I’m not a big new year’s resolution maker. Come Jan. 1, it crosses my mind that I should stop pregaming Rosenpartytime, go to Pottruck for body pump rather than PennCashable Luna Bars, and color code my Google calendar using some scheme other than “Look, the yellow boxes make a super fat smiley face … kind of.”
But when it’s the middle of winter and the holiday break is short, it’s difficult enough to muster the daily willpower just to drag myself to class in the cold.
Beginning-of-the-school-year resolutions are easier. Typically, I’ve been away from campus long enough to convince myself that I really am capable of eating non-cookie food for dinner and doing more than 10-percent of my assigned reading.
There is, however, one resolution I make each September that inevitably fails halfway through my first class as my NSO-spiked blood alcohol content plummets back to zero. Every year, I promise myself I will break free from the bonds of a Penn social convention I refer to as “acquaintance expiration.” And I never do.
Acquaintance expiration is a phenomenon in which the social acceptability of friendly acknowledgment between two persons rapidly declines as the time from their original point of mutual introduction increases (assuming the absence of further relationship-building interaction).
In real life: you meet someone — let’s call him Jim — at a party or in your French class or during a pre-orientation program or while waiting six years for your panini to grill at Houston Market. Maybe you have a conversation, but you don’t get far beyond small talk. Weeks pass. You do not see Jim. Maybe you spot him once and casually smile. Months pass. You see Jim cruising down Locust, you feel your hand twitch to wave, but then you stop. You hesitate because your acquaintance with Jim has “expired.” And that sucks.
“Wow, Lauren. You’re really insecure and your fear of rejection is ruling your life.”
No. Well, maybe. I have seen this happen too frequently to dismiss it as simple social anxiety. The amount of almost-waving, half-smiling and awkward eye-contacting I see around campus every day is absurd.
The real apex of stupidity within this phenomenon is “The Introduction 2.0.” I have personally been party to and witness to countless scenarios in which two people who clearly know each other pretend they’ve never met before and proceed to formally introduce themselves again.
I have looked people dead in the eye, nonverbally confirmed our prior acquaintance and then offered my name along with a hand to shake. Once, and only once, another person (let’s make this easy and call him Jim again) initiated an Introduction 2.0 with me, and I straight up called him out. It went something like this:
Mutual friend: “Hey, Jim, this is my friend Lauren.”
Jim: “Hi Lauren, nice to — ”
Me: “You were in my history seminar last fall, you have my phone number, give me a break.”
Admittedly, this particular incidence of word vomit was brought to you in part by Franzia: The World’s Most Popular Wine™. And, it was mega awkward. Pro tip: do not do this.
That said, I would like to cut the proverbial crap more often. I don’t know why it exists or why it seems particularly prevalent at Penn.
Perhaps we are so busy with our academic successes and leadership pursuits that warmth and friendliness involve more effort than we have energy to exert.
Maybe our high-stress environment breeds an insidious feeling of unease on campus and we’re all secretly intimidated by each other’s talents. Or perhaps we’re just snobby brats with superiority complexes.
But it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that smiles are contagious and alleviate stress, looking people in the eye promotes an environment of inclusivity and I’m sick of playing this ridiculous game.
Have I ever been personally offended by someone I haven’t seen in a while waving at me? Of course not. I am always heartened by friendliness.
This year, my final year at Penn (insert full-blown panic attack), I publicly resolve to go out of my way to say hello to everyone I know. I challenge you to do the same.
Lauren Agresti is a College senior from Fulton, Md. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @lagresti. “Piece of Mind” appears every Thursday.
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