This article was originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. It was co-written with my brilliant friend Jess Banks.
It’s early spring. Puddles are abundant. Shirts grow shorter as the days grow longer. Suddenly everyone owns a Frisbee. From a distance, you see a vaguely familiar gait, as a person-shaped blob coheres into the recognizable blob of your first semester study pal. Hello old friend. Remember that time we had back-to-back research librarian appointments? That was great. I remember all those smart points you made about Foucault. You really get him. I’m pretty sure I know your name. Definitely Mark. Or Mike. Hey Matt.
The expanse of grey-brown sludge between you begins to disappear. This is the first time we’ve crossed paths on the same path in a while. You see if there is anyone behind you that could be the actual recipient of a greeting, a wave you could mistakenly intercept and then, upon realizing, quickly pretend to smooth back your already oil slicked hair. This is a crucial moment: you wonder who is going to make the first move. I should wave. Matt, how do you feel about a wave only relationship? Do I want a wave relationship? That obligates me to a semester of waving to Matt. My hand is exhausted thinking about it. Can I call time out and think about this, Matt? You see yourself, day in day out, buying a vegan bagel while Matt gets the chili (oh Matt). Your palms are sweaty, heart knotted with fear. I’m not ready for this.
He grows nearer, the dappled sunlight highlighting every nuance of his features. It is irrefutably Matt. No circle scarf, heather grey beanie, or apathetic grimace can obscure his shining grace on this March afternoon. Let’s be clear: you aren’t attracted to Matt. This whole business would be purely platonic. If you saw each other on Tinder, it would be a courtesy swipe. And yet...If I wave, will he think I love him? I don’t want to love him. I don’t think I want to love him. Not yet Matt. Let’s take it slow. Matt, oblivious, is scrolling through Spotify, probably. His eyes are locked to his screen; over the ear headphones resting on his head, Matt would have nothing to do with the ever-tangled mass of iPhone earbuds. Matt cannot waste his days untying such tiny, frustrating, Gordian knots let alone agonize over how to greet someone, who if not for the elusive lure of attendance being 10% of the final grade, would never have interacted face to face.
I could just say Hello. Wow am I overthinking this. I’m just going to say hi. No one says hi more than once a semester to past semester friends. I’ll just do it now and we can curtly nod to each other from here on out. But what if my hello opens the Pandora’s box of actual conversation? What if he wants to say hello every time we see each other forever? I’ll be saying hello to Matt until I die. Oh god. No, Matt, run!
If you lunged with your hand outstretched you could touch fingertips. The moment of truth nears. One of you has to decide. What if he acknowledges my wave yet doesn’t deign to return it? I am so scared of commitment. I am so vulnerable. I must be scared of commitment. You realize the complexity of your situation: you fear an eternity of halfheartedly recognizing your half-formed friendship, whilst you simultaneously fear extending yourself [literally, figuratively] and being unreciprocated in your brazen, if not Herculean, efforts. Matt would never even entertain such time consuming and nonessential meditations .He is beyond this. He knows exactly when to wave. He is king of the interactions, and we are his playthings. Now, nearly face-to-face, your heart thumps, eyes automatically cast downwards. My shoelaces, there they are, I am so interested in you right now. Matt’s encroaching shadow falls delicately across your laces, here we go. Okay, Matt, are you ready? Are you ready for this? I just. This is moving really fast. I’m not sure I want to start this relationship. We haven’t even talked about our future. You haven’t even met my parents. Are you ready to meet my parents? What will we name our kids? Will we even have kids? I think Parker is a great gender-neutral name too, Matt.
You, paralyzed by fear and also now excitement, cannot get your hand out of your pocket in time, and it remains there, lightly fingering lint. You manage to robotically mumble, “Oh. Hello. Matt.” Matt turns, sunlight forming a halo around this hallowed moment of human interaction. “It’s Mike.” See you at the altar, Matt.