I was walking down the sidewalk in the West Village when I saw two familiar eyes looking at me. Hold on, do I know her? It’s impossible to recognize anyone in Manhattan, since there’s so many people and everyone dresses like they’re a robot that just came off of a Canada Goose/J.Crew/Lululemon assembly line. I thought I saw Ryan Gosling seven times the first month I lived in New York City, until I realized that every non-top-knotted athletic blonde guy looks exactly the same from the back. After a quick scan of her features, during which I could tell she was doing the same to me, I still wasn’t sure.
“Luke! It’s great to see you!” Ok, I guess it is her. “Oh hey, Katie!” She started walking towards me, my mind going into overdrive like a cheap rental car climbing a mountain road: are we supposed to hug or not? You see, I don't like greeting girls that I kind of know. It’s fine to shake a girl’s hand the first time you meet her, but after that, handshakes seem overly formal. Yet conversely, hugging some girl that you don't know well is awkward, too. And the worst part is the two seconds of cultural greeting purgatory when you are both trying to figure out what to do.
And just like that, we’re hugging. Ok, glad that’s over. I don’t hate girls, I just hate hugging them, especially the short ones. I never know what to do. Do I stand up straight and hug her face right into my armpit? Or do I try to bend over so that her head can make it above my shoulder? Sadly though, I never make it down far enough, so most girls end up headbutting my jutting shoulder. As the girl staggers back I never know whether to say sorry or to start administering concussion protocol. Fortunately, Katie was tall so disaster averted.
“Great to see you, too, Katie!” Surprisingly, I meant it. We overlapped at the same office for six months and I’ll admit, I had a slight workplace crush on her. Once a week or so, in classic guy behavior, I’d make up an excuse to go talk to the person that worked next to her, you know, just to say hello. I’m pretty sure Katie caught on after a bit, and while always friendly, she gave me the vibe that if I ever asked her out she’d say no faster than you could say “work little brother.” Noted, so when we both changed jobs that was the end of seeing her, outside of randomly showing up on each others Insta-Stories watch lists.
“Do you live down here?”, Katie asked. Live here?!? I sputtered in my mind. I couldn’t afford to rent a park bench in this neighborhood. “No, I'm on the Upper East Side. Umm…do you still live in Williamsburg?” Whew, I came so close to over-asking about her latest trip. Over-asking is that faux pas where, because of social media, you inadvertently know too much about your casual friends’ lives which leads to weirdly personal questions. “Oh no, I moved to the West Village a couple months ago. “That’s great,” I responded, unsure whether I should be jealous or elated that she paid twice as much as me in rent.
“So are you still going to the same church?” I asked, searching for the next subject. There are only three topics that make up polite conversation in New York: what you do, where you live, and, if you’re a Christian, where you go to church. These three questions are foundational to small talk in the city, and can tell you more about a person than sequencing their entire genome twice. Since I didn’t want to tell her that I was cleaning apartments, I skipped the work question and went straight to the third.
“Actually, I go to a different one now, ever since my pastor left for another church,” she said. “Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that.” It was bittersweet, she assured me, but at least more people get to hear him preach now. “That makes sense,” I responded, which is my go-to response when I haven’t been listening. It’s a perfect line for that since it can be a legitimate answer to answer statement they make. Truthfully, I wasn’t listening because I was trying to figure out if the conversation had gone on too long for a random run-in. Contrary to the traditional thinking of wanting to get the last word, in society today you want to be the first one to leave. It makes you look busy or something like that, which we all know is a crucial trait for the modern millennial.
“Well it was great running into you, Luke. I need to get going.” Ahh, Katie 1, Luke 0. “Me, too.” Surely I have something to go to. After an anxiety-free closing hug, since I already knew I wouldn’t be putting her in a neck brace, we said our goodbyes and walked away.
As I waited on the platform for the train, my inner voice piped up out of nowhere and said, “I would totally date her.” Ugh, I groaned, not just because my inner voice still talks like a 15-year-old, but since strong interest in NYC is the kiss of death. After all, if a person is great enough for you to be excited about them, they’re looking for someone better than you. And so we all friendzone our way through our single years, waiting for our unicorn to show up. Well, I may not be a unicorn, but if it’s any consolation, you’d be a lot better off headbutting me than him.