You’re back in your home town and you’re probably not just staying inside your parent’s house raiding their pantry for a week straight.
After all, you didn’t realize that your cousin, Kendra, was bringing her new boyfriend home for the holidays and your mom would “really appreciate it” if you gave him a card or maybe one of those small (but expensive) Lego sets to make him feel welcomed. Begrudgingly, you get yourself to your local mall and see what cost-appropriate gift you can find for this man you’ve never met and will probably never see again.
Depending on where you’re from, your mall is either a hustling-and-bustling center for shopping or is a carcass holding three stores that are just refusing to quit and let the mall die. Regardless, you are in a hub for holiday shoppers and it’s likely you’ll bump into someone you would rather not see.
Maybe this is an old boyfriend. Or your former best friend from 9th grade, but then this “friend” pressured you into drinking before you were ready so you rightfully cut ties with her but it still hurts to think about. Or maybe it’s just a classmate whose name you can’t remember. All are lumped into this handy how-to guide that you can whip out the moment you spot Andy-or-Tom from Bio in the shoe section.
1. Own Your Look!
You may be wearing a stained pair of pants and ill-fitting sweatshirt. You may be with your family sporting the matching shirts they force you to wear as if you were all visiting Disney World. Maybe you actually feel pretty amazing in your outfit. Whatever the case, remember deciding that you look nice is going to make any interaction go much more smoothly.
When I’m feeling like I look gross, I think about my friends who have stunning faces. I think about how I’ve seen them in lots of scenarios, ones without makeup, after tears, after waking up. Whatever the case, I remember how I think they always look stunning, and I decide that I will think of myself as “that friend,” the one who can do no wrong.
If the interaction begins and the other person feels the need to point out the Spongebob sleep pants you’re wearing, make a little joke about it. But remember, you ARE the hot friend who can even make bedware look flawless.
2. Make the First Move
Now maybe you are seeing this person as you ride up an escalator and they truly did not catch sight of you. But if you’re in the same zone of a store, it’s likely you have spotted each other. Now’s when you can see the other person whispering to their significant other that they see you and to “look but don’t be obvious.”
What’s the one thing we want to do? Get the hell out of there! But if you’re anxious, like me, you will perhaps replay this moment a few times over in your head (or maybe more than a few) wondering if you should have said something. You may actually have to walk past this person in the store because they just so happen to be hovering over the cheap candy bar display. Are you going to pick a different gift for Kendra’s boyfriend? No! Get that random man his holiday candy bar and woman up!
Saying hi first will make you feel so much more confident in the situation. You are taking the power into your own hands and, even if you feel like the interaction wasn’t perfect, you’ll feel more at ease for having done so.
3. Compliment/Congratulate Them
Once you say hello, they’ll probably go into that big explosion of “OH HEY!” as if you didn’t just lock eyes a moment ago. After you say you’ve “been well” or you’re “just in town for the holidays,” try one of these on for size:
- “You look so good! I barely recognized you!”
- “I saw your kid just turned three on Facebook! that’s awesome!”
- “You’re still wearing the same thing from the last time I saw you! Wow!”
[Insert your own nice thing].
To avoid an awkward silence after exchanging hellos, saying something good-natured will be a nice alternative to shuffling your feet and putting your hands in your pockets while you wonder how they landed such a hot wife.
3A. Bond Over A New Piece of “Hot Goss”
If asking how their about wedding in Bermuda last year isn’t your thing, you can try some of these on for size:
- “Did you see Ernie just got arrested?”
- “Did you know Amanda and Alex are getting married/divorced?”
- “You’ll never guess who died.”
[Insert your own shocking revelation].
This can be fun if you sort of know this person and think they’d enjoy being filled in. However, be careful to not rely on this because you never know who may be upset by what you’re saying. (Especially if you don’t remember who you’re talking to. You’d hate to hear “Yeah, that’s me,” in response to, “Did you hear Aaron killed a man?”)
4. Politely GTFO
This was just supposed to be a short-and-sweet run to the mall, not a catch up, sesh! Don’t feel the need to fill them in on everything you’ve done since graduation. Have some pep in your step and quickly wrap up by saying you just had to grab something and need to take off.
If you don’t, in fact, need to take off, try saying that you wanted to say hello, but do have a lot of stuff to get done.
Some other fun phrases I enjoy are:
- “Crazy stuff, but hey I have to head out.” Crazy stuff can sum up just about anything they were trying to discuss.
- “I’d love to stay and chat but my Uber’s outside!” Can’t argue with that.
- “Hey, nice seeing you and have a good holiday.” Always nice to wish something short, sweet, and to the point.
Now you have your random gift for the random boyfriend and a story to tell your friends from high school that you actually keep in touch with. Get back in your car, pop some Alanis Morissette in your CD player, and drive home knowing you took charge of a potentially awkward situation and made it bearable.