Eloise Libre | Frankly Candid
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 08:10
Is it just me, or do all Tufts students experience awkward encounters on the sidewalk? These awful interactions occur all the time; sometimes it is uncomfortable to acknowledge a passing comrade, but sometimes it is even worse to ignore them. Either way, these exchanges affect people downhill, uphill and walking between Halligan and Gantcher. In an attempt to expose the various types of inevitable sidewalk interactions, I hope to shed some wisdom and advice on how to handle them — because even though only a brave few admit it, we all experience these.
The classic pedestrian horror story involves a person whom you had hoped to avoid. Whether this is a former employer, nightmarish freshman roommate or cohort in a recent one-night stand, this is someone who you would rather not interact with face-to-face. Generally, we limit such encounters to brief eye contact, or a quickly mumbled “hey” at the absolute most. In these situations, I often pretend to have something in my eye that requires an inordinate amount of rubbing as an excuse “not to see” the approaching subject.
Another typical run-in is that of the tangential friend. While it would be awkward to avoid these people entirely, we possess few potential words to exchange with them. In my experience, the best way to navigate this situation is by feigning complete distraction on your cell phone until the last possible second, at which point you look up just in time to greet this person and pretend to act surprised: “Hey, how’s it going? We should totally get lunch and catch up!” News flash: Neither of you actually intend on sharing a meal.
One of the most awkward sidewalk encounters happens when you think you see a friend ahead and start to call out to them. Halfway through the excited squeal, you realize the inevitable: that it is, in fact, not the person you thought you had recognized from 100 yards away. In an effort to play off your audible warble, you continue to sing to yourself for the next 30 seconds so that anyone within earshot might just assume you had been humming along on your own and thinking out loud. You walk away sinking with regret and burning shame.
Then, there is the classic act of third wheeling. You are walking with a friend who bumps into another friend — one who is not mutual. While the two of them catch up in what feels like a dramatic and unnecessarily lengthy conversation, you casually check your phone, perusing your Facebook and Twitter even though you have no new notifications. After about a minute of wishing you could dissolve into the bush behind you, your friend remembers that you have been awkwardly witnessing this interaction and finally exhibits some decency by introducing you to the other friend.
As humiliating as the encounter feels to those who experience it (and we all have), the perspective of an outsider can be equally humiliating. Sometimes you know something you should not about that pair’s history, or you can just tell by way of the forced greeting that the victims possess some mutual disdain. Watching an interaction develop uncomfortably makes me suffer second-hand embarrassment.
For most people, sidewalk encounters generally unfold in awkward and unexpected ways. However, for the limited population of socially suave Tufts students, the Sidewalk World is one full of fun reconnections that give the impression you are the mayor of Pro Row. (I once heard someone actually refer to themselves as such.) Maybe one day I will learn the art of sidewalk aplomb, but for now I remain with most people, frozen and frazzled in awkward class-to-class interaction.