Years ago something apparently insignificant happened to me. Since I’ve been thinking about it on and off for years, perhaps it wasn’t so insignificant after all.
I have some thoughts.
I am, after all, a writer and this is a blog and I like to hurl words about my thoughts out into the internet. 🙂
I remember the circumstances very clearly. It was about 5 or 6 years ago and I was in the Sobey’s parking lot. (Sobey’s is a major grocery chain in Canada, known by other names as well.)
It was hot (summer) so I wasn’t wearing heavy clothing that sheltered every part of me from the elements.
At the time, my general disposition was dejected, blue, unmotivated. We were either seriously considering a renovation (to prevent a move) or just coming out of a renovation (can’t remember exactly). I was depressed most days and extremely introverted and somewhat anti-social. (This doesn’t mean I was unfriendly when out among people, I just didn’t seek out socializing.)
I was in my 40s, a busy stay-at-home-work-part-time-occasionally mom of two sporty, noisy kids, living in a house I hated and desperately seeking a purpose in life that went beyond mothering and wife-ing.
So there I was, grocery shopping. I didn’t have the kids with me so it must have been a school day.
The way I usually walk toward a chore such as shopping is either with a look of determination on my face (looking straight ahead at my target, with thoughts about how to get this done as quickly and painlessly with the least amount of spending as possible), or by looking down.
God knows I didn’t want anyone to talk to me.
I probably didn’t dress any different than usual. What I choose to wear in the morning I wear all day. I may change shoes (from crocks or nothing to something that’s comfortable, but flat) but essentially I’m in athletic wear with my hair down or in a pony tail and minimal makeup (just mascara, usually).
Anyway, as I’m walking I notice this guy heading toward me. I briefly looked up to avoid bumping into him.
That’s when I noticed how he was looking at me.
He was appraising me.
What I mean is, he looked up and gave me the kind of look that men give women when they appraise someone they find attractive.
I remember thinking, oh, wow, I can’t believe someone is noticing me.
I remember thinking, has this happened before and I didn’t notice?
I remember thinking, what the hell am I wearing?
The way he did it was by starting at the bottom (my shoes?), traveling upwards, lingering in all the usual places, and ending at my face.
He took his time looking.
I remember thinking, do men still find me attractive?
I was so introverted and self-absorbed with all my problems at the time that I didn’t really even consider that possibility.
Note: I’m not interested in inviting cattle calls, whistles, or lewd comments.
I’m not looking for pity or compliments or praise. ( Genuine comments are of course acceptable. 🙂 )
I’m simply illustrating that for the first time in a long while, someone outside of my little circle of peeps noticed me as an attractive person. Someone who stopped for a moment to take a look.
I was trying to understand how this made me feel at a time when I felt more invisible than ever before. How some random person noticed me in a way my everyday peeps didn’t.
Does this make sense?
It clicked something in my brain. It made me take notice again of my physical appearance, and how I present myself. It made me think for a minute that by walking around looking down and avoiding people, it wasn’t going to change my life for the better.
But then, just as I was preparing to give him a smile, something counter-intuitive happened.
When the man’s glances reached my face (which was partially hidden behind sunglasses) he suddenly, and quickly, looked away.
His body language gave me the impression he liked what he saw until he saw my face. Either because my face gave away the fact that I wasn’t dripping with youth (anymore), or because my expression wasn’t particularly happy.
My assumption here is that he realized the face atop the body didn’t match his expectation, so he looked away.
I keep running this situation over in my head.
What was it that made him turn away? Was it the fact that I didn’t have a happy disposition emanating from me?
Was it because he expected to see a bouncy 25 year old and instead got a tired-looking 40-something year old?
Since that day I admit to spending a little longer looking in the mirror before I head out. At the very least, I try to put my negative thoughts out of my head while I’m out in public. No one wants to mingle with sad or angry people, and really, a smile might make a difference in someone’s life.
I think maybe it’s working. At least the ‘leaving negativity behind’ part of it. (Maybe. I don’t admit to smiling every day, but I at least don’t carry my load of troubles around with me quite as obviously.)
Sometimes (not often) someone will say something to me. In line at a store one day, a woman remarked something nice about a top I was wearing. A person walking their dog approached me to make small talk about the dog I was walking, something that didn’t used to happen. A man behind me in line at the hardware store offered to give the cashier the nickle I was missing (avoiding me having a pocket full of loose change). Occasionally, I see someone turning to watch me walk by (male or female) either because they like something I’m wearing or because of some other reason that may elude me forever.
Maybe it’s working a little bit. 🙂
Incidentally, just the other day a similar situation happened, only this time, I noticed (and acknowledged) the look. I was just coming out of the wine store when I saw a police car parked right outside the doors. One cop was standing next to a homeless woman sitting on the ground in a parking spot, and the other cop was inside the police car with the windows rolled down.
They both looked at me when I exited the store. Both looked at me longer (I thought) than would have been necessary to determine whether I was a lunatic or a drunk. 🙄 lol
Both appraised me similarly as the random grocery guy did a few years ago, except, in their case, they did it more… what’s the word, inconspicuously.
They weren’t obvious, if you know what I mean.
It didn’t make me uncomfortable, but rather, it made me feel less invisible.
Point is, I recognized the look. And it actually made me feel good. It didn’t mean much, but it meant something.
So, instead of looking down or ignoring them, I looked directly at them and smiled.
They smiled back.
Maybe I’m finally learning how to be social. Or normal.
Maybe there is hope for me after all. 🙂
Tell me, do you make eye contact with people in public? Do you smile at people? Have you encountered a situation that is similar as this one or am I just an odd ball? 😉
As I re-read this post before publishing I realized something. Some people may think I give the impression that the opinions of other people, including random people we don’t even know, count toward our self-worth more than what our immediate circle of family and friends think. Or what we think of ourselves. This was not my intention.
However, as a SAHM for most of my 40s and an especially introverted, borderline clinically depressed one, I had little contact with the outside world, and even less social opportunities. I wasn’t a happy person for a variety of reasons, and endlessly searching for ways to get beyond the fog I was living in. I was feeling invisible and underappreciated much of the time.
When this situation with the guy in the parking lot happened I didn’t know how to deal with it initially. But after reflecting for years, I thought it was time to write about it. I want to understand what I went through, process it, and let it go. I want to turn a page and enter a new decade with a healthier perspective, especially since I’m also raising teenagers, one of whom is a girl.