Nice to meet you! Now I never want to see you again!
January 16, 2011 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Do you ever meet someone, think they're pleasant, but then don't really want to run into them again?

I've noticed this weird pattern with myself lately that I think has only just recently started happening. I will meet someone, like a neighbor, have a nice conversation, but then find myself doing things to avoid running into them again?

For example I met someone in the laundry room who lives in my building. We had about a three minute conversation while getting things in/out of the machines. The said they lived downstairs right by the main elevator. Now I find myself consciously going to the OTHER elevator so I don't run into them again and have to have another conversation or get more in depth. They weren't weird. It was not a romantic prospect either way. There was nothing strange about it. Totally a nice friendly conversation.

What the hell? In college I was always meeting new people and going beyond that...but now it's either like I don't care anymore or I have some sort of fear. Just looking for similar experiences and ideas.
posted by thorny to Human Relations (37 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe you just want to do some basic things in your life without having to socialize with anyone? Sometimes we just want to get shit done and not worry about what we look like, or putting on a cheerful face, etc. Privacy is golden.

Also, because I know I'M like that sometimes, I often go out of my way to avoid putting others in situations where they have to surprise-socialize.
posted by hermitosis at 8:12 PM on January 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

an old friend of mine used to say, "You can only really have two friends at any point in your life." (We've since lost touch).

His point, I think, was that friendship took commitment and he only had the energy to manage two such commitments at any point in his life. Maybe you share some variation on this tendency.
posted by philip-random at 8:13 PM on January 16, 2011 [10 favorites]

I totally do this. I recently moved from a big city to a small town and it's very noticeable to me now, because I see the same people everywhere! I don't know why I do it. I wish I didn't feel this way, because I don't really have any friends in the new place, and it seems like talking to people more than once would probably be a good way to make friends with them.
posted by mskyle at 8:16 PM on January 16, 2011

I do it sometimes. It takes energy to engage others and sometimes my energy has been spent in other directions. It's not abnormal or weird.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:23 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

I sometimes find myself doing this also. I try just to breathe and drop that tension and do what I need to do, and remember that other people are in their own universe just like me.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:24 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Four Levels of Social Entrapment via Hyperbole and a Half explains this well.

It happens at that intersection where you like someone just fine, but you have to see them all the time until you run out of non-personal trivial things to talk about. It just means you don't want anything from them. Maybe you have enough friendship/romance/socialization going on. As to the "fear" part of it, it's possible that you fear getting to know enough to reach that stage where your disagreements and differences pop up, because you live near them. Similar problem often happens with coworkers. Adult life has more permanence than college, so you're more stuck with someone you don't like.
posted by Nixy at 8:29 PM on January 16, 2011 [14 favorites]

Philip -- I like that philosophy -- sort of rings true since I have 2 friends I keep in close touch with these days.

Agree with the others too that there's a finite amount of energy to be spent investing in new people. But wonder how some other people do it (sales people, networkers, etc)?

Maybe my current assumption is that if I talk to someone beyond "Hello" that it HAS to progress to "Hey we're having a party, come down and have a drink!" when it really doesn't -- and even if it does I still can say "No."

However, part of me WANTS to invest a little time in new people or things because you never know where it will this is where I'm conflicted at the moment.
posted by thorny at 8:31 PM on January 16, 2011

If its a parttern, it sounds like maybe you have some social issues developing, or at least lack the energy/capacity to put yourself out there. Maybe you're picking up one cues that they didn't find you quite as pleasant as you found them.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 8:35 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

That was entertaining and true, Nixy. Thanks for the post.
posted by thorny at 8:35 PM on January 16, 2011

Are you female? Women are socialized to be available to people - to pay attention, smile, make small talk - to a degree that's often pretty draining. It can be really hard to notice when that's what's going on, and even harder to break out of the pattern and set boundaries. (It tends to get you a lot of muttered "Bitch!" remarks.)
posted by restless_nomad at 8:39 PM on January 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Nickel -- Not sure they are giving me cues that I'm not pleasant but your post made me think more about my assumption that just because someone talks to me means they will want to start inviting me into their lives. How conceited is that!?!? Thanks for the post.
posted by thorny at 8:40 PM on January 16, 2011

Oh yes, lots; and for me it has to do with a number of issues regarding rejection. It's clear to me that this is the case even though I also studiously avoid analyzing things further, because I've met some swell people with whom I've a lot in common and then quite deliberately avoided contacting them again. And it's definitely not due to having too many people in my life.

