How To Avoid Running Into People In Public

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Avoidance Techniques

Something my mom and I share in common: we hate running into people in public. We’re both fairly sociable people with lots of friends and acquaintances,but dread being caught unaware at the grocery store or the nail salon — even by someone we might genuinely want to see. But especially by someone we don’t want to see.

As a child, walking through the aisles of Costco on a Sunday afternoon, my mom would squeeze my arm and say, “It’s so-and-so, put your head down.” Often my dad, who loves running into people, would bust our cover and wave to the person in question. “Hey look! It’s so-and-so!” Under her breath, I would hear my mom utter, “Goddammit.”

I can’t say for sure why we’re like this. Perhaps it has to do with our distaste for small talk. But there are no lengths my mother and I won’t go to to remain unrecognized in public. 

This past weekend, I was out at a bar and saw this woman I used to work with. I instinctually shifted into avoidance mode. As I was slowly inching my scarf up to shroud my face, I was like, “Thanks, mom! You taught me well.” It was a close call. She was only two feet away, but  eventually she left the bar and I managed to dodge her. If you suffer from a similar affliction, you may find my step-by-step avoidance guide helpful…

1. Avert your eyes. The first step is simple: avoid eye contact at all costs. This means you’ll need something else to look at and quick! If you’re at the grocery store, pick up a box of cereal and examine the shit out of that nutritional content. Then try to memorize the ingredients. At the nail salon, become very interested in Essie’s new line of colors. If you have friends with you, launch into a looonnng story. On the subway, whip out your iPhone and text. If you’re really desperate, make a real (or fake) phone call. I did this when I saw an ex on the street. He did see me, but was too intimidated to interrupt my “important” phone call. Your goal is to seem too busy, too absorbed in what you’re doing to be bothered.

2. Change location if possible. Get outta there fast. You have to look for the quickest and most plausible escape route. But be strategic. Don’t make any sudden movements and risk being spotted by the target. You want to get out of eye line. But if changing positions jeopardizes your anonymity, it may be best to stay still like a frightened squirrel until the target moves. When the coast is clear, switch subway cars or make a sharp turn down the fruit aisle. This can be tricky if have a bulky shopping cart with you. If all else fails, be prepared to ditch your shopping cart and make a clean getaway. You can always go to the grocery store down the street if need be. Whatever you have to do…

3. Conceal your face. People can’t recognize you if they can’t see you. Sunglasses, scarfs and hats are the best accessories for avoidance. I personally like to buy winter coats with hoods in case I need to pull them over my head in a pinch. If you find your face exposed, with none of the above listed items, try using a water bottle or your purse or anything you find in your immediate surroundings to hide your face. Once I used a melon! I pretended to be inspecting it for bruises. It worked because I have a small head.

4. Have an excuse prepared. Often, your best efforts to be spotted in public will fail because the world is full of people like my dad who love running into people. If you find yourself forced to engage in pesky small talk at the local Starbucks, have a go-to excuse. My mom has bad vision and can’t see at distances, so hers is, “Oh so-and-so! I didn’t see you because I didn’t have my glasses on.” My vision is good, so I can’t use that one. Instead, I prefer, “Oh so-and-so! I didn’t see you because I was so lost in thought.” It’s partially true, I’m usually lost in thought. But, if I’m being honest, I probably saw so-and-so. Once you’ve been caught, you have no choice but to switch gears and sell the lie. It’s important that you don’t come off like a total asshole. So, you need to lay it on thick about how excited you are to see so-and-so. And then go home and work on your avoidance technique so it never happens again.

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