In the spirit of summertime social situations (how’s that for alliteration?), let’s address those awkward encounters that we find all too frequently — and what we can do about them.
And by “we” I mean that these are true stories of my own, or friends who shall remain nameless.
At the Bar
Awkward Situation: You make last minute plans with a friend to go to happy hour, despite being dressed in a red Mickey Mouse t-shirt and neglecting to shower that day. Naturally, this is the one happy hour in which you run into your best friend from high school that you haven’t seen since graduation, and she looks immaculate.
Solution: Greet her warmly and emphasize being “so busy” at work, as an implied excuse for your attire. Ask her endless questions about herself (on the off-chance that she’s self-involved), and she will be so consumed with relating her life that she will forget about yours (and Mickey’s).
Awkward Situation: You receive an email from an acquaintance explaining that you are indeed invited to a mutual friend’s bridal shower this weekend, despite failing to receive a timely invitation due to a “miscommunication.” But won’t you please still come?
Solution: Without a trace of commitment, blithely reply that she needn’t apologize since you have plans that day anyway, but should the opportunity arise you may make an appearance. Still go if you can, because after all, your engaged friend shouldn’t suffer because of this acquaintance’s forgetfulness.
In the Office
Awkward situation: You and only one other person are walking down the hallway toward each other. He kindly says hello and initiates a conversation as he walks toward you. As you smile broadly in response and open your mouth to reply, you find there are not just two of you in the hallway. This person is speaking to the nice man behind you.
Solution: Pretend that smile was just the daily one you give to everyone. Also, always carry a mug so your hands are occupied, and you can use it as a decoy to look purposeful – hmm, is my cup empty? Let me spend three seconds looking inside.
At an Event
Awkward Situation: You are at a social event, and here comes that woman who clearly knows exactly who you are and is thrilled to greet you – but if your life depended on it you could not recall her name.
Solution: Grab your date/husband/person-standing-nearest-you and cheerfully ask Mystery Woman if she has met the person whose name you actually know. That will automatically prompt her to introduce herself, providing infinite relief to you as you say in your head, “YES! I knew it was REBECCA.” Then try to use her name at the beginning/end of a sentence at least twice before you move on to get a much-needed drink.
On the Phone
Awkward Situation: A friend innocently asks “What are you doing on Saturday?” They could be inviting you to the best party of the year, or asking you to help them move apartments for six hours. You simply can’t tell by this open-ended question.
Solution: Since this person thinks it’s OK to back you into a social corner, you are free to be direct. Briefly say, “I’ll have to check – what did you have in mind?” Otherwise, if you should say, “Nothing, I’m free,” your friend could say, “Perfect! I need someone to help me sort through my Tupperware,” and you’re trapped.
This situation is awkward enough that it merits an extra tip: when inviting people to do something, just straight-out ask them. For instance, “Hey, I’m going rock-climbing this weekend, would you like to join me?” is so much more inviting than, “You free this weekend?” which seems to imply that your invitee has no life.
To have your most pressing etiquette questions addressed, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you think it’s funny to write to me as “Dear Abby,” you already have an etiquette issue we need to address.