That Awkward Moment That Happens Going Through the Door of a Public Building

Should leaving a well-trafficked public building induce anxiety?

Picture this: You’re approaching the exit and readying to push open the door when you turn slightly or maybe use your peripheral vision to ascertain whether a fellow exitee (sic) is near enough behind you that you need to consider what to do with the door after you’ve concluded all the movements you would normally make were you alone in this effort.

How the heart soars when one realizes one is unencumbered by these considerations! You check, you see no one within the requisite distance and you throw open the door without a care for what transpires in the door’s life once you’re through.

If, however, you’ve got a tail, distance is everything. You might get lucky and realize the person behind you is too far back that social convention dictate you consider his fortune as he approaches the door. Equally trouble free is when the tail is close enough that it’s clear to all involved parties you are obligated to hold the door open for as long as you can while moving through, preferably until you feel the pressure ease off of your hand as your tail assumes primary responsibility for the position of the door while he passes through. Special consideration, and usually a longer hold, must be given for the elderly, those carrying package or bags, and mothers shepherding children through. What, though, if you look back and the person following is in that god-forsaken not-sure-what-to-do-here gray zone of distance? This is where it gets tough. And frequently, oh so awkward.

Leaving aside gender norms that would only complicate what is already an admittedly thorough analysis, you find yourself in a really tough position here. If you decide to slow or, god forbid, even pause, your passage through the door to hold it open long enough to pass it on to them, you risk appearing obsequious and may even be insulting them, as if to say, “You don’t look like you could open this door for yourself, so, since I’ve already done the hard work for you, I’ll wait for you to catch up. No need to thank me. All in a day’s work.”

Alternatively, you can walk on through the door as if the person wasn’t behind you and risk being judged an asshole (whether this actually makes you an asshole is an altogether separate question). The usual course of action, and that which this essay endorses, albeit uncertainly, is to pass through the door as if you were alone but keep your holding hand on the door and extend that arm behind you as long as you can until you walk out of holding distance. With any luck, the person behind you will quicken his pace just a little and catch the door mid-close so neither of you has violated the social door-holding contract. And if they don’t make it in time, well, hey, at least you tried, right? It’s the thought counts, after all, isn’t it?

Your author does not presume to have presented a herein a fool-proof method for avoiding a mild panic attack on your way out of the gas station or your workplace. But at least know this as your dread mounts while you approach the exit: you are not alone.

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