This weekend my parents are entertaining some of my out-of-town relatives. For years it’s been kind of an unofficial tradition on the Labor Day weekend. We don’t always congregate at my parent’s house; we alternate each year between three or four different households. Fortunately, this year I didn’t have to travel too far.
Yesterday, in lieu of a traditional backyard barbecue, we decided to visit a local restaurant for dinner – all 21 of us! The whole thing was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we drew a lot of attention to ourselves when we arrived. I suppose this place hadn’t seen that many customers walking through the front door in sometime. Although I felt everyone was staring at us (about 10 other tables), it didn’t really affect me much – at least, not as much as it would have years ago.
Once we finally got all the tables together and got seated, our waitress came over and started taking our drink orders. She was around 20, very pretty, but she looked extremely nervous. As she was taking our orders, her face started turning bright red as some of my Uncles were joking around with her. Nothing really bad, of course, they just get very chatty when there is a good-looking woman around. The fact that they had almost 40 years on her didn’t matter. Anyway, all in good fun.
I also have an Aunt who has a very annoying habit – she finds it necessary to stare at everyone in public. It’s as though she has no life at all and the slightest things seem to draw her attention and amuse her. For years, I just hated this woman because she always seemed to be following me around with her stare. Many times I’ve come close to just freaking out and screaming at her, asking what the hell was she staring at?
Unfortunately, for this waitress, she seemed to attract the attention of my Aunt’s insane staring problem. The fact that she was obviously new and extremely nervous certainly didn’t help things. Throughout the entire meal, every time the waitress would come around, she would fall victim to my Aunt’s stare. To make matters worse, she also had that silly grin that made her stare seem even more sinister.
Every time the waitress stumbled on her words, or made a clumsy move serving our food, my Aunt would sit there staring as if she was being provided her own private entertainment for the evening. It got so bad that each time the waitress served our food, you could see her hand visibly shaking.
There is no doubt in my mind that this waitress could have been suffering from social anxiety. She showed all the classic symptoms. I really have to hand it to her for sticking it out, considering the circumstances. As for my Aunt, let’s just say that I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life.
What would cause a person to act like that? If only the waitress could have known that this is part of her basic personality. Anytime she’s in public, she just can’t seem to stop staring at people. If she’s standing in a supermarket lineup, she will eavesdrop on conversations that people are having – all the while staring at them like they’re all good friends. It’s just bizarre.
Unfortunately, this type of behavior isn’t limited to my Aunt. Many, many times I’ve been out in public and I’ve run into the same personality type standing there staring at me for no apparent reason. A few weeks ago, I was walking through a mall when the toe of my sneaker caught the floor and I stumbled a little bit. No big deal – had I noticed someone doing the same, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it and I would have carried on with what I was doing.
But wouldn’t you know it, I caught the attention of this couple walking in the opposite direction. They stopped suddenly, as though they had just witnessed a horrible accident. I glanced up at them and they were looking back at me as though I was some kind of freak. At that point my face was turning red, partially from embarrassment, but mostly from anger. I made an attempt to simply stare back at them (usually this is enough to cause people to turn their gaze, but these two were unfazed). After giving me a good staring down, they looked at each other, both smirking at the same time, and they carried on walking.
I had an overpowering urge to simply start yelling at the top of my lungs asking, What the hell is so fascinating about a person stumbling? Why don’t you people get a life? Of course, then I would’ve really looked like I was stark raving mad.
Is this normal behavior? Are these people’s lives so dull and boring that the slightest thing amuses them? It’s one thing to casually glance at someone else in public, but another thing entirely to simply stare at someone you don’t know. In some cases, I get people staring at me when I’m doing absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. And this isn’t the old, I think everyone is staring at me syndrome brought on by my social anxiety. This is real – it’s not a figure of my imagination.
For the past few years, I’ve made a conscious effort to try to differentiate between reality and my own negative thinking. I now know that the majority of people are not singling me out, judging me, ridiculing me, or laughing at me – after all, most of us have lives of our own – really.
However, I’ve also learned that sometimes you can’t simply take things as gospel. You still have to be objective when it comes to other people. In some cases, I really am being stared at (and possibly judged and laughed at), and I’ve got to be mindful of that fact. While putting on my rose-colored glasses sounds like the ideal solution to my obsessive negative thinking, I can’t be so naÃ¯ve as to not notice what is actually going on around me.
As for the waitress, I made sure that I was the last one to leave and I left her a generous tip on top of the customary 15% that was already there. I smiled and let her know that the service was fantastic and that we would be back soon. She gave me a shy smile, thanked me for the tip, and I walked out of the door feeling on top of the world.