Stressing over when to smile

Kristine Gill

Seeing someone you know on campus can be a good thing. It can be a great thing, or it can be a very stressful 30-second span. Because there are people you know, people you’ve known for years, people you’d rather you didn’t know, people you wish you knew, you kind of know, you recognize, that you encounter everyday. And just to make things fun, there are different regulations and codes for how you’re to address each person.

When I look up into a crowd and spot someone I know, I have the option to acknowledge or ignore them. If I choose the latter, I can play it off on any of several excuses: I didn’t see you in the crowd, I was in a hurry, I didn’t think YOU saw ME and that’s YOUR fault, I was busy watching a squirrel.

If there’s not a crowd to blame things on, then it’s just you and your target. I guess you could ignore them then too, but remember you could see this person again.

If I know you from something but we’ve never talked, chances are I’ll give you a smirk. A full-blown smile might seem too eager, and doing nothing at all comes off cold.

If you’re scurrying to class and happen to pass a good friend, it’s easy to look up and smile, wave or say “Hi.” These encounters aren’t usually awkward, but they sometimes feel insufficient.

If I were to pass my mother on campus I wouldn’t look up and say “Hey there, how’s it goin’?” The pain of childbirth, in addition to a nine-month stay in her womb, would probably warrant something more like a pause in my route to class, and maybe some low-key display of affection. But there are people on this campus whom I like almost as much as my family, so do I need to stop and chitchat when I see them? Who knows? Where is the rulebook on this stuff, and where the hell is my copy?

The substitution for stopping and chatting is the walking conversation. If this baby is timed correctly it can be a great thing. If it’s poorly executed it makes me feel dumb and I hate you for it. If I see you coming, we make eye contact, and I think you’re within hearing range, I can start the walking conversation with a greeting. Once you’ve responded, I can continue with an inquisition as to the quality of your day thus far. Depending on how well I know you this next question could range from “How are you?” to “What’s up?” The better I know you, the more relaxed that last part is going to be. If we’ve timed it correctly, you’ll be able to answer this question and secure a response from me before I’ve passed you. I want to strangle the people who are still talking to me once we’ve passed each other.

Maybe I’m the only one who stresses out about running into people. Maybe you think about it too. Maybe I shouldn’t have written a column that is going to make every encounter I have from now on that much more stressful. You could ease that stress though, and say “Hi, Kristine,” when we pass. It might seem overly eager, but you could just get a full-blown smile back.

Kristine Gill is a newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].