I dismissed the idea of fear of rejection initially; only after mulling over my thoughts with some CBT techniques did I start to realize it was the case. Even if you don't think this is what's happening with you, try this little test: After you meet said person and are replaying the pleasant conversation in your head, try noticing if there are any negative or fatalistic thoughts about them or yourself that pop up (even for a second.)

In my case that's the part of me that wants to avoid being hurt, coming in with some instant negativity so as to push me away from more contact. The little negative statements were the beginning of a twisted train of thought that led me to such cognitive distortions as "I said some stupid things, they must think me a fool" or "They're obviously not interested in me contacting them again so why should I try?" And others of that nature.

If this does ring true for you, I'd suggest checking out some of the online CBT and Mindfulness resources. It's an uphill battle to fight against your own fears; having some good tools for self-analysis and behaviour modification can really help.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:47 PM on January 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

I am really not a big fan of small talk. Actually, I guess what I mean is a really HATE small talk and do not like having to make it. I don't avoid people by any means but if I run into someone I certainly don't want to talk about the weather or WTF ever. My solution has been just to smile or say "yeah" very nicely at any passing comment (acknowledgment but not engagement) and keep going about my business. This usually works and doesn't make you come off like a weirdo/antosicial freak, etc. Mostly people will just think you are shy.

On preview: I'm a woman, and what restless_nomad said really resonates. Which is why I emphasize the "detached acknowledgment" aspect.
posted by Brittanie at 8:50 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hating small talk could be key too. I hate it. I always say that talking of the weather never leads to anything substantial and if your substantial relationship now revolves around talking about the weather then it's all over.
posted by thorny at 8:55 PM on January 16, 2011

I find this problem happening in my daily life as well. Actually, it isn't really a problem. I just hate the obligation of small talk - while I love connecting with other people, having friends, and feeling togetherness, small talk and those low-level friendships sometimes frustrate me. Small talk is both incredibly banal and complicated - there is a script, which is easy, but variance is both expected and policed. I definitely have put way too much thought into this.

I go to university in a small university town and we all take the same bus system to and from campus every day. Every time I am on a bus there is a 50/50 chance an acquaintance will be there. I like these people, would hang out with them at a party, but do not want to talk to them on the bus. It is boring and tense. I am bad at these kind of "friendships" and I have stopped beating myself up over that. Just don't let people see you avoiding them, and avoiding them is okay.
posted by hepta at 8:57 PM on January 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Only for every single person I've ever met.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:57 PM on January 16, 2011

Oh boy. If i had a nickel for every time I invented an errand so I wouldn't have to take the elevator, and then walk all the way to the subway, and then take the subway the same direction for 15 minutes together with a perfectly nice coworker... I'd be rich enough never to have coworkers again. I've spoken about this with friends and they tend to know exactly what I mean. Though it's possible we're all a bunch of misanthropes.

Anonymity can be a blessing when you're just trying to go about your business.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:09 PM on January 16, 2011

I do this a lot, and it never bothers me in the slightest. Most casual acquaintances use up their fund of small talk after about 3-4 minutes, and I use mine up in about 30-40 seconds so it's become my habit to avoid them whenever practical. I've also become really good at the absolutely non-committal answer which discourages others from wasting even more of my time than usual. If this is the definition of misanthropy, then I'm a misanthrope, and happy to be one.
posted by motown missile at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2011

ALL THE TIME. I am one of those people who moved to New York to hide, due to my introverted nature and disinterest in superficial social ties. A lot of the time, I just want to blend in with the crowd and not be singled out in any way. Social connections like that tend to feel like I've been singled out, and while it's in a pleasant manner, it's still not ideal. I am very comfortable with living my life more or less incognito; perhaps you are the same way.
posted by Fuego at 9:31 PM on January 16, 2011

I do this too. I feel weird when I run into someone while I'm out running errands and suddenly things take a social turn when I'm in "getting shit done" mode. I'm also female, conditioned to be socially available, etc. but this could be partly social anxiety. I love being anonymous in a crowd.
posted by autoclavicle at 9:39 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fuego your reply reminded me of that episode of Will & Grace where they make the "mistake" of talking to the guy in the elevator then get dragged into dinner plans, etc..etc... It's funny how I could see it being easier to avoid people when there are lots of people around ... e.g. NYC.
posted by thorny at 9:50 PM on January 16, 2011

I've only skimmed over most of the replies, but the thing that struck me as familiar in the OP, is that it's pretty much exactly the way I feel about the people who live in our apartments too.

