Awkward Encounters Common on the 5Cs

The time has come to discuss the simplest and yet the most complicated of things: walking around the 5C campuses. Now, while some of you may scoff at first—walking is, after all, a skill that most of us hopefully mastered by the age of two—it becomes more difficult when you have to account for making eye contact with people. 

This is a delicate game, one played in careful glances and darting eyes. First off, you have to decide from far away whether or not you know the person. If the answer is no, you’re off the hook and are allowed to let your eyes wander wherever they will. But if the answer is yes, then you have to ascertain whether or not you want to acknowledge their presence. If the answer is no, well, that’s going to be super awkward. But if the answer is a resounding yes, then you have to choose between a myriad of possibilities of greetings. You’ve got the casual “How’s it going?” but then maybe you really don’t want to hear how it’s going. There’s the still-going-strong-from-the-90s “What’s up?” but then again, you don’t want to sound like you never grew out of the 90s. I personally settle for a friendly grin and a witty comment somewhere along the lines of, “Look what the Sagehen dragged in.” Just kidding, I never try to be witty. 

The crux of the problem comes when we realize that it’s not just strangers that we have eye contact problems with but also our friends. Coming down a straightaway, we don’t want to say “hi” too early, because then we’re still too far apart to have a conversation, and we’re just stuck staring each other down while we approach. But if you try to avoid eye contact for too long, then you might miss them, and you could lose a friend. See, walking around can be downright dangerous.

Furthermore, trying to avoid eye contact can be a real hassle. Beyond thinking about 1) how late I am to my next class, 2) where I misplaced my raincoat last semester, and 3) if the breeze is blowing my skirt up, I spend most of my walks around campus dealing with eye wrestling.

There are, I’ve realized, several coping mechanisms we use to deal with this perennial problem. One of my friends recently told me that she would grab her water bottle out of her backpack and occupy herself by drinking out of it. So that’s at least somewhat constructive because she’s hydrating, but it’s also really affecting her daily number of trips to the bathroom. Another friend told me that she avoids awkward eye contact by glancing around at the ground, the sky, or nearby buildings. This works very well for short distances, but carried out over too much ground, you look like you have some serious ADD. Also, the flowers by Walker Wall are lovely at this time of year, and you could spend an entire day pondering their rosy depths, but if you’re around Oldenborg, no one’s going to believe that you’re truly that fascinated by its soaring concrete slabs and dazzling beige hue. Finally, I have a good friend who admits that he never says “hello” unless he is particularly well-acquainted with the other stroller. I don’t believe this is sustainable.

For my part, I say hello to absolutely everyone. This may have something to do with my refusal to wear glasses outside of movies, classes, and occasionally driving. As I can’t quite make out faces (or signs) over twenty feet away, I settle for smiling or nodding to absolutely everyone that I recognize in the slightest—that, or peer intensely at them for 10 seconds too many. It’s not perfect, but then again neither am I (thus the need for the glasses). Sure, I might have told someone that they looked super sexy in that leotard while crossing Marston Quad … only to discover that it wasn’t them. But at worst, being friendly with everyone leads to funny anecdotes that you can use in your column, and, at best, you become a happier person. Seriously,Scientific American reports that “our emotions are reinforced—perhaps even driven—by their corresponding facial expressions” in the article “Smile! It Could Make You Happier.” So next time you see someone you know who you kinda-sorta-maybe think you should smile at—do it. It’s in your own self-interest after all. And if that doesn’t motivate us dispassionate humanoids, I don’t know what will.

My favorite days are the ones when it hasn’t been sunny for a while, and, all of a sudden, the sun comes out from behind a rain cloud and shines down on us. Then, it feels like we’re about to be extras in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s dance to “You Make My Dreams Come True.” We can’t help ourselves: We giddily grin at each other, strangers and friends alike. On these days, I don’t think about eye contact or measuring the paces between us. I revel solely in the sun, and when I turn to you, we bask together for the brief space of a smile.

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