At school I had a rebellious streak. Not rebellious as in smoking behind the bike sheds or etching “Fuk skool” into the plaster in the loos. I was sort of intellectually rebellious. For instance, during a discussion in an RS lesson, I said I didn’t believe in God. My teacher’s eyes bulged and she hissed that I would burn in hell. “That’s fine by me,” I said. “I like a good barbecue.” Sharp intakes of breath and puce faces all round. Copybook blotted FOR LIFE.
But never once did I act up in class, give my homework in late, muck about in assembly (unless you count not joining in the hymns and prayers, or ogling the picture of Jared Leto I’d sellotaped to the cover of my hymn book); nor did I fail to wear regulation uniform, despite those regulations dictating even the colour of our hairbands and the length of our skirts. When it comes to rules, I guess you could call me a bit of a good girl. When it comes to free speech, free thinking or men, I am definitely not. Rarrrrrrrrrrrrrr! Ahem.
What that all means is, I don’t take the subject of bending rules – especially rules I’ve set for myself – lightly. But, as with most rules, there’s a big difference between the way they work inside your head and the way they work in the real world. That much is obvious from my flagrant and repeated breaches of my rules on meerkatting and eye contact.
Everyone looks at other people all the time – out of curiosity, out of interest, out of boredom, out of habit. So many of us say we’re people-watchers. Of course we are, it’s only natural. As social animals, we’re wired up to look at faces, read emotions, judge reactions, give reassurance, seek empathy, find mates. As my friend Reece put it: “Stopping yourself looking at people is like stopping a lion being fierce.” And I’m one fierce lioness. Rarrrrrrrr! Sorry.
So let’s do a little rule-based Q&A covering a few of the situations I’ve faced in my first week of Not Looking. Or rather, attempted Not Looking.
Q1. Does looking at men in the street always constitute a Rule 1 fail?
I’m constantly distracted by what’s going on around me. Take the other day, walking to work I looked at some big, red thing rolling along the pavement towards me. BLAM! Eye contact with the postie and his trundling trolley of letters. FAIL? Now, I know I wasn’t after Postman Pat. I have have no desire for a relationship with a man who wakes me up at 4am and then stuffs other people’s slots. It was an innocent visual attraction to a looming inanimate object.
Rule 1 fails are henceforth deemed to occur only when I deliberately look at a man to establish his hotness, or double-take at a man I suspect to be hot.
Q2. Does every scan of a room qualify as meerkatting?
I love to wile away my Tube time noseying at the books people read, how they dress, where they go. I enjoy wondering what they’re actually thinking, what their lives are really like. Is that straight-laced woman in her below-the-knee pleating heading home to her love dungeon and gimp-suited husband? Does that skinny-jeaned, check-shirted Shoreditch kid long for the comfort of his Kappa tracksuited teens? How does that trowel-makeupped woman with four-inch spade-nails manage to visit the ladies’ without FGMing herself?
It’s a natural part of living like a sardine in a tin called London. I don’t want to miss out on the colourful people of my ugly/beautiful city. Therefore, meerkatting is redefined as the deliberate scan of a room with the intention of seeking out stunnahs.
Q3. Is making eye contact with barmen, waiters, male shop assistants, etc a fail?
I’m just the sort of person you want to know if you’re thirsty in a busy pub. I’m small, so I can wriggle towards the bar under everyone’s elbows. I’ve got a good rack, so I can distract attention from guys doing that annoying pseudo-highroller cash-waving thing. But, in these days of rule-limited austerity, is that sort of behaviour disallowed? Not entirely.
The popular vote has decreed I can make eye contact with men employed in the customer service industry, but I’m not allowed to flirt with them. Employing some come-hither to get served fast = yes. Whacking my wabs on the bar to usurp the cashmoney = FAIL.
Q4. Is looking at men who can’t see I’m looking at them still looking?
As a result, I’ve been forced to ban all forms of looking where I can be seen, individually, looking back. This includes gawping at men out of windows but does not include watching matches, gigs, plays, films or internet porn. That won’t trouble me much – I don’t like football.
Q5. What can I do if a man approaches me?
A question likely to remain in the theoretical domain, given I’ve only ever had one bloke randomly come up to me and ask for my number (men! you’re SHIT at that), but a question worth asking for its bearing on related matters. After intense discussion with three separate groups of friends, the following refinements have been made:
i) I can respond to an approach but I cannot make one. I am still on the market here, remember. I’m testing a theory, not joining a convent, even if it has barbecues.
ii) I can reply to chatting up but I am not to continue the conversation if he can’t make it past spilling his pint and saying “Let me help you out of those wet clothes”, or whatever godawful nonsense might be thrown at me. To be honest, I wouldn’t know since it’s never happened. (Perhaps he’ll say: “What’s your postcode?” That’s about the closest thing I’ve experienced. Mine wasn’t Fulham or Chelsea so he wasn’t interested. He judged me for my address, I judged him for his complete lack of personality.)
iii) I can return flirting but only so far as it is extended to me. I’m not allowed to keep the exchange going if he runs out of steam. Or personality.
iv) I can accept the offer of a date but I can’t set the first one up; I have to wait for him. It’s been decided that, after the first date, I’m free to set up more – if I start meddling with dating behaviour, I’m not going to be myself and, obviously, I am amazing.
So there we have it. Round 1 of the refinements. I say Round 1 because I have no doubt there’ll be more. I can’t really go into them all now, in one go, a) because I’m losing interest in the sound of my own tippety tappety typing fingers, and b) because you’ve probably got RSI from scrolling down and down and down and down and down and down and down. Just remember, though, these things are important, and loquacity is as endearing as a good postcode.