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?