I just finished reading Maureen Dowd’s latest N.Y. Times column. It made me think about what I’ve missed over the last 18 months or so. I was a bit surprised, because when you ask most people that question, the first answer that comes up is “people.” And that wasn’t mine, at least not directly, or in the usual sense.
Before you rush off and accuse me of being anti-social, let me assure you that I love people, I’m not a loner (although I”m very happy with my own company). But I don’t feel like I’ve been deprived of “people,” because never in my life have I ever spent so much time, talking to so many people, as I have done during COVID.
My fingers are numb from texting and emailing. I’ve spent tons of time “conversing” on social media. I’ve had many, many hours-long conversations on the phone — really long, meaningful, interesting, amazing conversations that were intimate, revealing, soul-bearing and way more profound than many I’ve had sitting across the table from those very same people. And I’ve done my fair share of Zooming — not as much as some, but a lot. Enough.
What I miss is hugging. I’m a hugger. So for me, it’s not just about being in a room with somebody.
I usually greet people I know and like with a hug. I leave them with one too. And I miss that. And even though we’re now starting to see people again — as in, to be together at the same time and in the same place, in the flesh, we’re still cautious about getting close enough to hug each other. At least I am. So I miss hugging and physical contact and I wonder how long it will be before we hug as unconsciously and freely as we did before. Maybe we never will.
That’s a sad thought for me.
Having conversations with total strangers is something else I miss. When I used to go to TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), I always used to talk to the people I was in line with. It was fabulous and we used to find each other every year and pick up our conversations where we’d left off the year before. We became line buddies.
And that’s made me realize that I also miss people watching. I am a big people watcher, always have been. I remember a boyfriend, years and years ago, who once threatened to leave me alone in a restaurant if I didn’t stop staring at a couple sitting a few tables away from us.
I was being subtle about it, I wasn’t overtly staring, it was all out of the corner of my eye. I doubt they would have been aware I was doing it. In fact, I’m sure of it, because neither one of them ever even glanced over at us.
Said boyfriend just wanted all my attention to be focused on him. Interestingly he didn’t often return the favour, which is at least one of the reasons why he became an ex boyfriend. Which is another story, for another time. Or maybe not.
I assure you the couple in question was worth watching. You would have been just as intrigued as I was.
They walked in minutes after we were settled at our table. Neither looked tense or stressed. Their body language was relaxed, their faces were not stiff, no pursed lips, no clenched teeth. No glaring at each other. They didn’t look angry or uptight or anything.
They were married, of that I’m sure. They wore matching wedding bands. But aside from that, you could tell they knew each other well and for a long time.
They did not say one word to each other. Never. Not once. They were comfortable with each other. Companionable. But they didn’t exchange one word — not even when they looked at the menu. Not even a “what are you having?” Or a “that pasta sounds good.”
Not. A. Word.
They smiled at the waiter. They each gave their orders to the waiter, they clinked glasses when their drinks came. And they sat in silence. And they ate in silence. And they left in silence. They never looked at each other either.
They were together, but they were apart. They might as well have been there by themselves.
For all intent and purposes they were there by themselves.
I couldn’t take my eyes off them, because I’d never seen any two people behave that way before, unless they’d had some huge fight and were sulking and not talking to each other. And frankly, that wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. These two seemed perfectly happy and I don’t think it was unusual for them. I think it’s the way they were all the time.
And all I could think was, their relationship is dead and they don’t know it. They’ve lived this way, with each other, for so long they’re used to it. It’s their normal. And they’re comfortable with it. They do not know their relationship is dead.
So yes, I miss observing. People watching. You can’t do it when you’re isolated at home by yourself.
Although, ironically, as I learned from the boyfriend incident, it’s much better to people watch when no one’s with you. When you’re not distracted by anyone else, and you don’t have to make conversation with anyone else. But even if you’re alone, you still have to be out in public.
Do I sound like some creepy peeping tom. I’m not, I promise. I just like observing. People, things, anything really. I like going for walks at night when the lights are on in homes. I’m curious about how people live, what kind of furniture they have, whether they’re neat and tidy or everything’s all over the place. Whether they’re young or old, if there are kids around. Or pets. If they’ve lived there for a long time, and what their lives are like.
Is that being curious? Or am I just awfully nosy? Like the neighbour on Betwitched? What was her name? Gladys. Her name was Gladys and she was always hiding in the shrubbery, poking her nose into Darrin and Samatha’s business.
