A few weeks ago I was at a Halloween school event, one of those evening activities that’s absolutely jammed with parents and kids, and as I made my way through the cafeteria I spotted someone I knew so I held up my hand in a friendly fashion as I walked towards him. You know, sort of an elongated wave, like “I am both saying hello and acknowledging our collective presence but I’m on my way to find my kids and there’s no need to stop for an exchange of pleasantries so instead of waving once then breaking eye contact I’ll just kind of do a continual howdy as I cruise on by.” Just as I was going by him, though, something terrible happened: he looked briefly startled, then raised his own hand. FOR A HIGH FIVE. I laughed awkwardly and went for it — of course I sort of missed, so we did that weird heel-of-the-hand brush instead of a solid palm slap — then left the room and immediately googled “FASHION A CYANIDE TOOTH OUT OF HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS HOW TO.”

Maybe a bungled greeting isn’t the sort of thing that takes up residence in your brain for approximately the entire remainder of your life, but I have naturally been thinking of it ever since. I am traumatized by the fact that he clearly thought I was the one initiating a high five, which, what? No! This fellow parent and I are not on high five levels of familiarity (although I guess we are now), and even if I had categorized him as such it was definitely not a high five situation. Like, dude this Spooktacular is going to rock so hard I can’t wait to be asphyxiated by 500 8-year-olds wearing unicorn onesies GIMME FIVE.

As much as I desperately wish I could clarify my intent I am at least mentally stable enough to realize there’s no good way to do it now. Even if there was an occasion to bring it up during our next round of polite small talk (“YUP SURE IS RAINING A LOT LATELY AND SPEAKING OF WATER WHICH REMINDS ME OF WAVES WHICH IS DEFINITELY WHAT I WAS DOING ON OCTOBER THE TWENTY-SEVENTH AT SIX FIFTEEN PM…”) the only outcome is one in which I make everything about a thousand times weirder, and so I will simply have to carry on under my new identity as Inappropriate High Fiving Lady. She seems like a jovial, carefree kind of person, busy doling out celebratory hand gestures along with a total lack of fucks. In fact, I could probably learn a thing or two from her.


33 Responses to “Wry five”

  1. Amber on November 16th, 2017 11:39 am

    I work at a university and have to interact regularly with all of the academic departments on campus. One professor I knew a little bit outside of work because our kids go to the same school – we’d see each other at drop off every morning and kind of acknowledge each other with a nod or a wave. We talked maybe once or twice, enough to acknowledge: Hey, we work in the same place, small world, etc.

    One evening I took my family to an event the university was hosting and ran into this professor. As we walked by each other, she made a motion that made me think she wanted to do one of those friendly hug things that I despise, but I felt like I had to reciprocate, so I went in for the hug – and registered that quick moment of surprise on her face and realized that she didn’t want to hug me at all. UGHHGHGHGH! We did the quick hug and I died six or seven times.

    That was TWO YEARS AGO and I still see her every morning at school and I STILL think of that hug at least once a week. It’s that cringing embarrassment where I’m like, “She thinks I’m one of those huggers and I’m so totally not,” And I always want to tell her, “Hey, so, I don’t REALLY like hugging, sorry about that whole thing,” but I at least realize how very terrible that would be.

    Fun fact: A few months after that hug incident, I had to interview her for a feature in our alumni magazine. I wanted to start the email, “I swear I’m not obsessed with you, but…”

    In short, thank you for allowing me this venue to air my abject mortification. I feel 20% better.

  2. Barb. on November 16th, 2017 11:42 am

    …are you suggesting that the Spooktacular was not, in actual fact, spectacular?!? Haha, I kid.

    Very funny! I laughed in awkward sympathy. :)

  3. Kathleen on November 16th, 2017 11:58 am

    HA! Reminds me of the acquaintance who I THOUGHT was going in for a handshake but NO a fist bump! And then, oh god, I tried to remedy the situation by switching to a fist bump, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, he tried to fix it by switching to handshake…. Dear God! We did that back and forth for a few tries, sort of flapping our hands at each other.
    I was thinking WHO FIST BUMPS AT OUR AGE?

