The Art of the Awkward Run-In

The awkward run-in: we’ve all had one. You’re at CVS in your sweatpants, minding your own business, thinking you’ll just make a quick stop to get some rash cream/wart remover/super plus absorbency tampons with a side of M&Ms, when you freeze: It’s That Girl You Hate, or the teacher who always picked on you, or your best friend’s ex.

When a relationship of any kind ends on a sour note, it’s easy to spend more time than you’d like to admit getting caught up in fantasies of what the inevitable run-in will be like. In my fantasy run-ins, I am dressed head-to-toe in amazing designer clothes and flawless makeup and have a total of zero minutes to chat because I am right in the middle doing something fabulous, like getting picked up by my driver for lunch and a helipad ride with Oprah, my new best friend, because I am just that cool. In the first Sex and the City movie, Charlotte had quite the script prepared for the first time she would inevitably run into Mr. Big after he bailed on his wedding to Carrie. Unfortunately, Charlotte’s speech was derailed by early labor.

Even though there are over eight million people here in New York City, the list of people I have run into includes:

  • The guy who knocked me off my roller skates in third grade*
  • Four high school cheerleading teammates
  • My high school newspaper editor
  • Three people I met at sleepaway camp
  • Assorted college classmates
  • A guy who messaged me on OKcupid
  • Celebrity bonus: Sean and Craig from Degrassi

A few weeks ago, as I browsed a rack of dresses at TJMaxx (yes, I am a Maxxinista) I ran into my roommate from my  freshman year of college, whom I had not spoken to since. There are two schools of thought when it comes to the awkward run-in: the Elaine-from-Seinfeld and the Miranda-from-Sex-and-the-City. Some people say hello; others evacuate the area immediately, or at least avoid making eye contact. Elaine called out a man in her building who had stopped saying hello to her and Jerry deemed her the Queen of Confrontation.


 The more popular approach is the one Miranda Hobbes took with her ex-boyfriends: “We didn’t work out. You need to not exist.”

you need to not exist

I have taken the Miranda approach before, but ended up regretting it, wondering what might have happened had I been the person to reach out and be friendly for a few minutes. I would obsess over whether the person saw me or didn’t, or what we might have talked about. Did they remember our relationship the same way I did, or was the past too far in the past to even matter anymore?

In this case, I was glad I was somewhere between the Miranda and the Elaine approach. My old roommate and I had a friendly chat and were on our way. As I made my way into the fitting room, I wondered if I should have asked her out for coffee, or apologized for being so inconsiderate and boy-crazy when we lived together, for not pitching in enough with the cleaning, and did she still have a crush on Ruben Studdard from American Idol, who, like me, is sorry for 2004? Or would that have been overcompensating? Sometimes, two people just aren’t compatible, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friendly.

Awkward run-ins happen to everyone, even celebrities! If you type “awkward run-in” into Google News, articles about Jen/Angelina or Selena/Justin run-ins abound. Demi Lovato recently tweeted about a run-in with herself at, of all places, CVS.

*Roller skate guy and I chatted, and he turned out to be pretty cool.


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