So this morning I ran into a coworker, and he asked me how I was doing. I said fine, he said good, he went on his way. About ten seconds later, I realized that I hadn't done the usual "...and how are you?" I went in the direction that he had walked away, but I couldn't find him.

A couple of more times during the day, I took a look, but no luck, until finally I saw him this afternoon and said, "By the way, I owe you an apology. You asked me how I was doing earlier, and I should have reciprocated. So...how are you?"

He didn't understand at first, then looked at me like I had just asked him if he was interested in hearing about how the moon landing was faked. Then he said, "You know, it's not a big deal."

"Yeah, I know, but it's the whole social contract thing. Plus my major motivator in life is guilt"

Pause.

"Did you, by chance, go to Catholic school?"

"Come to think of it, I did, for college."

"Me too; I could tell."

So at least one coworker probably now thinks I'm insane. Well, make that three, since when I first interviewed for the job, as I got ready to leave, I said my goodbyes to the people who interviewed me, then left. When I got to my car, I realized I couldn't remember if I'd thanked them for bringing me in, so I went back in, caught them as they were leaving, and said, "By the way, this might sound...odd...but I can't remember if I thanked you for interviewing me, and that would be rude, so if I didn't, you know, thanks."

Advertisement

They gave me a similar look to my coworker this afternoon and said, "Well, you're welcome."

I realize that the easiest solution for this awkwardness would be to simply say things at the moment, but sometimes one forgets. Mainly, I'm concerned that my occasional obsession with fulfilling the mandates of politeness long after (apparently) a reasonable human being is making me seem like a bit of a lunatic. At the same time, if you say, "Hi, how are you?" in my version of the ordered universe, you deserve reciprocation, even if it is delayed by, say, six months or so.

So, normal people who don't view interactions with others as a painful obstacle course fraught with danger on all sides, what's the shelf-life of a casual greeting? A couple of seconds? A minute? If you say, "Hey, IRN," and I fail to reply sufficiently, would you consider it odd to receive an apology card and a gift certificate for a box of Omaha Steaks a few days later?