I'm happy to be pleasant with them, they seem like nice enough people (for the most part). But I don't want to form relationships with them where the boundaries become blurred. I once made the mistake of inviting a guy who lived in the same apartment block as me (not the one one I'm in now) to try out for a band I was playing in. Suddenly, when he joined the band, my fortress of solitude had become not so fortressy or solitudey.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to want to keep the people who live close to you, or your co-workers, at arms length. Once you cross a certain line with those people you can never take a step back without it being awkward and unpleasant.
posted by elroyel1327 at 11:05 PM on January 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess the question is, do you need or want more friends? If not, there isn't really a problem.

I find myself doing this too, which is odd because I would like to make more friends on my side of town. I think it's just because certain kinds of social interactions make me a little anxious. So sometimes I'm like, "I just want to eat in peace and not talk to anyone" so I kind of hope the people who know I'm a regular aren't working. Weird, but apparently not that uncommon!
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:14 PM on January 16, 2011

It has to do with not feeling emotionally or psychologically available on a day to day basis for me. Interfacing with people without completely exchanging magnetism is flipping hard sometimes, and sometimes it's just easier to go, "AHHH GO AWAY" with everyone you encounter because the constant withdrawals that socializing consists of are a little taxing.

I also work in retail, so my tolerance level for this kind of stuff fluctuates a lot.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:18 AM on January 17, 2011

I have that feeling all the time. I won't go out into my yard if my neighbor is in his. It's not that I don't like him; I do. It's just that I hate making pleasant small talk. I feel awkward the whole time. If I go out there, I'll either have to do it, or pretend to not notice him over there or be focused on something like getting in the car and leaving with just a wave. That gets awkward, too.

So bleh. I let myself get away with the hermit impulse when it's a matter of going in the yard now or later and it makes no difference. When I start to notice that I'm really going out of my way to hide from people, though, I try to force myself to fight it.
posted by ctmf at 12:22 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

dixiecupdrinking, thank you! I always thought I was the only jerk that did this.

As to the question - I am like this too. I also hate small talk, and feel like I'm really awkward at it most of the time, so if I have a nice, pleasant short talk with someone in the laundry room I tend to avoid them afterwards because I don't want to ruin that good impression. It's less that I'm afraid of all of a sudden being invited to dinners and stuff than that it's like George on Seinfeld's whole showmanship trick of leaving on a high note. I had the awkward conversation, aced it, and now I want to just leave it at that.
posted by coupdefoudre at 6:51 AM on January 17, 2011

This used to torment me until I realized that there is absolutely no need to be ashamed of, after something as simple as a "how are you/i'm well", to say "sorry, I really have to be on my way." Even if I don't have to go anywhere. If you don't feel guilty when you say this and avoid giving a mouse-y avoid-y impression, then usually no harm done and you can be on your way. However, if we are going in the same direction, then I will make up errands to take me in a different direction.

I guess the question is, do you need or want more friends
I'm 27 and I just realized that the answer to this can be no. I also just recently moved to a new city and for the first time in my life, I'm having trouble finding friends. I meet plenty of good folk, some even that I take a distinct interest in and who clearly find me interesting, but it doesn't go anywhere, and I think its because many of these people have been in this town for a good while and have full, saturated (social) lives. I think this is one of those facts of life that everyone is surprised to discover as they get older, and it was a real body-blow to me.
posted by tempythethird at 9:29 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you female? Women are socialized to be available to people - to pay attention, smile, make small talk - to a degree that's often pretty draining. It can be really hard to notice when that's what's going on, and even harder to break out of the pattern and set boundaries. (It tends to get you a lot of muttered "Bitch!" remarks.)
Oh god yes. Except I've lived in dorms and now a barracks and have gotten to the point where I just say, "I would theatrically yawn right now, but I don't want to insult your intelligence." or "Well, I'd really like to get back to what I was doing." or even "It's time for you to leave now - I have things I need to get done, and I can tell the conversation has died."
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:58 AM on January 17, 2011

Another solution is just to -not- engage in small talk. Immediately start into something like "So I can't believe they want to censor Huckleberry Finn" or "I saw this half dead cat by the side of the road - and I so hate to see animals suffer - and so I got out and put it out of its misery with a quick tap from my snow shovel." Even if it's a vague, or right out, stretch of the truth, I swear that only so many people will follow you down certain conversational roads.
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:04 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sigh ... another one here, wanting to make friends but loathing small talk and dodging neighbors. Seems to be pretty common, at least among MeFites. I think our early experiences in school, where we are surrounded by people our own age with lots of stuff in common (i.e., school), condition us to think that life will always be like this. But as you get older it's harder to bond with others - we don't have as much in common, our interests diverge, we run out of steam after a crappy day at work and a long commute and we just don't have as much energy as when we were younger with fewer responsibilities and short/no commutes to school.

