, I saw his faux hawk. Holy crap. Social anxiety poured over me. We are sitting three feet away from one another, bodily facing each other. Today we have to acknowledge that we know each other and have known each other since August 2013. But I don’t know your name. Or even your affiliation to my university. Are you an undergrad? PhD candidate? Faculty? (JK, not with that faux hawk.) Who are you?
And then he moved his canvas. It wasn’t the Faux Hawk Guy from my gym. It was someone else who I did not know with a faux hawk.
My anxiety drained away. I could go another day without really knowing someone.