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April 05, 2010

Excuse me, but are you avoiding me?

And here is another recent asking. From a few hours ago, actually.

I was just in a cafe, working, when I noticed an acquaintance walk in. He glanced my way and darted past. Or at least, it seemed like he did.

This is the second time this exact interaction has happened, in the same cafe, with this same person.

The thing is, a few months ago I wrote something about him. Not on this blog, but for a freelance gig. Long story short, I did a review of one of his new research initiatives. My review was widely circulated in his institution. I said good things about him and his work, but when I saw he was avoiding eye contact and rushing to the opposite end of the cafe, not once but twice, I started wondering. Had I offended him? Maybe he didn't like what I had to say? Maybe I got something wrong or, despite being positive, came across as superficial or ironic?

Who knows.

He walked by a few times ordering a drink and looking for a table (there was an empty one next to me, which he didn't even look at) and I tried to catch his eye, but no luck.

I thought about waving or approaching him, but I didn't want to seem confrontational, especially if I had inadvertently offended him.

On the other hand, I didn't want to leave things hanging and I couldn't think why his feelings would be hurt.

Finally, on my way out I walked up to him and, with a smile, said: "Hi! How have you been since we met to discuss that report I was preparing? Did you get good feedback on it? Or was there anything about it that might have offended you?"


He looked relaxed but a bit taken aback. "No, what do you mean?"

"Oh! Ok. I just noticed you came in and I was trying to smile and you seemed in a rush to get away. I would be sorry if I hurt your feelings or caused trouble for you at work."

"Did I do that? I am sorry. I didn't even realize it was you. My head was totally in the clouds. I'm so sorry."

"No, no problem!"

"On the contrary. A lot of people saw it. I was surprised by how much feedback I got after that. Thanks again. How have you been?"

We ended up chatting for a few moments, he told me about his upcoming book, and before I left we shook hands.

I'm not scared of writing things that earn disapproval. Despite what my anonymity here might suggest. (In fact, in my offline life I put my name on what I write and say what I believe needs to be said. It's gotten me yelled at, and even threatened, more than once.)

But in this case, he was a nice person, and I'd written something nice, so I just wanted to clear the air.

Glad I did.

[image via -- incidentally, a useful and quick summary of theory of the gaze]
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