Yeah, I’m looking at you

I don’t mean to be creepy.

But I like to look at people. According to my mother I always have, ever since I was too young to know it was rude to stare or too curious to care. She says that people used to laugh at the way I’d sit and observe, so silently and intensely that people often thought I couldn’t speak. I’m jealous now of babies who get to sit and stare. Wish I could park myself in a stroller and sit and watch people without looking like a creeper.

Now my excuse is that I’m a writer. I find people intriguing and I can often get story ideas just by watching people around me. A lot of times when I’m around people in settings like public transportation I bury my head in a book, but nothing can tear my eyes away from a good book like an interesting fellow passenger.

The problem is that people don’t appreciate being stared at, which is understandable. I wish I could communicate that I don’t have any ill intentions, wish I could just stare shamelessly wearing a t-shirt that says “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU.” For example, when I come across somebody with a truly unique sense of style, socially acceptable or not, I’m so appreciative of their individuality and courage that I just want to look them up and down and take it all in. But of course, I’m sure I’m not the first person to stare. And I’m sure most other stares have been accompanied by judgments, glares or giggles, so I understand when they catch my eye and glare right back.

I find myself staring at unconventional romantic pairs too, like interracial couples or lesbian couples. I’m not staring at the them with envy or with lust (okay, not always), but with appreciation of their freedom to love one another and show it in public. I think of places like my hometown or other more restrictive places, even places within the Bay Area, and I think of images from the media that would have us believe that all romantic relationships look a certain way. And I’m still (happily) in awe, sometimes, when I find myself in situations where these partners can be together without fear of judgment or violence. These are times when I want to bust out my “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU, I’M QUEER TOO AND I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE” t-shirt.

Sometimes I’ll run into another starer. We’ll keep making accidental eye contact as I look around,  and I’ll notice that curious gleam in their eye as they look around too. I’ll think, “Aha, I know what you’re up to,” and give them a little smirk, but it turns out I’m the only weirdo who wants to acknowledge things like a shared love of staring so usually I don’t get anything back.

That’s different from when you catch people staring at something everybody looks at. That can be my favorite thing to do sometimes, when something happens like the guy mumbling to himself on the back of a crowded bus makes an outburst. Instead of looking at the one causing the scene, I’ll take a look at the people around him. The kids riding home without their parents, their eyes widening as the girl wraps her arm around her younger brother. The young woman who’s talking on her cell phone, who rolls her eyes and pulls her bag closer to herself, as if the whole thing is about her and her purse.

You can learn a lot about people just by being an observer, just tuning into their habits and behaviors. I feel guilty about it sometimes because I don’t mean to intrude on anyone’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable but sometimes that’s what happens. I could use another lesson in etiquette, I guess, to remind myself that there’s a reason people don’t like when you stare. But that reason usually has something to do with a fear of being judged. I’ll try to keep my eyes to myself, but just remember, if I slip and you catch me looking at you, I’m not a creep or a judge. I’m appreciating you for who you are. Try looking in the mirror to see what I see.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. heh, Mom told me I used to do this too when I was young.

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