The older I get, the less sure I am of the proper etiquette when seeing someone you haven’t seen for years. Is it better to say “Amazing! You haven’t changed a bit!” Or would “Look at you – I would never have recognized you!” be a kinder greeting?
There are many subliminal themes in play here. I’ve heard both comments from different classmates, former neighbors, teachers and colleagues. Both male and female. Ones who are older than I am and far younger. And I’m torn.
When someone says, “I’d have recognized you anywhere! You look exactly the same as when we lived in Lawinson Hall (were in Mrs. Marcello’s class, worked at The Daily Times, etc.),” part of me winces and the other part rejoices. Years ago, I had no skills with my naturally curly hair so I wore it incredibly short, I had a generous dollop of dark freckles across my face, and there was an awkwardness about me that came from growing three times as fast as the boys and rolling my shoulders inward to try and hide that fact.
Seriously – have I not improved at all from there? What about my tamed and smoothed mane that now flows past my shoulders? Or the way my freckles have been faded to almost nothing by time and lemon juice (a la Jan Brady)? My more confident swagger? Or how about the weight I’ve gained through years of being gastronomically lackadaisical and being married to a chef? Are we politely ignoring that? I get befuddled that I could still remind anyone of that coltish young girl of so long ago.
But, then again, when I hear, “You look fabulous. I can’t believe you’re the same person!” I wonder how utterly horrible I must have been back then if changing is what it took to become fabulous. And then I wonder if the person is kindly overlooking
Because I have these internal struggles about people’s reactions when seeing me after a long period of time, I obviously do not know how to speak to them honestly and sincerely.
After many missteps – “Oh, you finally decided to stop bleaching your hair!” and “We’ve all gained a little weight since high school, haven’t we?” – I finally came up with a reasonable and sincere solution. I now pay the person I see a compliment that does not compare them today with the person from another era in our lives. Something similar to “You look great!” always seems to work. So simple and timeless, just like us.