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Stephanie Koo and Liz Nichols / Columbia Daily Spectator

I first met Maddy Harden, CC ’20, in 2016 during an NSOP pregame. Probably in Carman. We had a very nice, albeit brief, conversation. Then we didn’t speak again for three years.

Between September 2016 and August 2019, my relationship with Maddy was virtually nonexistent. Maybe initially we exchanged some polite smiles—waves, even—when we passed each other; however, as we moved further away from that one, fated NSOP pregame, we stopped acknowledging each other altogether. We acted as if we were complete strangers.

But we weren’t! Whenever we passed and ignored each other I fully knew she was Maddy Harden. I knew that we had met, when we met, and where we met. And honestly, if I had to guess, I’d bet that she remembered me too. Yet, we spent the entirety of our freshman, sophomore, and junior years pretending not to know each other—or at least, not acknowledging that we did.

Then, during NSOP this August, something incredible happened.

I was back on campus at yet another party (read: I am very cool). A friend of mine began talking to a girl that he knew. He introduced us.

“Jacob, do you know Maddy?”

Panic.

What was I supposed to say?! Of course I knew Maddy, but Maddy and I had implicitly agreed to not know each other every day for the past three years. However, much like Passover, tonight was different from all other nights.

Maddy broke our contract first, “Yeah, I think we’ve met before.”

We all know what “I think we’ve met before” means. There is no actual uncertainty. It’s the Columbia way of saying, “Yes, I absolutely know who you are, but until you affirm that you know me, I am going to leave open the (false) possibility that we do not know each other.”

Maddy had opened the floodgates. I followed with a full confession and confirmed that we had, in fact, met and that this meeting took place three years earlier and it was in Carman and it was at a party during NSOP.

And guess what? She remembered too. We laughed about the whole thing and spent the next few minutes catching up on the past three years of our lives.

Fast forward to this semester, and things between me and Maddy have never been better. Whenever we pass each other, we make it clear that we are not strangers. We smile, we wave, and we even say hello. Audibly.

To be clear, Maddy and I are still not “friends” in the classic sense. We don’t hang out; we don’t text. Honestly, I don’t have her number. But that’s totally fine. What’s great about my new friendship with Maddy is that I now have an additional person on campus whom I can pass and share a positive interaction with.

I know the case of me and Maddy is not unique. Everyone has a person whom they’ve met (maybe even more than once) but pretended not to know when seeing them in the future. Maybe you met this person at Days on Campus. Maybe it was at an audition, or maybe your FroSci discussion section.

Unlike my predecessors, though, I don’t think that pretending not to know someone is a malicious power play. Quite the opposite: I think it comes from a place of insecurity.

The Maddy Harden/Jacob Kaplan story had a happy ending because it turned out that we had both been acting like we’d never met.

However, what if you acknowledged meeting someone who actually had no recollection of meeting you? Total embarrassment! This person was apparently important enough to stick in your memory, but you were not relevant enough to stick in theirs. The safe choice, then, is to not take the gamble and act like the person is a stranger.

Columbia students, let’s just take the gamble.

The next time you see that person you are pretending not to know, cut the act. Acknowledge that you know each other. (Do not, however, go up and say “I acknowledge that we know each other.” It’s sociopathic.)

If you make the connection, I predict that the other person will admit to pretending not to know you as well. And then, once you’ve recognized your shared history, boom! You have a new person at Columbia with whom you can connect. At the risk of sounding too fuzzy, I think that if everyone was able to expand their list of positive Columbia connections, we’d all be a little bit happier.

Here’s a challenge. If there is someone whom you know but have been pretending not to, share this article and tag their name in the caption. If you don’t want to give me credit, that’s fine too—find some other way to reconnect with them. All that matters is that you take the leap and make the connection.

Columbians, go find your own Maddy Harden.

Editor’s note: Maddy Harden is a member of Spectator’s Engagement section.

Jacob Kaplan is a senior at Columbia College studying history. He’d like to thank Maddy Harden for agreeing to be the literal subject of this column. Follow @JacobKaplan17 on Twitter. The Small Pond runs alternate Wednesdays.

To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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