  4. Katherine on November 16th, 2017 12:02 pm

    I heard this attributed to Shirley MacLaine, but I don’t know if the attribution is accurate:
    In your 20’s you worry about what everyone thinks of you.
    In your 40’s you decide you don’t care what anyone thinks of you.
    In your 60’s you realize no one is thinking of you.

    I bet that high fiver erased the incident from his memory by the next day. His brain space is taken up with hashing and rehashing whatever awkward, human thing he did since then.

  5. Liz on November 16th, 2017 12:24 pm

    I just want to offer up the very possible reality that after the exchange he immediately realized you were only waving and has been quietly kicking himself for high fiving you.

  6. Sara on November 16th, 2017 12:26 pm

    The real thing to do now is just high five EVERYONE.

    This reminds me of my bffffff who once awkwardly saluted a bunch of people at her work and has spent the past ten years still being mortified/bewildered by it.

  7. Cindy on November 16th, 2017 12:29 pm

    Oh man, and I thought I was the only one. Thank God lol

  8. sooboo on November 16th, 2017 12:35 pm

    Social hangovers are real! I rethink awkward moments all the time and it’s awful. Trying to be nicer to myself, but it’s so hard! Btw, I only know women who do this, never men, or they don’t mention it if they do.

  9. Hannah on November 16th, 2017 1:40 pm

    Once in high school I was walking by the cute young english teacher and he raised his hand to high five me. I thought it was weird but went with it and as my hand slapped his he laughed awkwardly and I realized that he was just trying to wave. that was 19 years ago but I still think about it and cringe with my whole body.

  10. Stacy on November 16th, 2017 2:33 pm

    I’m literally laughing out loud at your awkwardness but you put it on the internet so totally your fault. However! The wry five or misread-casual-hand-wave has to have happened to everyone a time or two, myself included.

  11. Lisa on November 16th, 2017 3:25 pm

    I STILL cringe when I think back to the time when my date and I were leaving for the Junior Prom and his dad said, “ You two have a great time at the Prom!” and I enthusiastically yelled back, “YOU, TOO!”

    His dad was NOT going to the Prom and ugh! God! Why am I such a dork!?

    My Junior Prom was in 1990. Still. Embarrassed.

  12. Emily on November 16th, 2017 5:14 pm

    High fives are inherently awkward and I congratulate you on not smacking him in the face by accident. Which I have possibly done a time or two although who’s counting.

  13. Anonymous on November 16th, 2017 6:40 pm


  14. Jeannie on November 16th, 2017 6:49 pm

    Yeah. Chiming in with the OMG ME TOO chorus. Twenty five years ago — TWENTY. FIVE. — a cousin I barely knew went to say good bye and we meant to kiss cheeks and we each went for the wrong side and ended up KISSING ON THE LIPS and I am still mortified to this day.

    (European cousin so cheek kissing was completely normal for acquaintances!)

    Anyway. Yes. Me too.

  15. LP on November 16th, 2017 7:50 pm

    I have busted A GUT!!! You are beyond hilarious!!!

  16. Alison on November 16th, 2017 8:34 pm

    I hate high-fiving. I take a class MWF and I love everything about it except at the end the instructor says “high-five your neighbor” and I want to melt into the floor and die. I can’t high five at 6am.

    School parent interactions are so awkward. For me at least. At the beginning of the year it was better because my oldest is in kindergarten and I knew no one. Now I’m “acquainted” with a passel of people and they all look the same and I can’t remember their names and I’m compelled to chat with them at every school pickup. Will I ever stop being so awkward. Answer: no.

  17. Nancy on November 16th, 2017 10:19 pm

    Where is the like button for this. Because all the yes all the time and only can explain myself to my closest people.