After a few failures to launch new friendships, it's easy to feel it's just not worth the time to pursue initial contacts because the laundry needs doing and we're out of milk again and the dirty dishes are piling up and we have to do our income taxes and and and ... The cost-benefit analysis says the cost of pursuing this potential friendship (lots of time) is not worth the benefit (most likely outcome: not a good friend).

Wouldn't it be hilarious to get all of us lonely misanthropes together in one room? Imagine the conversation: "Hi!" "Hi!" "Well, gotta go now!" "Yeah, me too!"
posted by Quietgal at 10:55 AM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

DD: heh, good strategies. Except they work against my criteria for forcing myself to be social. "If this is the person they interview for my SSBI, will they say I'm generally pleasant and friendly but they don't know me very well? Or will they say I'm a creepy weirdo who's always sneaking around and probably killing cats and stuff?"
posted by ctmf at 11:57 AM on January 17, 2011

Also, I have a secret. I don't stay at my desk until after the clock says it's quitting time because I'm diligent like that or afraid of being caught leaving 15 min. early. It's because then I'll be the only one left and can walk to my car by myself.
posted by ctmf at 12:08 PM on January 17, 2011

Another vote that this isn't particularly weird. I go out of my way to avoid people I know regardless of whether I like them. Small talk is awkward and uncomfortable for me. My husband is the same way too. If we've been going to a restaurant too often, for example, and the staff begins to recognize us, we will stop going there for a long while in order to avoid having to socialize with the staff in any way.

Introverts are a minority, so most people think there is something wrong those who don't have the energy for spontaneous, unanticipated socializing. There isn't anything wrong with us. It's just that it's very taxing for us to have to perform these scripted social behaviors.
posted by Lobster Garden at 1:00 PM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Interesting point about when we were kids by quietgal. I notice with my nieces they're much more likely to go up to another kid, randomly and even without good timing or tact and be like "Hi! My name's XYZ!" Then they'll go home later and talk about their "friend" from the playground like they've know each other for years. I went to a school where it was basically the same 25 kids for 9 years and never really met or had to meet any kids outside of that until high school, when I was forced to or be lonely. Then again in college, when I was forced to or be lonely again. But then the assembly of friends grew such that when I started my first job I didn't even feel like I needed to socialize with anyone outside of work -- which is why that post by cmtf rang true. I used to do stay after work and always bring lunch in so that I didn't have to chit chat over lunch or car keys.
posted by thorny at 2:44 PM on January 17, 2011

I used to go for lunch to a Korean sandwich place and exchange pleasantries with the proprietor, who was hard working and whose English was a bit hard to understand. She worked really hard and the service was good, so I got her and her husband an Xmas present of a bottle of champagne. Mistake! She now felt obligated to hold down a full conversation with me, which was slow due to language issues, and started getting into more personal areas once the small talk wore out. But I just wanted to eat my sandwich, read stuff for work, and depart. My whole reason for going there in the first place -- quick lunch, efficient service -- had been killed. The social obligation heebie-jeebies of unwarranted familiarity eventually got so that I never went to that sandwich place again, and the thought of it filled me with dread.

I think this has to do with the fact that humans are programmed for reciprocity. When someone who isn't a threat offers to get into a social "exchange" with us, we are programmed to offer something as well, and to feel bad if we don't enter into a trade.
posted by benzenedream at 5:33 PM on January 17, 2011

Introverts are a minority, so most people think there is something wrong those who don't have the energy for spontaneous, unanticipated socializing. There isn't anything wrong with us. It's just that it's very taxing for us to have to perform these scripted social behaviors.

Yes, yes, yes. This should be written in gold letters ten feet tall. (And a complimentary copy given to all the extroverts.)
posted by Prairie at 6:37 PM on January 18, 2011

I work in PR - yes i do try my best to avoid small talk. I really do value and appreciate every single precious lonely moment that i can get out of my life.
posted by laums at 12:19 AM on January 20, 2011

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