I’ve written before about how I’m a sometime fan of talking to strangers, despite having mixed results. Over the years, I’ve pared back my willingness to chat, saving it for times I’m travelling (and crossing paths with a greater variety of people), hanging out with my partner (reduces instances of creepers), or am lacking a smartphone (lowered standards for entertainment).
The older I get, the negative experiences of chatting – strangers who think I’ll be receptive to their racist tirade or religious teachings, the millionth taxi driver who takes my polite small talk as flirting, the chugger who thinks if they tell me I look twenty-five, I’ll set up a monthly direct debit payment, outweigh the positive ones. I’ve realised a lot of the time, my willingness to engage with strangers is part of a misguided desire to be accommodating and have others think well of me. I’m working on that.
So during my weekday commute, I wear headphones about 80% of the time. This is mostly because I enjoy listening to music and podcasts, rather than other people’s half-overheard conversations. But it’s also because I’d overwhelmingly prefer it if people left me alone.
The Guardian recently ran a piece that criticised a blog post offering well-intentioned advice on talking to women wearing headphones. It sparked a lot of online discussion, both for and against. But the Guardian’s criticisms struck a chord for me, because despite my wishes to maintain the illusion of personal space on a crowded bus, there’s at least a few instances every week where someone stands directly in my line of sight, with a dopey grin and waving hands. Sometimes they don’t even signal the request. They just start talking with the expectation I’ll comply and be receptive to their advances, or request for money, directions or my signature on their petition.
The thing is, whether it’s my business casual attire or complete lack of facial tattoos, people have no problem interrupting me so they can ask me something non-essential. And it’s frustrating, because I can’t think of any other physical cue besides headphones that clearly and politely states my wish for isolation.
The options I have left are to ignore these hand-waving, direct-talking interlopers, mime right back to them (vigorous head-shaking/judicious use of a middle finger), or to actually take off my headphones to directly tell them I don’t want to take off my headphones unless what they have to tell me is a straight-up emergency. And you know what happens then? I get told I’m being a bitch. Me! Not the person who thinks that their need to talk to me overrides my need for peace and quiet, but me. Awesome.
So, I have to learn to be ok with that. Either that, or I wait until we as a society learn a woman being direct isn’t a grave insult. But I don’t really have that kind of time. I guess we could wear badges. Or t-shirts. But then how long before someone else writes an article on How To Talk To Women Who Are Wearing Fuck Off And Don’t Bother Me T-Shirts?
That’s where I am for the time being, I guess. Mostly being rude and dealing with it. Or upgrading my daywear to include a full-face medieval helm, as per my partner’s suggestion. Good for isolation, bad for peripheral vision. Anyone else got any bright ideas? I’m all out.