Mutual Ignorance and the Face of Awkwardness

‘Wait, I know that girl! I’ve got her on Facebook…I guess. Yes I do. But…. does she know me? Of course she does, she was the one adding me, not the other way around. But did she see me? No, she couldn’t. I’m standing here for only ten seconds or so. Hhm…what to do here? Shall I talk to her or not? Difficult, difficult. I know it! Let’s pretend that I didn’t see her and hopefully she will do the same. That would be awesome! Because then we could just go on with our lives and forget that this moment ever happened.’

I had a conversation with a couple of friends of mine in which we talked about the phenomenon called ‘mutual ignorance’. This phenomenon comes down to the following: you are standing somewhere, waiting for whatever to come (a train for example), while all of a sudden you see someone ‘you might have met once at a party or so’. Then the question that immediately comes to mind is: are you going to say hello? The conclusion we reached was the following: if you have had eye-contact with the person, there’s no way back. Then you have to engage in a conversation with the person. Otherwise it would be awkward. But what if you don’t want to engage in a conversation? What if you are feeling insecure about talking to the person? It will never go as smoothly as that time when you had a couple of drinks before talking to her. Or maybe you will tell yourself that you should really start studying in the train, so starting a conversation right now would be counter-productive. After all: a conversation cannot last a couple of minutes only, can it…?

But then, suddenly, you are hit by a striking observation: you are not the only party involved in this ‘strategic game’. What is the other person thinking? Is she a ‘normal’ person? If she is, she is likely to think the same as you: hence you can avoid each other. If not, she might feel bad about not having talked to you, and she will haunt you with this opportunity at a later point in time – at a club, for example.

It’s an instance of the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma: both of you are better off not talking to each other, but the outcome of the game depends on the action of the other person. But there’s a third player taking part in the game: mister awkwardness. He is sitting on the site laughing at you. He knows his time will come. The presence of mister awkwardness is inexplicable but oh so present. And he is nasty guy. Think about it: what was your most recent awkward experience? Did you fart in front of the professor entering the elevator? Well that’s awkward! But that’s nothing compared to watching porno and having your mum enter you room. On the awkwardness-scale, that’s definitely a 9.2.

So let’s make a deal people: let’s ignore each other, at all times. Let’s make sure that we never have to be on guard anymore; never taking out our binoculars in order to spot an approaching enemy anymore. Wouldn’t that be great?

You know what? Let’s just do it! “Mutual ignorance”, here we come.

But what do you think?

Written by Rob Graumans

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