Are you staring at me? (Why???)

I don’t like when a man I do not know stares at me and doesn’t smile or otherwise offer some type of mitigating facial expression or comment (to show his intentions are benign). This has been a regular part of my life for decades. I keep thinking I’m going to age out of it, but so far, not quite. Maybe it’s safe to say most of the men who do this (with me on the receiving end) are getting older too. And then I think: shouldn’t a guy that age know not to stare by now? Is there ANY chance he doesn’t know he’s staring?

Being stared at – with nothing to soften the gaze like a friendly smile, a greeting, a head nod, a grunt, something – makes me feel self-conscious and sometimes vaguely threatened. Now it’s left to me to decipher someone else’s intentions and thoughts. Oh goody. I can occasionally glean a few clues. For instance, I had a situation where a guy living with his girlfriend stared at me when his girlfriend wasn’t around. I didn’t like this a bit. In that particular case, it felt predatorial. My guard went up and stayed up.

Most often, if I look back at the person doing the staring (excepting those who are clean out of their mind and/or are looking to do harm), and especially if I say or do anything, like smile or say hello, the guy will stop staring pronto and whip his head away. He knows he’s been “caught” (even if that wasn’t my reason for speaking up or smiling). Far better he then return the greeting or gesture, but that’s not what usually happens. I have this sneaking feeling that it was all hunky-dory when HE was the one controlling and instigating the exchange – by staring – but once I went from passive recipient to actor, whoa Nelly! That is not part of the plan.

I don’t mean to imply all men who stare have nefarious intentions and that’s why they are thrown off-guard when I respond to them in some fashion. When I first started responding in an innocuous way (which I did NOT do when I was younger – I usually did nothing – and which I now do depending on how I feel in the moment), I erroneously believed I was helping them out. Wrong! Someone who is staring – and ONLY staring – doesn’t want to be helped out. It’s one-sided and for whatever reason (shyness, insanity, ill will), he wants it that way.

I’ll give you another example. I live in a walking community. It has miles of sidewalks wending and winding around the town. I walk them often. From time to time, I will be walking along, la, la, la, and up ahead there is a man coming from the opposite direction. He starts staring. Staring, staring, as he approaches. And what does he do as we come alongside one another? Looks down! If I then address a comment or greeting to the top of his head (which is now what I am faced with, instead of a pair of eyes), I’ll get little or no response. This irks me. Um, HELLLOOO. Aren’t you the person who had a Phaser-on-lock expression for the last 60 seconds or so? Did you think I didn’t notice?!

As you might guess, I’ve never grown comfortable with being stared at. As I said, I find it’s then my task to decipher what it means. Like I need more tasks. We, and I mean, women and men, know when someone stares, the onus is on us to figure out why, which generaly needs to happen fast, in case we need to react. From what I understand, when a man is stared at by another man, it’s almost always a challenge or threat. For a woman, there’s a broader range of possibilities. Some are: he’s sexually attracted; he mistakes her for someone he knows; he’s noticing something he finds peculiar/interesting/odd about her; or he’s looking to harm or otherwise impede on her and that can range from sexual and physical assault, to psychological games, to wanting her to do something for him such as vote, donate, or volunteer, to trying to steal her purse, money, phone, etcetera. (Note that I have NOT included the possibility that he would like to take her to dinner and a movie, because – and call me cynical if you like – I really don’t think that’s what humorless staring is about.) It is a lot for a woman to have to process. Do men who stare not realize all the ways it can be interpreted? Do they not care? When I respond to it, are they embarrassed? Ashamed? Ticked off? Irritated? Does the answer depend on the man? Probably….

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9 thoughts on “Are you staring at me? (Why???)

  1. Geraint Isitt

    You see the staring here in Dubai all the time. I’ve even experienced it myself. It is unnerving, to say the least.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      From culture to culture, the “rules of staring” must vary a bit, but something tells me there’s a primitive human reaction to being stared at that transcends cultural mores.

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      1. Geraint Isitt

        Staring is just plain rude and should be in any culture. Having said that though, I am often moved to asking men to get off their seats on the metro here in Dubai so pregnant ladies or ladies with yound children can sit down. I guess I’m different.

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  2. mariezhuikov

    There are a lot of predatory creeps out there. My advice is to walk confidently and ignore the starer. Do not engage or acknowledge them. And you’re right, it is a control thing.

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  3. HemmingPlay

    I used to live in Pakistan, and traveled some in India, so can say that frank, direct staring in other cultures is pretty obvious and unnerving, too. Nothing like stepping out of a car in a crowded bazaar and have 60-70 people stop and stare at the first white person they’ve ever seen, probably. We’d do the same if an alien hopped out of a cab, probably.

    i can’t speak for every man, but a lot of what you’re experiencing is probably sexual. It’s so unconscious that they’re unaware they’re doing it. The feelings we get when we see a pretty woman sort of crowd everything else out of what little brain space we might have. And, there are visual clues that are straight from the old parts of our brains. I’ve found that there’s a certain female shape, overall, that triggers a response, even if she’s 100 yards away. It’s an instant impression. I can’t even see her face at that distance, but I just get this “hmmmmm. that’s nice.” feeling. Maybe it’s some sort of instinctive fertility scan or something. I don’t know. We are instinctual animals a lot more than we like to think.

    But I found that, even at a distance, if I let my appreciation just show… a smile, sometimes just let my body language get in sync with the feeling, she would pick up on that and her body language would change, too. Friendly. Like she saw the compliment and sent a “thank you” back. Then we’d pass on the sidewalk (I work at a U., not a city, so not as worried about muggers), nod and both feel better just for having expressed an honest emotion. Flirting is fun. But the hard staring is just rude. And dumb. I suppose you could take the implied compliment better if they didn’t send off the borderline hostile vibe.

    Next time someone is particularly rude, just whisper “you’re fly’s open” as you pass. I guarantee he’ll get so flustered he might just walk into a bush or building or something, fumbling frantically. ­čÖé

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I do think there are different kinds of staring with a variety of intentions, and even attraction can have have an aggressive quality to it. While I can see that some staring might be unconscious, once the gaze is returned or an expression or comment offered, the “starer” would have to be jarred into consciousness. I think deciding how to respond, if at all, has to be on a case-by-case basis.

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  4. battlewagon13

    I’m not sure why you would EVER feel comfortable being stared at. What is wrong with people? Personally, I always take it as a complement, right or wrong. But still. Creepy.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Oh, I guess I imagine some people would not mind as much? Or maybe after all this time, I’d be more used to it.

      What is wrong with people? How much time do you have? (I think you could probably knock that post topic right out the blogosphere.)

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