On being ... by chance

By Ingrid Sapona 

I’ve never liked appointments for social visits. Making a “coffee date” changes something casual – the idea of a chat over coffee – into something formal (pretentious even). Sure, I know that people are busy. And for some, if they don’t put a meeting on their calendar – even a social one – their day gets away from them. Looking at it from that perspective, I suppose I should feel honoured when a friend schedules a get-together. But honestly, I don’t feel honoured… I feel fitted in. 

I don’t even like making dinner reservations. Unless the meal’s a prelude to another activity – like a theatre performance or concert – I hate the idea of promising we’ll be someplace at a particular time. More times than not, when I have a reservation, I end up rushing or having to kill time because I’ve overestimated the travel time. Who needs the pressure? 

While Covid restrictions on restaurants were in place, however, I did my best to accept the need to book a table. Staffing shortages and being required to have fewer tables made it hard on restaurants and many began requiring reservations. Indeed, I decided I’d use the pandemic as an opportunity to become one with the need to make dinner reservations. But, once Covid restrictions were lifted, my reservation-averse self reared its head. 

Returning to my disdain for social appointments, I think it also has something to do with a desire to return to the freedom of youth. I’m not of the play date generation so, as a kid, if I wanted to see someone, I hopped on my bike and pedaled to their house. (Phoning friends was out of the question – the family phone was for important things, not to see if friends were free.) If a friend was home, great. If they weren’t – or were busy – that was ok … at least I got a bike ride out of it. The other thing I loved about unplanned visits to a friend’s was that there was no way of knowing what you might get up to. The possibility for serendipity was so much more likely with such visits. 

I realize that as we get older, our days fill with obligations of work and family, which means there’s simply less time for unannounced visits. Indeed, sometimes simple logistic gets in the way: friends moving to different towns and even people moving into condos with security guards and concierges puts a definite crimp on impromptu drop-ins. But I still enjoy them and I continue making such visit, to the extent possible.

I have, however, come to realize that some people don’t like surprise visits. I used to take it personally. I kind of felt that if they couldn’t make time for a quick hello, they didn’t really value my friendship. (Someone once suggested perhaps people were embarrassed by how messy their house is. I suppose that could be, but if that’s the case, they must worry that I’ll judge them on such things, which is crazy.) Anyway, I now realize that what folks might not appreciate is the disruption of their day. That was a HARD thing for me to “get”. So now I carefully weigh whether it’s more likely the other person will see the visit as an unexpected delight or an inconvenient intrusion.  

Fortunately for me, there are still times when chance visits pay off. That happened to me recently when I decided to drop in on a few friends while I was in Buffalo. My trip was planned, but brief – just one night to visit with my 90-year-old godmother. When I told my sisters I was going to Buffalo, they asked if I’d see anyone besides my godmother. I told them the truth: I wasn’t sure. 

Before I headed back to Toronto, however, I decided to take my chances and see if some family friends were home. I saw their car, so I pulled in and parked. I rang their doorbell and the husband answered. He was surprised to see me and welcomed me in. Soon his wife came to the door. She too was pleased to see me, but she was just leaving for an appointment. I had parked behind her, so we left together. It had truly been nothing but a quick hello, but I think we were all glad to have seen each other, even briefly. 

That visit gave me confidence to make another stop. This one was to a 100-year-old family friend (AMR). She’s pretty much confined to home, and I know some days are better than others for her. But that’s the thing: if we’d have formally arranged a visit, I know she’d feel pressured to keep it, since I was coming from far away. I didn’t want to stress her out that way. 

Believing that AMR would be happy to see me, but honest about whether she was up for a visit that day, I took a chance. I pulled into her driveway and phoned. She recognized my voice and after asking her how she’s doing, she said, “Well, I’m fine. Why? Do you want to come for a visit?” I laughed and said yes and that, actually, I was in the driveway. She was delighted, though she needed 10 minutes to finish getting dressed. I gladly waited in the car until her caregiver waved for me to come in. We ended up visiting for nearly 90 minutes. AMR relished sharing news and photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I just loved the chance to spend time with her. 

Impromptu visits to friends are not without risk. But I think if your intention is genuine and good natured and you assure the person that you want nothing more than to see them and say hello – the risks are worth it. 

What about you? Do you take social chances, or do you require a plan?


© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


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