Don’t Tell Me … Let Me Guess; or, The Subtleties of Long Term People Watching

I’ve been thinking about people today. Thinking about the subtle things that tell you the things they don’t let on.The sharpness or softness of someone’s voice. Eye contact. Vagueness or focusedness. Is focusedness even a word?

The problem is, with friends and family, you know what normal-for-them is, so you know when something isn’t ‘normal’. With people you don’t know so well, you have to take a mindseye snapshot of how they were like when they first met you, and match that against the current behaviour.

Today I spoke to a first time mother of a two year old. A good friend for many years, but she sounded tired. Child not sleeping during the night. And she was distracted by her child reluctantly going to bed. And then the noises afterwards. She’s a mum. Children come first.

I also spoke to a friend whom I asked for help with something, but I could hear the panic in her voice as she explained to me why it shouldn’t be her without ever saying that she didn’t want to do it. I know why she did that. Because she genuinely wanted to help, but what I needed was too much for her at this time.

The other day, I observed a man I know making some kind of dig about a woman’s marriage. It was only insinuated; what he said wasn’t offensive. I could tell by her face that she had picked it up (her husband’s alleged infidelity a few years ago), but she couldn’t react to it because nothing had been said. It was clever and weird. I jumped in and brushed it off, saying that everyone came in for some stick, but she didn’t shake the look.

There are interesting traits to watch for in people; the thoughtlessness, paranoia, arrogance; even the facade behind which they hide – these are more negative things. But the canniness, gobby-but-funniness, salesmanship, accident-proneness, and sheer intensity are the positive, exciting things to look for.

Droll humour might also go with self pity, hand in hand with great dress sense and a fear of spiders. No person is one thing. More like a jigsaw.

No one walks up to a bunch of people and says “Hi, I’m Sakina, I’m gobby and opinionated, and I’m just like my geese.” You get that information by reading between the lines. That way you get the other stuff too; the things I didn’t care to tell you.