How do I become less creepy?
March 19, 2006 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I have a problem. You see, it appears that I've become unable to have make regular eye-contact and a "normal" conversation with women; somehow, my eye appears to dart downwards towards their breasts. How do I stop doing it?

Frankly, I feel ashamed no end by my darting eyes. I don't want to do it, I don't want my conversations to have any more awkward pauses. and yes, I'd like to be friendly with female colleagues and acquaintances in a "normal" sense, but seems to me, it's almost become automatic, and alarmingly, out of control.

I mean no harm, of course, and frankly, I'm now not even sure it's only attraction; confusingly enough, I've begun to realise that I could perhaps also be transgendered too. At a certain level, I keep telling myself that I'm only "internalizing" basic human geometry, really, I'm playing a mind-game with myself in imagining what it would be if I was a woman. Which is to say, while I've never felt uncomfortable being in a male body, I find it interesting to intellectualize on girl-culture, as it were, and on imagining the world from a possibly different perspective.

None of this intellectualization, naturally, helps in my day-to-day affairs at work or among my social circle. Transgender or otherwise, my problem persists and I'm beginning to think it's time to acknowledge that I have a problem and start taking remedial actions. The only question is, how do I begin? How do I maintain continous eye-contact with someone while talking to them? Indeed, how do I become a less creepy person to talk to?

I'd really appreciate if you fine people could pitch in with your thoughts.

(Felt embarrassed asking this publically, which is why I'm doing this anonymously. My apologies if I've wasted your time.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I do this to. For myself, I chalk it up to mild sexual deprivation. My wife recently had a child so I am surrounded all the time by huge breasteses and I don't get to have sex. Could this be sexual deprivation. I am sure that it is obvious to ladies I talk to that I can't keep my eyes away from their bosoms. Ladies, I hope I am not creeping you out.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:34 PM on March 19, 2006

Go to a titty bar. Buy one of the girls a drink. Hold a normal conversation with her. Spend the whole time looking at her chest. Don't allow yourself to look anywhere other than her chest. Repeat with different girls until your fascination with chests turns to boredom.

Then practice, with the same girls, having a conversation and looking them in the eyes like a "normal" conversation. ask the girl to point out whenever she "catches" you "addressing" her bouncies instead of her face.

Alternately, start wearing a neck brace.
posted by orthogonality at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2006

When I was a little kid, I figured out that I could get away with looking my Mum right in the eye while telling her the most barefaced lies, just by defocusing. Maybe the same trick will help you. Practise on inanimate objects first. Then practise walking down the street, looking approaching people (both men and women) in the eye, smiling as they approach, then walking on by.

If I were you, I'd avoid getting hung up on WHY my gaze was flicking chestwards. I doubt there's a man alive who doesn't do that when he thinks nobody will notice. Just treat it as a slightly obnoxious personal habit you need to retrain, a bit like picking your nose in public or cleaning out your earwax with the car keys.
posted by flabdablet at 8:38 PM on March 19, 2006

For me, I try to "fascinate" myself with features on the face -- and mostly I work to really appreciate the eyes. Eyes do some much in a conversation, the way they look back in forth, express the words, smile. What if you decide to move your focus to the eyes and try to really pay attention to what they are saying, act like you're an investigator or an artist or something.
posted by visual mechanic at 8:47 PM on March 19, 2006

When I was a teenager, I found myself ogling women's body features and was terribly scandalized, because as you say it was automatic and in fact almost impossible to avoid. It took me a few years to realize that this is normal and healthy, not a sign of depravity. Any man who doesn't do this is either gay or suffering from some serious problem. It's one of those things that happen to us about the same time our voices change and our beards start to grow.

I'm not being flippant, and I'm not trying to be obnoxious, when I say that the solution here is for you to keep right on looking, but to get over feeling bad about it. You're not doing anything wrong.

