Every gym has an unofficial social director—you know, the guy who says hello to everyone and seems to prefer chatting next to machines as opposed to actually getting on them and working out. He’s the one who remembers everyone’s name and asks about their kids and hangs out at the front desk for far too long. He isn’t actually getting paid to be at the gym, but judging by the enthusiasm with which he greets unexpecting gym-goers, he might as well be.

I have a love/hate relationship with these types of people. On one hand, I admire their energy and the communal spirit they bring to the gym. On the other hand, it’s 5:30 in the morning and I barely brushed my teeth, much less want to have conversation, so just let me sweat in peace, athankyouverymuch.

I am one of those really annoying people who goes to the gym for “me” time. I relish in the ability to zone out and not think about anything but the physicality of what I’m doing. I like the feeling of shared accomplishment of everyone who’s there, quietly determined to bust their ass before the break of dawn. I especially love the people watching—old men pumping iron in docksiders, confounding girls who work out with their hair down and never break a sweat, the requisite gym-a-holic who probably needs a little less time on the treadmill and a lot more time on a counselor’s couch. Mostly, I like that it’s pretty quiet and I’m not expected to talk to anyone. Or, I should say, I wasn’t expected to talk to anyone until the social director made it his job to change that.

My gym’s social director takes his job VERY seriously; I approach my gym quiet time with the same level of intensity. This has created quite the tug of war. He says hello to me, I half-smile and nod noncommittally, leaving my earbuds in as the universal signal of non-interest. I go away for vacation and he stops me on the stairwell welcoming me back, silently daring me to expound on where I was and what I was doing. I shout an enthusiastic “Thanks!” and dash up the staircase, trying to seem nice but too busy to chat. It’s not that I mean to be rude to him—it’s that I know that with one conversation we’ll be flying down a slippery slope from total strangers to full-out gym buddies who are all up in each other’s business. And frankly, my calendar is booked when it comes to forced awkward encounters. I don’t need anymore, much less while I’m sweaty and red-faced and makeup-less. So naturally, I’ve been doing what any self-respecting girl would do: I’m avoiding him like the plague. And it’s worked, until recently.

I made the mistake of running on a treadmill next to Mr. Social Director last week. I guess that means its my fault, but in my defense, it was the only one open, AND I PAY TO GO THERE AND SHOULD BE ABLE TO WORK OUT WHEREVER I WANT WITHOUT CHATTING (sorry, that got intense). Anyway, it was going okay, and when Mr. Social Director stopped the treadmill and started wiping it down I thought I had gotten off scott-free. Wrong. Just as I’m thinking things are okay I see something white dangling next to my face. I turn to see him offering me a wipe. “I always get extras. (insert gag here) Do you want one?” He hands it to me and I smile, choking out the best thank you I’m capable of without falling off the treadmill (coordination is not my strong suit). It’s a sweet—if loaded—gesture, and I kick myself for accepting it when the next day I’m on an elliptical machine halfway across the gym and he shows up with a wipe. And now, it’s a thing. We share wipes everyday. We’re friends.

Let me just say here that I don’t think this guy is hitting on me. He’s probably in his seventies and it’s just a really sweet gesture…except, I don’t know him and it makes me feel awkward and I don’t want to feel awkward at 5:30 in the morning at the gym. It’s my “me time”, remember?

This morning, Mr. Social Director stopped me in the entry way after my workout. “I just have to say… You have the most beautiful features,” he tells me. My protective earbuds are still in, clearly not serving the function I had hoped. “I don’t want to embarrass you or anything, but I just wanted you to know. Really beautiful features.” I nod, say thank you, and head out to my car, wondering how hard it’ll be to switch gyms. The battle is lost.