I’m sure that as certain restrictions have been lifted and you have returned to your normal-ish Swarthmore experiences, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Now that’s all well and good, but unfortunately not everything has returned as it was. Previously, students spent their days worrying about big Swarthmore questions like “What’s Sharples serving today?” and “I wonder when my friends are going to be eating,” followed by a reflection on the patterns of social and political movement through the busy and fraught, yet valuable, space. This all provided for a healthy dose of social anxiety: the backbone of any good Swarthmore student.
But times change.
Situations with easy responses like a wave from a friend now lead to complex action trees that leave you frozen. Would walking by them with a slight nod imply you haven’t thought about them since last spring, when in fact you have wondered how they were doing twice a week for a year? Stop, take a breath: these are the kind of situations everyone is experiencing now, and I am here to tell you exactly how to respond to the ever evolving world of the New Sharpolitik.
Some of you may be questioning my expertise. Does this guy even know how to respond to a classmate waving from a table halfway down the line of the main Sharples room at 7 p.m.? This is valid, but let me tell you that trivial questions* such as this are child’s play to me. In my heyday I was a Sharples expert, managing all the members of my social groups from acquaintances to closest friends with extraordinary ease. I had a meaningful moment with all the people I cared about while also making sure those I only knew a little gained a joking respect and compassion for me. I once saved a relationship by walking around the Sharples big room twice instead of once. But that’s enough on me. Let’s consider now how the socio-economic-political-sphere of Sharples has changed.
After continuous groundwork and sociological and anthropological research taken on the ground floor of Sharples from all locations and times, I have isolated the key differences in Sharples life between then and now. I found not only what most people choose to do, but also the best option for each interaction. I will now reveal my discoveries to you in some illustrative examples.
Suppose that at lunch you make eye contact with a classmate or acquaintance with whom you’ve only shared a few words, a common enough occurrence at Swarthmore. In the past, this was a simple wave-and-walk, but now the system has changed. The only correct response to this situation is to either look away or give a slight nod while remembering who they were, walking to get utensils, and looking back as if looking for a friend to make it look like you staring was an accident. Most importantly, wait three** days and then send them a message on Facebook Messenger asking how they are doing. If you’re closer, ask to set up a meal time — they’re only 30 minutes now, anyways.
But this is a beginner move. For those who are feeling ready for something more advanced, let’s look a little deeper.
Say it’s a Thursday dinner, you’re waiting in a line to get food, and you line up behind a friend you were close with freshman year. You’ve lost touch but now can define the interpersonal space between you as being a symptom of COVID. Previously this was an easy case of chat-and-dash revolving around small quips about the Sharples food that night, but now it’s important to maintain that distance. Opening up a dialogue in any form will impress upon the other person that the pandemic has hit you hard and that you are feeling extra nostalgic for the time before the beginning of the pandemic. In their eyes this makes you an opportunist who simply wants to talk to more people due to pandemic desperation, rather than because you wanted to reconnect with them in the first place. This is a rookie mistake, and I strongly recommend you to be wary of this situation, unless it’s a Tuesday, in which case it doesn’t matter.
Lastly, I’ve been getting mail from friends asking about a new pandemic-era problem. If you previously saw your best friend at Sharples at any time, the correct course of action was to follow their path around Sharples and sit down with them and just meet whoever they were going to sit with but move on if and only if they looked like they were going to be sitting down with only one person.*** Otherwise, the strategy holds. And while this option still seems relevant to this day, I guarantee that times have moved past this old Sharples staple.
As of this week my team and I have proved this response plan inductively. Follow it to a t and you will maintain and strengthen the bonds left behind:
(A) Depending on where in Sharples you meet them, engage in forms of conversation from small talk to humorous stories depending on day to day life.
(B) Follow them to the utensils zone and mirror their order, so as to create symmetry and build Sharples ~synergy~.****
(C) Make towards the back room with them as if to leave, but if they do not seem to have anyone waiting for them, you make your move and ask word for word, “Hey, I was going to head back to my room, but if you’re free, would you want to eat here?”
(D) Now, watch your friends closely — if they seem to get excited you’re in the clear, so find a table and eat with them; if there is a slight pause then make a judgment call on your own depending on how lonely you are at the time of the meal so as to play towards the improvised nature you’re trying to exude; or, if they seem to not look very excited, say “Oh it’s no problem then, I’ll just sit down for a quick meal,” say goodbye, and find your own table. Any other action, such an impassioned high five or fist bump, will lead to friendship dissolution within five to seven business days according to our latest models. The numbers don’t lie. (Check the attached 43-page guide for more details on the research methods and conclusions of this study.)
I hope this has been informational to all of you who are lost in the New Sharples as it is today. Times are changing, and we will change with them. Experts are experts for a reason, so have no fear, Sharples is still as much of a Swarthmore playground. Lastly, as always, it is cool to learn Sharples staff members’ names and make small talk.
*The correct response is to wander over to a table’s distance away, make a comment about the Sharples Bar, then transition into a seven-word question about whether they have done work for the class. Respond with exactly the same sentiment, looking away as if you see someone else you know, and then turn back to the person at the table. Apologise for being called away, and say you’ll see them next class section, and then walk off.
**Wait only two days if this was in the quiet room.
***Still currently the case with significant others.
**** Ideally, you would be in the line that goes through the big room, as there is a better line of sight to the exit door to watch out for potential people your friend will be having a meal with.