However, it does help to be a bit more surreptitious about it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:07 PM on March 19, 2006

Ah, my dear anonymous, what you are failing to grasp is that by spending all your time preoccupied with the delightful curves to which your eyes presently wander, you may be ignoring the subtleties present in women's eyes. Concentrate on the eyes, or if that seems too forward, then noses. Notice eyes, and noses, and breasts will take care of themselves.
posted by paulsc at 9:16 PM on March 19, 2006

As to "transgender" concerns, baloney. Have we finally reached the point where only homosexuality is considered politically correct? Where only women are permitted to be interested in women's bodies, and men are supposed to watch other men? Baloney, I say.

If you're in a man's body and find yourself looking at women's breasts, it means you're a healthy heterosexual. Last time I looked there was nothing wrong with that. It has nothing to do with imagining that we ourselves might want to become women; it has everything to do with wanting to get inside women's pants. Sorry to be so crude, but that's how it is. We look at women because we want to imagine how they would look naked just prior to coitus. That's how heterosexual men are built and how their brains are wired once they go through the puberty testosterone flood.

And part of growing up male is accepting that aspect of our nature. It only becomes evil if we let it force us to become rapists.

I'm 53 and no woman has ever accused me of improper behavior. Not one. But I've been ogling women since I was 16. And I've been enjoying it since I was about 25. That's how long it took me to get over being embarassed by it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:17 PM on March 19, 2006

Are you sure you're actually looking at their chests rather than simply avoiding eye contact in the most convenient way? Try focusing on the area of the face between the eyes; no one can tell that you're not really making eye contact, and as you're doing it consciously it's easier to maintain than actually looking at someone's eyes (particularly if, like me, you find direct and prolonged eye contact with strangers somewhat unsettling).
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:18 PM on March 19, 2006

I think the buying-a-drink-for-a-stripper-and-indulging-your-desires is NOT what you want to do. As somebody here said once, "you get good at what you practice." Don't practice looking at women's chests if you want to stop doing it.
posted by Alt F4 at 9:29 PM on March 19, 2006

Have you considered seeing a professional counselor instead of a bunch of strangers on the internet?

You admit to having a problem and needing to act correctively. Maybe professional help is in order. In any event, *if* you *are* transgender, you are going to need a counselor to help you get support services.
posted by ilsa at 9:29 PM on March 19, 2006

If the original poster wouldn't mind me asking a question, I'd be interested in the answer: How old are you? Approximately, in case you don't want to give an exact age. 15-20? 21-25? 26-30? 31-35? etc.

I don't think you're transgendered, I think you're a victim of politically correct indoctrination. There is nothing wrong with men looking at women's breasts.

I confess that I'm angry -- but not at you. I'm angry at the cultural dystopia we've created where normal healthy human urges are now treated as perversion. Because it was my generation, the damned high-and-mighty Baby Boomers, that did this to you.

I'd like to offer you this article which begins as follows:
Why Women Have Breasts

Many people may suppose that the question of the title is a stupid one, given that the answer is so obvious: women have breasts for feeding babies. In fact, the question is a good one, because it is a mystery why the vast majority of women has breasts. Most women are, at this moment, not lactating, and yet they have breasts. If breasts were merely for feeding babies, then most women would not have them. They would develop them only during pregnancy, and would lose them again when they stopped breast-feeding. Humans are unique in the animal world, in that they develop breasts at puberty and retain them into old age, whether or not they ever get pregnant. This requires an explanation.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:55 PM on March 19, 2006

Has anyone actually told you they find you creepy? If they have then it's just possible the problem is with them and not you. The thinking about what it might be like to have a woman's body might simply be the workings of an active and entirely laudable imagination. You might be transgendered but I'd wait round for a lot more evidence. And your expectation that you can hold eye contact for the whole of a conversation is a recipe for exhaustion. You can let your eyes take a respite in a lot of places. It's not a matter of eyes or tits and damnation. Take a big fat chill pill and don't see a counselor.
posted by firstdrop at 10:05 PM on March 19, 2006

There is nothing wrong with men looking at women's breasts.
Nothing wrong in what sense? And in what context are you making that claim? Anonymous has made it clear that it's causing issues, both for him and, it appears, for the people "at work [and] among [his] social circle." So, clearly, there is something wrong. (For the record, I disagree at the fundamental level that "there's nothing wrong" with it. But I'll keep my writing here to the poster's question.)

