Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Stare Down

My latest pet peeve is people with staring problems. I wonder if Seinfeld ever did a show about them... I remember the close talkers, the low talkers, but never the starers.

In my experience, a person with a staring problem is almost always a random person who is on the fringes of your life for some tangential reason, like you work with them but not everyday. They say something to you, you have a conversation, then you wrap it up with something like, "Okay, sounds good. So we'll touch base on Thursday." (Incidentally, does anyone ever "touch base" anyplace other than work? I'm glad we don't use euphemisms like this in our regular lives. I'd never know where I was going or what I was doing if my friends started suggesting I keep something on my radar screen or take this offline. I feel like every time we throw around one of these phrases at work we're really saying, "Fuck, I don't know right now. I'm tired.")

So anyway, you and This Person You Don't Even Really Know That Well decide to touch base on Thursday in order to leverage your marketplace potential and exponentially increase your ROI (or, in the case of my job, figure out what the hell is wrong with a particular kid and whether or not Hector Flores is involved). And it's always during an innocuous moment like this that it turns out that This Person You Don't Even Really Know That Well turns out to have a staring probem. You smile, are about to look away and resume your life, and they just stand there looking at you. It doesn't go on for very long, but it's like every second that ticks by is infused with the awkwardness of a thousand blind dates. Witness the end of an exchange today between myself and a colleague whose bases I only touch occasionally:

Her: Just let me know when you have a chance to evaluate Little Timmy and I'll see if there's any data I can give you to support yada yada.
Me: Okay, great. I think I'll do it this week, so I'll catch up with you and we can talk.
Her: Great.

And this is the time for the smile, the ubiquitous "okay, thanks!", and that's just about all that I have for you today, my friend. But the starer isn't done with you yet. Oh, no. Not even close.

Her: [stares, smiling]

Three seconds pass. Maybe the longest three seconds of my life.

And she's not even the only one! Work Friend was out recently and had a substitute in for her. And what do you know, that substitute also had the affliction.

Me: You can't go to conferences anymore. Or get sick. Or take a personal day.
WF: Why, what happened?
Me: Your substitute had a staring problem.
WF: Really? You mean like That Other Teacher?
Me: Yes! I'd look back at her and she'd still be staring!
WF: Wow. It's like they're following you.

There are only a few things you can do in this situation, and none of them feel particularly great.

1) You stare back, also smiling, until they look away. This is like playing with fire, though. You two sad, grinning fools could be there all day.
2) You look away and pretend you don't notice them still staring and smiling. But of course, how can you not notice someone staring and smiling at you? If we were at a bar I'd be expecting you to have bought me a drink by now.
3) You call them on it. "Was there anything else?" But this would somehow come out bitchier than intended, and it would only confuse the starer, because they don't realize they have a staring problem.
4) You employ the magic of redundancy, which is usually my strategy. Repeat some variation of your last line to them, like you weren't done talking: "Okay, great. Wonderful." Seriously, I sometimes whip out adjectives I haven't used in years when I'm in a situation like this. "Terrif!"
5) You immediately launch into an impromptu game of who blinks first. If they blink first, ha ha, los-er. If you do, whatever, something was probably just in your eye.

Lend me your wisdom, peoples. Is appropriate social timing too much to ask of your colleagues?


steve said...

I need some wisdom too - the biggest starer in my office is my BOSS. She'll be chatting away about something utterly inane, then just stop and look at me like she'd asked a question.

Creeps me OUT.

Libragirl said...

Are your sure they are staring and not just staring into space not paying attention. I sort of do that, but I am aware of it, so I try to make sure I am not staring at someone.

Anonymous said...

In a situation like that, I don't think there's anything wrong with a friendly, "And-d-d-d-d... SCENE!"

Anonymous said...

There is a woman in my office who does the same thing. You're done talking, you say, "okay, thanks!" and a second later, she's still there, staring and smiling. I used to look at her like, "Oh, you're still here?" and she'd add a creepy, childlike giggle. Now I just turn my back to her and she goes away pretty quickly.

The impersonation a few of us have of her is one of the most popular ones to do around the office.

There's also another guy who stares at me in meetings. Every time I look up, he's looking at me. I just glare back, then look back at my paper and feel dirty.

Darren's idea is brilliant, though. I might have to use that someday!

lizgwiz said...

I'd probably just go with the "Was there anything else?" line and not care if it made them uncomfortable, since they just made ME uncomfortable.

I do have one coworker who comes up and stands right next to my desk, and in an effort either to be polite or just to fuck with me, never says anything until I look directly at him and acknowledge him verbally. Of course, we know each other well enough that I generally just let him stand there for a while and then say "What the hell do you want?" and we both laugh.

Killer said...

You must break them of this habit before it gets out of control.
When you see it happening, reach up and poke them in one of their eyes, and scream, "Don't stare!"

chillier said...

Your entry made me think fondly of Crazy Staring Lady at Starbucks, who was kind enough to join the BFC meeting in her own special way.

othurme said...

I think you're supposed to go 90% of the way and then wait to see if she comes the other 10%.

5 of 9er said...

The staring back is difficult to pull-off... and can be so akward... even creepy.

metalia said...

Ick, I hate the never-ending smile/stare (smare?)...and the work-talk. One solution: You could think outside the box, and empower yourself to be proactive by avoiding eye contact at all costs. It would be a real paradigm shift.

don't call me MA'AM said...

I think othur-me is right... maybe these people are waiting for the Euro "end of conversation" cheek kisses. haha You could say something like, "I have a cold, so no hugs, kisses, or handshakes. See ya!" And then run like the wind.

Liz said...

Ugh! The prolonged stare! And not even in that good, my you're a handsome man, kind of way. I'm sorry.

If you cannot walk away or if you cannot pick up the phone to do a fake dial, try this option: ending your conversations with her with, "Great! Ok. Thanks. Bye, bye!"

Maybe she needs a signal that it's OVER.