There is a look someone gives you when they don't especially want to be in a conversation and are fairly convinced that you are about to trap them, possibly for minutes on end, in just that.
We have all seen it before: awkward, slightly terrified, skittish and a little cagey. It is the look of perfectly well meaning people who don't want to be rude or unkind, but are suddenly unable to escape an especially boring conversation with a person they have little true interest in.
I think the most obvious example is the look pedestrians get when they have missed the street light next to an especially aggressive canvasser who is selling something they don't particularly disagree with but also don't want to donate to or discuss. For this reason, in my head, it has become the green peace stare. It is a look usually accompanied by a human creating a bullshit excuse of why they need to be not there.
I first noticed it in high school, when geeky students with a poor understanding of social cues would answer an innocent question at excruciating length, sentencing the querier to sit through this extrapolation as they hemmed and hawed and danced around like a toddler that had to pee but wouldn't admit it, I then also began to notice it on the face of popular people whenever anyone they didn't want to become too associated with would take up too much of their time. As if they could see the possibility of social acceptance slipping away with every moment they wasted talking about this unhip band with this sad little nobody.
Maybe you have never seen this look ...maybe you just don't care, but it is the look that made me want to avoid approaching anyone, in my youth, EVER for fear of meeting that politely horrified reaction.
I mean seriously, you only have to see that reaction once to feel both sorry for the person giving you that look as well as incredibly sorry for yourself.
No thank you. I'd rather be alone.
And so I was. A lot.
Somewhere in college I came out of my shell. Less people seemed annoyed to have to speak with me, and conversely I approached people more. Maybe I was more interesting, maybe youthful sexual energy meant some were more apt pretend I was interesting ...more likely I was just a bit tipsy and tuning out the expression, when it appeared. I guess I'll never know, but I didn't miss it.
But I also never truly got over it, and as a result, while not shy, I became...permanently uncomfortable approaching others.
Alas, I will never be a politician and am a horrible salesperson.
I am just too keenly aware of all of the moments when people would rather be talking to anyone, or even no one, rather than being trapped with me. And while sometimes I can ignore it, usually out of my own act of charity and a little bit of pride, as I have gotten older I am becoming more familiar with that look again. I could go into the details of why I suspect this is so (a litany of details to do with my declining physical appearance, mundane daily routine, and propensity for serious conversation) but I will only bother to truly elaborate by saying that having a child has fished out a whole other group of people who now give me this look: those without children who are convinced I am about to bore the shit out of them with stories of my child. What stuns me most about these people is that I invariably do just that: because like someone unable to avoid looking at the elephant room that is always the only thing they ask about. Rinse rather repeat.
And I am still not sure what to do about it, other than politely spare such individuals the discomfort of such an experience. Which is sad, because it keeps me away from meeting those who are perfectly happy to sit in a corner at a cocktail party and discuss with equal comfort boutique shoes and health equity.
I'd like to say it is their loss but I think we all know the real story.