You spot an acquaintance in passing, waiting for the subway, in the produce aisle. Wherever you are, there are two options: stop to initiate a polite, vanilla conversation or pretend not to see them and keep walking. Whether this person is a childhood friend or sat next to you in class at college, in that moment they’re not worth your time. You sit on opposite ends of the same subway car for twenty minutes without saying a word or pass them again near the frozen foods, without feeling guilty. In this case it’s nothing personal, you’re simply indifferent towards them. You probably have a vague idea of what they’ve been up to via Facebook or Twitter and they seem to be doing well. You aren’t opposed to the idea of becoming real friends with them, yet approaching them seems cumbersome and isn’t worth interrupting your daily grind.
At work it’s like an unspoken rule that it’s acceptable to ignore coworkers in certain spaces. Which is understandable, is it really necessary to engage with whoever sees you grab an obvious diet carrot hummus lunch out of the fridge? Does the crowded elevator need to hear about your 4 AM mistake on Friday night? Probably not. If you’re an intern, the second you leave the office you basically morph into a hologram no one can see in the real world. Post internship, if you run into your old boss, it probably won’t be any different. You may have regularly picked up their lunch and ran too many of their personal errands, but chances are after they wrote you that recommendation they aren’t expected to remember what you look like, let alone say “hi.”
Ignoring someone you have legitimate history with, platonic or romantic, is the most stressful. Your ex or best friend from freshman year is sitting at the bar, makes eye contact when you walk in and turns the other way shortly after, or vice versa. Maybe you get up the courage to go up to them after a drink. If not, you’ll try having a great time regardless, at least make it look like you are. They won’t stay out of your peripheral vision, it feels like they’re trying to get your attention, but they’re probably not. Unless you leave, it’s better to say something, anything, even though trying to get words out is as hard as communicating with your dentist while he’s cleaning excess spit off the side of your mouth. If you don’t, it’ll put you in a bad place for the whole night, which is much worse. If you do and it doesn’t work out at least you’ll find comfort in being the bigger person.
If you run into someone who you’ve cut out of your life, it’s a coincidence or Mercury’s in retrograde, but either way take it as an opportunity to resolve unfinished business, get closure on mixed feelings. You should fight your impulse to avoid these people. Why miss the chance to rekindle a friendship/romance, reconfirm why someone shouldn’t be in your life or move past the acquaintance zone? The potential discomfort of approaching someone is better than the regret of never knowing what would’ve happened if you did.