I’m rather introverted. I prefer not to have to interact with people outside of situations when I choose to do so. Even so, I often have to be around people, even if I wouldn’t choose it in an ideal world: sitting on the train or the bus, walking down the street, sitting in the lobby while waiting for an appointment, eating in a cafe, just anywhere.
I can’t help that people are around me in these situations, but I can try to keep from bothering them, and keep them from engaging with me. Usually, I do this with headphones: I listen to music or podcasts, and sometimes I’m reading a book (or Kindle).
So it’s really jarring for me if I’m in a space where no one really has a reason to talk to me, nor am I in anyone’s way, and I’ve found my own little nest at a table or in a seat on the bus, and someone interrupts my personal time.
Often times it takes me awhile to realize they’re even talking to me. Sometimes I can hear them talking, but I don’t connect, “Excuse me, miss” with me. Either I can’t see them because I’m looking down, or they are behind me or otherwise outside my line of vision, but I assume their voice is directed at someone else whom I can’t see either.
Sometimes I am so unused to being addressed in the specific situation I find myself. For example, I’ve had bus drivers call something out to me, everything from asking for directions when they’re new to the route to asking me if I mind whether they turn on the air conditioner. I try not to get angry in this incidents, because after all the driver is a person who deserves to be treated with dignity. As such, I answer them politely and try to build a good rapport. It’s not always a bad thing to have to talk to someone I wouldn’t normally notice.
On the other hand, sometimes it’s very frustrating when people jolt me out of my own world because on some level, it’s scary. Where the hell did that person come from, what do they want?
Some people have the attitude that you should never listen to headphones when walking because of the danger of shutting off one of your senses. To them I say, have you ever tried walking half a mile down a city block? It’s really boring if you don’t have something to concentrate on. I have come to really need some sort of audio stimulation when I’m in motion, whether that’s walking or riding in a vehicle.
More importantly, people shouldn’t bother me unless there’s a safety hazard or some other thing I might need to know, a la “Ma’am, you dropped some money.”
There was some bruh-hah-hah online recently where some jerk wrote a piece about some woman wearing headphones out in public who wouldn’t talk to him. I didn’t read the original piece, I just saw people’s responses to how stupidly entitled this guy was acting. All the thinkpieces covered the important parts: you are not entitled to someone else’s time.
Here’s the thing: people have the right to be in public and still be left alone. We are not public property because we are in public.
I haven’t found a way to adjust yet to the constant intrusions from the outside world, but I’m getting there. I don’t want to say the answer is never talk to anyone, that just seems too cold. But we need to be mindful of other people and other ways of being.
So, here’s what it comes down to, from my perspective. We all need to be better at following social cues. Learn to recognize when someone is looking for an out in the conversation. Recognize that sometimes someone really would prefer to be left alone, ie, I came to this coffee shop to do some reading, not to chat. It’s not an intended slight against you, it’s just that sometimes I legitimately have plans to do something alone.
After all, it’s important to make time for yourself.