I don’t linger. I don’t stand there, lurking in the shadows, peering into windows, spying. I glance as I’m walking by, so please don’t report me to the police.
Come on, don’t you ever do it?
I’m the perennial people watcher too. Sometimes I paint them.
And I’m a hugger too.
You’re an incredible observer. It’s so evident in all your art. I always feel like I’m there. It’s a remarkable gift you have.
I am an inveterate people-watcher, too, Fransi. I think it’s an action borne of healthy curiosity and a desire to understand our world and our fellow humans. I try to watch with an open and curious mind and not make judgments. But must admit that there are some humans whose behavior is so bizarre and unexplainable that it’s hard not to judge.
I try not to judge either. We do all have a right to live our own lives. And I really wasn’t judging that particular couple, or at least it wasn’t my intention. I was just trying to figure them out — which, of course, there was no way I could. I put myself under the same kind of microscope. I want to know what makes me tick too.
I’d be curious about that couple, too. Did they have nothing more to say to one another, or were they so in-synch that words weren’t needed? The action of clinking glasses amidst all that silence suggests maybe the latter. Sometimes my husband and I will have a long period of comfortable silence and then speak at the exact same moment, expressing the exact same thought–both of us having followed a similar silent path to the same insight. It’s kind of spooky, but also delightful.
I’ve had moments like yours and your hubby’s too. The thing that got me was, they never looked at each other either. Their bodies were diagonal to each other. The only contact between them, of any kind, was the clinking of the glasses. It really stood out to me, because of that. But you’re right, it’s entirely possible that they were so in-sync this meant nothing more than companionable silence. Maybe it was the writer in me who was looking for “more.” Maybe I was after “material.”
What I realized after Covid restrictions started lifting (for better or worse) was how much I missed seeing faces. Just being able to smile at a baby in a carriage and get that immediate feedback from the parent-smiling-at-your-smile kind of exchange. (That was a lot of hyphens. I never quite know when to stop adding them. Edit as you like for comfort and safety.) Conversely, I was also somewhat terrified to see people’s faces because then I feared they all had/have COVID. It makes me jumpy when going grocery shopping–and I still mask up most places I go. I’m a total people voyeur–it’s just easier without masks to do it. Though, easier to hide you are doing it while masked.
You’re so right. I miss faces too, and “expressions. Although there is so much you can tell from eyes and body language. We are all learning to communicate in different ways and also to take the time to actually “read” people. That’s a good thing, I think. I am masking up too and I will for a long time. Too many cases of fully-vaccinated people getting COVID. No worries at the hyphens, by the way. I love them myself and use them very liberally.
Excellent. I can relate to your missive. I miss hugging. I am a hobby street photographer (telephoto lens) so a well seasoned people watcher.
1. Man sitting across from me on a Vancouver local bus.
2. Little girl in a Japanese restaurant across the street from where I was sitting in another restaurant.
3. Mexico, San Miguel de Allende. Flour throwing festival.
You ARE a well-seasoned people watcher. And how great that you can do it from a distance. I need a telephoto lens.
Was at the grocery store the other day – followed my hubby in line and automatically kept 6 feet distant, even though we are in the same bubble! Will hugging come back? I hope so. But obviously, I’m not there yet!
I’m not there yet either and I’m still keeping my distance too. I’m still wearing a mask. I look all around me and even a lot of people I know are traveling and eating in restaurants and I just can’t do it. Not while more and more people who are fully vaccinated are getting COVID. And I am not comforted by the fact that they’re getting milder cases. I don’t want it at all. So the sad news is, until we have herd immunity, I’ll probably be missing hugging and talking to strangers and people watching for a lot longer 😪🤬.
Of course I do. I remember a colleague of mine used to walk her dog by our house everyday (in Praha) and wonder who lived there as was busy a lot , lots of dogs in yard , decorated fully for Xmas but never saw any people except our son who was 3 with his nanny. One day we stopped at our place as due to storage shortage our basement floor was used as holding place for all our collateral for launch of mobile business in Praha. She laughed and said . All this time it was you who lived here. I always envisioned a foreign family living here with a glamorous stay home wife who hosted lunches … not karla who works 14 hours a day 7 days a week and house is furnished sparingly with ikea furniture and numerous dog beds.
LOL. And this is a great story too. I bet the look on her face when she realized it was you must have been priceless.