When you run into someone from high school

Illustration of people talking at a high school
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You’re strolling through Target in your hometown, buying stuff you don’t need and minding your business. You weave your way through the aisles when you see the familiar face of a person from your high school. Their eyes meet yours, and in a split second, you must make a decision — wave and greet or flee and ignore. Seeing someone from high school is scarier than any horror movie because you’re actually living through it. As someone who has had my share of high school run-ins, I have some wisdom to pass to anyone who’s worried about running into their freshman year lab partner in the cereal aisle.

Run and hide

This is the most obvious option, but nonetheless, it is effective. If you are in a crowded or indoor area, running might not be your best option, but speed walking is a great alternative. After the initial eye contact, run or speed walk out of the situation and find the nearest hiding place. The key is to use your surroundings. In stores, it’s best to go to another aisle and pretend to shop there. Another option is to drop everything and leave the store, especially if you’re feeling particularly dramatic. But in an outdoor setting such as on campus, a tree or building is the perfect spot to hide. If it’s an open field, you’re pretty much out of luck, but dropping to the ground until the person leaves is always worth a shot.

Greet them first to establish your dominance 

If you are feeling brave, immediately go to that person and give them a “hello” or “hi.” This will catch the person off guard and put them in the vulnerable position to respond. Then it will be up to them if they want to engage in a conversation. Maintain eye contact and make sure your greeting is affirmative and strong. Keep in mind that this works best if the person was someone you actually interacted with in high school. It won’t work so well on the person in your English class who once lent you a pencil. I find that this approach works on former friends or people who have a chance at remembering your existence.

Pretend to be someone else

This is only an option if the person greets you first and you have to give a response. You can greet them back because that is the socially acceptable and respectful route. However, if you never liked the person in high school or are not in the mood to interact with a person, you should definitely pretend that you’re someone else. Personally, I like to have a backup name for these instances. My name is Nicholas, but I will give out Nathan or Nate because they have the same first initial as my real name, and are thus easier to remember. But this technique only works half of the time, and you’ve got to have confidence to pull this off.

Ignore the person

This might be the rudest approach, but it’s also the simplest one. As both your eyes meet, breathe in, look away and breathe out. Although it seems easy, there is technique in this option. Your face should not show any emotion, especially horror, surprise or panic. This will help the person believe that it was just accidental eye contact and that you never went to the same high school. If you are having trouble mastering the perfect deadpan expression, practice your poker face in the mirror for five minutes every morning and night. It will train your facial muscles to have it as your default facial expression.

These tips totally work and are completely foolproof. My favorite is pretending to be someone else because it allows you to create a character and continue your ruse. If none of these options work for you, you can always just engage in small talk with your former high school peer. But these tips are way more fun!

Contact Nicholas Clark at [email protected].