Welcome to For Your Consideration, a new series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.
In this iteration of FYC, some names have been changed.
In my eighth grade civics and economics class, we had to do a project where we were coupled up with a partner and both of us were randomly assigned occupations and salaries. With our partner, we had to come up with a household budget and were graded based on our ability to construct a believable cost of living and accrue savings. I was partnered with Jessica Walden.
Always the overachiever, I wanted to save as much money as possible even though Jessica and I both ended up with high-earning professions: she was a doctor, and I was a stockbroker (lol). As a way to save extra fake money, I humbly suggested that we buy just one fake car and carpool to our fake jobs together. Jessica turned me down. “It’s not realistic,” she said. And our teacher agreed with her! For reasons unbeknownst to me at the time, I cried. Reader, you and present-day me know exactly why I had such a strong emotional reaction. This was one of my earliest experiences of lesbian heartbreak. Sure, Jessica and my life together was all pretend, but I was very invested in that pretend life together. Why couldn’t we share a car? In fact, why couldn’t we save even more money and just get a one bedroom apartment together?
I had more or less forgotten about this eighth grade civics and economics class drama until years later when I was scheduled to have an interview with a very famous actress and was waiting to be connected by her assistant. “Um, this is awkward,” the assistant started, “but I saw your name on the schedule, and I’m not sure if you remember me but it’s Jessica Walden from middle school.”
I am happy to report that I actually played it pretty cool. “Jessica! Hi!” I said, ignoring the floodgates that had just opened to my memories of being an extremely closeted and repressed eighth grader who was capable of having her heart broken over a civics and economics project.
But something strange happened after that initial brief reconnection with Jessica Walden, which happened when she was living in New York and I lived in Chicago. I moved to Brooklyn shortly after and suddenly started seeing her… EVERYWHERE. First, we walked past each other on a street near my apartment. I was running late to wherever I was going, and we did the awkward “oh hey! Hi! Wow! Weird!” interaction as I speed-walked through an intersection. A couple weeks later, I saw her sitting in the window of a restaurant in my neighborhood where I often go for happy hour or brunch, and we again made direct eye contact and had to go through the awkward, rushed, ultimately meaningless five seconds of interaction again.
So when I saw her getting off a train at the West 4th Street station one night, I just… turned around and walked away without saying hi, without so much as a wave. I’m pretty sure she didn’t see me at all, but even if she did, would she care about my reaction? I suppose some people would take it personally. And my mother would think it was the rudest thing in the world.
In fact, on another occasion, I was just minding my business picking up a to-go order from my go-to Mexican restaurant in my neighborhood when I spotted two other girls I had gone to middle school with — one had even been a very close friend back then. The two were best friends then, and they appeared to be best friends now. They also looked… exactly the same as they used to, their hair in the same blonde ponytails. Did I look the same to them? I couldn’t possibly. I felt knocked out of time and space, and I grabbed my food and got the fuck out. I don’t know what compelled me to tell my mom about the encounter, but I did, and when she asked if I said hi and I said no, she was incredulous. “I taught you better than that!”
But if so much as seeing those two girls was enough to stoke my anxiety, what exactly would saying hi have done? What exactly did I owe them, who at one point in time knew me but a completely different version of me — namely, a straight version of me? People come in and out of your life constantly, and some leave dramatically but others just… fade away. What could we possibly have to talk about now? What would an awkward, rushed, ultimately meaningless five seconds of interaction really do for anyone?
There are the obvious people to avoid: people who hurt you in more profound or ongoing ways than just saying they wouldn’t go in on an imaginary car with you for your imaginary life together. I almost got hit by a car the last time I saw one of my exes from a distance which is, according to Riese, queer culture. There are also obvious people you should say hi to, like, actual friends (although there are admittedly times when I even avoid friends before they get a chance to spot me, because sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anyone, and you know what, that’s fine, too). Or crushes! Say hi to your crushes!
But those people who fall somewhere in between? Ask yourself: Am I saying hi out of cultural obligation/because my mom instilled in me that saying hi to everyone you’ve ever met in your life is what you’re supposed to do to be an upstanding member of society? Or am I saying hi because I actually want to say hi and possibly want to reconnect with this person?
Personally, I’m especially sensitive about running into people from middle school and high school when I was so very deeply closeted. I went through so many phases, trying on different personalities to compensate for the fact that I had no idea who I was, that there are people from back then who I felt close with and who felt close with me but that Me is so distant, so different, so performative in a lot of ways that they didn’t know my authentic self — because I didn’t know my authentic self! So when I see someone from that time in life, I panic. I feel, quite literally, knocked out of time and space as with the girls in the Mexican restaurant. Have I been working on all this shit in therapy? Absolutely, pals. But I maintain that avoiding/ignoring someone from your past doesn’t always have to be a hostile act.
Is it cold to ignore or avoid someone from your past when you cross paths? Maybe! Does it also often feel a whole lot better than engaging? Hell yeah! If you don’t already practice the art of pretending-to-look-at-your-phone when you see someone you sorta know across the street (or literally in your therapist’s office which happened to me THIS WEEK), give it a try. It brings the same kind of satisfaction as an Irish Goodbye. Because really it just sort of feels… like nothing, rarely causing actual harm.
There are some people, it seems, who have the complete opposite approach in these situations, who will not only wave from a distance but cross the street to talk to you, who will not only say hi and briefly catch up but also immediately start rehashing the past, will ask for your number so you can reconnect. But if you both had a desire to reconnect wouldn’t it… have happened before a chance encounter?
On another unfortunate subway station encounter, someone ran up to me. I removed my earphones, thinking it was just a tourist who needed directions. But after a few seconds of confusion, I realized it was an old high school friend I hadn’t seen… since graduating high school. We were, of course, getting on the same train, heading in the same direction so not only did I have to go through the motions of the initial run-in, but it had to drag out for another… 30 minutes. In my dumb attempt to make small talk, I asked if she remembered working on the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream together. “Yeah,” she said. “That’s when we went through a phase where you were really mean to me.”
WHAT! She drops that bomb and we still have like four or five more stops on this goddamn train together?! “Sorry!” I said. Because what else could I say? I remembered, suddenly, exactly what she was talking about. I had in fact been a bit cruel to her because she had been chosen as stage manager for the production and I was relegated to assistant stage manager (gotta love performing arts high school drama!). As a result, I undermined her authority and was, admittedly, a very bad assistant stage manager, making it known the whole time that I wanted her job and thought I could do it better.
I’m, of course, not proud of this behavior. But I was also a ridiculous power-trippy high schooler who hated coming in second place. And it would be one thing if she had brought this incident up as a joke or something for us to laugh about, but that was Not The Vibe. She wanted to rehash the past on this express ride into Manhattan, eight years after the fact. Look, I’m not shitting on rehashing the past. I do it every time I write an essay… LIKE THIS ONE! But there is a time and there is a place. And I realize it’s selfish, but I wish so badly that she had just seen me and walked away. Or maybe waved from a very far distance and left it at that. Maybe it did do something for her to have this talk, but I find that hard to believe. I think it just made us both feel awkward and sad. And we both said we should get drinks some time but also both knew we wouldn’t.