  18. Michael on November 16th, 2017 10:27 pm

    I read about this on Facebook, it’s all anyone’s talking about! j/k

    It’s funny how moments like this get stuck in our heads when the other person likely has no memory of it at all. For you there was polite intent and then misunderstanding and awkwardness and cathartic writing which hopefully worked, but for them it was just a random insignificant occurrence.

    Weird that he’s posting on Facebook about it, though.

  19. Jen in Germany on November 17th, 2017 4:54 am

    I love this post so much!

    We should all be more like Inappropriate High Five Lady! Love her and you too, Linda!

  20. el-e-e on November 17th, 2017 6:01 am

    Every time I re-read “…GIMME FIVE” is when I crack up. Well done!

    Solidarity, though. We’ve all done it or something like it.

  21. Shawna on November 17th, 2017 7:44 am

    I think you should embrace your Inappropriate High Five Lady and have this become your signature move!

    I am an Elevator Talking Woman myself (I work on a high floor so there are a lot of stops until I get off), and initiate conversation whenever the other occupant isn’t obviously trying to avoid eye contact. Meet my eyes and smile and I will always toss off a cheery comment. I love those brief connections and seeing people leave the elevator happier-looking than when they got in.

  22. Shawna on November 17th, 2017 7:45 am

    Of course, it’s possible they look happier because they are escaping me. But I don’t care!

  23. charlene on November 17th, 2017 1:54 pm

    I have to giggle a little. It happens to all of us and se cringe forever when we thing about how things are handled it.

    On a side note: I can tell you something came up from my past that was traumatic and has brought up all my anxiety. I have to will myself not to cringe when people lean over to hug or want to shake my hand. when I’m pretty sure I’m coming out looking like an asshole because I can tell I’m pulling back pretty fast. I cant handle anyone in my personal space

  24. Alex on November 17th, 2017 8:54 pm

    This is gold. I’m crying-laughing. Thank you for telling this story!

  25. Andrea on November 18th, 2017 11:10 am

    I watched “Very British Problems” on Netflix. The entire first episode was all about interpersonal interactions and how “All” of Britain cannot handle these types of situations and how they cope (or not) with them. I really feel for you, because when something like this happens to me, I ponder it for days. Pretty sure the other person is over it pretty fast, but it doesn’t matter.

  26. Jessie on November 19th, 2017 2:45 pm

    My mom had a housewarming party 5 years ago. For the most part I know her friends well and am on a hugging-basis with them. A married couple arrived (I had met them but did not know her well) and I was the one to greet them. I went in to hug the wife and realized much too late that she wS startled by it and THEN I felt like I had to hug the husband because I had hugged the wife. (WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT THOUGHT PROCESS.) OMG it was so deeply awkward.

    I think of this at least once a month and die a little inside. Again, this was five years ago.

  27. sandy on November 20th, 2017 4:17 am

    OMG I just spit my coffee out laughing so hard at this!! You are AWESOME!!!!!!! Yes i just did put 7 exclamations points after that comment. You are the best. Thanks for sharing.

  28. Jess on November 20th, 2017 5:09 am

    Hahaha this is so awesome, because I can relate way too much. I can’t remember a thing that I need to, but boy can I remember in precise detail all of the socially awkward things I’ve done and they haunt me for years afterwards…. also loved one of the commenter’s phrases “social hangover.” perfect.

  29. Mary Clare on November 20th, 2017 12:01 pm

    So funny, Linda! I’m laughing wryly at my own socially awkward moments. There are SO many.

  30. Lisa on November 20th, 2017 1:07 pm
  31. LD's Mom on November 20th, 2017 6:27 pm

    My god, that was funny. I can’t stop laughing. Totally relating here…

  32. Julie on November 21st, 2017 4:27 pm

    I’m laughing so hard at this. My boyfriend’s dad is not a hugger, and if hugged, will stand there straight as a two-by-four and kind of pat my back. But, his mom IS a hugger, so every time I see them I now hug her and not his dad. Then I question that decision for days. It’s getting quite stressful.

  33. Jen on December 18th, 2017 2:24 pm

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. Your writing is so, so fantastic. Thank you!

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