You've no doubt found yourself in the following situation:
1) The Realization: the strangers recognize their common path.
2) The Downward Spiral: The strangers try in vain to side-step around one another, only to discover that their movements are being inadvertently mimicked.
3) The Encounter: When close enough, one stranger will eventually give up, chuckle at the absurdity of it all, and lead the other by the shoulders to a new path.
4) The Recovery: Any embarrassment after the event quickly subsides when they consider that the other person feels just as foolish.
I like to think that we subconsciously work together in situations like this to achieve a common goal: the crossing of the road or the brisk abolishment of an awkward tango.
In my case today, the common goal should have been the avoidance of an uncomfortable meeting. But every now and then, one will have the unfortunate realization that there exists a human being that dismisses all social cues and crushes the four-way-stop phenomenon like...something delightfully fragile.
I don't necessarily consider my time spent at the gym to be enjoyable; I go because I know it's good for me and I like to see results, which it generously gives to anyone who pays the monthly fee. I step in, shuffle around on the elliptical for an hour, and promptly see myself out.
Today, in the middle of my episode of Friends, I discovered that someone who was included in my circle of friends from high school was just across the room sitting at the check-in counter. A thick horror dawned on me when I saw that I caught his eye and he took that as an invitation. Despite my hasty focus back to my show, he sauntered his tall, handsome, loathsome self over and leaned next to my TV screen.
Allow me to explain: the reason that I was less than eager to catch up with this guy was that, simply put, he was a stupid jerk. We never enjoyed each other's company and actually went out of our way to have little spats that usually consisted of me going after his lack of class, and he going after my lack of social normalcy. We had no reason to be talking to each other now.
The conversation began.
Oh, how I wish you could feel this particular discomfort! The kind that is having no motive or reason to impress a person, but having the inescapable desire to do so anyway. My dripping make up from work was being caked to my face like ashes. My breath was coming out in shallow huffs, so I could only manage to give him head movements and sounds to make it clear that I was aware of his presence. But I would not get off the machine. No, for that would instill in him the sense of power and permission to continue the dreadful conversation, that, you might remember, was not obligatory at all.
My realization of that truth coupled with the fact he was insisting that we have this encounter regardless hit me with a surprisingly forceful amount of resentment. The only joy he could possibly be getting out of the situation was that it was vexing me to the point where my grinding teeth could have very well been heard over the whir of machines and televisions.
The conversation ended, and he left.
I couldn't tell you one thing that he said to me.
In a sour and spiteful mood, I drove home. When I approached the intersection by my house at the same time as three other vehicles, I threw all cordiality out the open windows and plowed through the street, laughing at them all the way.
If he can shatter the phenomenon, why can't I?