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….