I’m talking about navigating the no-man’s land between seeing someone, and figuring out if it’s someone you know.
Last week I was heading for a treadmill at the Y. “Stayin’ Alive” was blasting through my headphones and I was concentrating on a tricky blog post conundrum. Wearing my “frowning because I’m thinking (not because I’m a grouch)” face, I walked right past Unimportant Stranger. But it wasn’t Unimportant Stranger.
It was Cherished Client.
The identity of the passee and the warm smile she directed my way didn’t pierce my self-absorbed fog until I was 10 steps past her. By then it was too late to go back and retrieve the (erroneous) impression left with Cherished Client that I am Stuck-up Bitch.
Let’s compare this to yesterday’s incident. I saw Good Friend approaching. I gave a spastically vigorous, short-arced little hand wave at my shoulder level. This was accompanied by an exaggerated, goggle-eyed, compressed-lip, Stan Laurel smile.
It was not Good Friend.
It was Uncomfortable Stranger. Uncomfortable Stranger’s expression suggested that, due to my overly familiar greeting, she thought I was an exuberantly friendly short-bus rider. She was probably bracing for a hug.
There are 7.1 billion human beings roaming this planet and no two of them look exactly alike. You have to root around in your mental filing cabinet every time you meet someone to correctly identify that specific arrangement of fleshly features. When you toss in my aging eyeballs and post-menopausal, Swiss-cheese brain, it’s OK that it takes me a few minutes to process, right?
A nanosecond is all you get. If you don’t pitch your first response in exactly the right spot on the broad spectrum between Stranger Danger and Bosom Buddy, you’re social toast.
What’s the solution?
Maybe I should look everyone straight in the eye. I should recognize each person, be they Friend or Stranger, as the special individual they truly are. And maybe, just maybe, I should wear a warm, welcoming smile for everyone I meet.
Naa-a-a-a. If I wore THAT expression, nobody would recognize ME.