Anonymous, it's great that you recognize that you have a problem with this. I'd encourage you to find someone you trust (a guy who would be sympathetic to your goals, and not someone who's going to talk you into going to a strip club et al.) and to confide in him. Ask him to help you be more focused on the women's faces, and less on their bodies. If you look at porn, scale it back or stop it completely. I'd suggest the latter. If you're talking with someone and you're tempted to look at her body, try to turn away from looking at her, period. Look at the papers you're holding, or across the room at the water cooler or whatever.

I'm sure someone will come along here and give some really good advice on how to handle this situation. Until then, though, good luck with it. And I don't fault you for asking anonymously. Nor should anyone else.
posted by Alt F4 at 10:25 PM on March 19, 2006

And I echo others' thoughts, that I don't think you're transgendered. (At least, nothing in your comments makes me think that's going on with you. Maybe there's more to it. But I don't think your transgendered.)
posted by Alt F4 at 10:27 PM on March 19, 2006

der. *you're.*

posted by Alt F4 at 10:27 PM on March 19, 2006

If you don't want to make eye contact, the easiest way to fake it is to look at someone's left or right ear while talking to them. So long as you flash genuine eye contact for about 1/10s every 20-30s or so, no-one will care.

I learned this editing documentaries where an extended talking head without 'eye-contact' (=looking at interviewer or camera) makes the audience very uncomfortable.

My guess is that it's NOT looking at breasts that is making other people feel uncomfortable, but the failure to make genuine eye contact at least momentarily every once in a while.
posted by unSane at 10:34 PM on March 19, 2006

Alt F4, the fact that other people try to make you feel guilty about something doesn't mean you're wrong. They could be wrong, and that's the case here.

What context? The context of normal human relations between men and women, at least in a society where political correctness hasn't run rampant. Young men these days are indoctrinated with the idea that all male urges and characteristics are evil. That indoctrination is the true evil.

Our interlocuter entertains the idea that because he's looking at women's bodies, therefore he might be a transgendered lesbian -- because the alternative, that he's a healthy heterosexual male, seems to be intolerable.

One of the best things that happened in the last thirty years was that our culture finally accepted homosexuality as normal but different, and stopped treating homosexuals as either moral degenerate or mentally ill.

We've gotten to the point where we accept homosexuality. Now let's work on accepting heterosexuality, OK? Can we all agree that it's OK to be a heterosexual man, and to feel and think the things that heterosexual men are genetically programmed to think and feel? Apparently not, from what I've been reading here and elsewhere.

(I'm sorry, but damn I'm mad right now. This seems to have triggered a hot button for me, and I think maybe I better stop commenting on this thread.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:37 PM on March 19, 2006

Umm, you know with all the hate spewing over here, I don't think the poster is claiming he thinks he is transgendered because he looks at breasts. No seriously, read the post again. Stop with that anti-PC axe grinding ok?

As to the staring thing. There's staring at women's breasts and there's staring at women's breasts. It's actually hard to maintain eye contact with someone the entire time you are talking to them, especially someone you aren't fairly close with. Try it with someone, male or female, sexually desirable or not and I bet you will feel a little uncomfortable. As well as make the other person feel a bit odded out as well. Most of the time people look around the face and make direct eye contact every few seconds. That's normal. If you feel like you eyes tend to drift south a bit too much, and stay there even longer, well, when talking to women I just advise you to keep a thinking "stay above the neck, stay above the neck" while talking to women, and guess what, a few times and you will train yourself out of the habit.

But really, unless people have been complaining to you about the issue I bet you are overreacting. There are quite a few guys out there who don't just have wandering eyes. They talk to women's chests, flat out. There would only be eye contact if she stuck googley eyes on her nipples. Now that can be a bit creepy, but it doesn't sound like that's your issue.

Oh and if you want to try to maintain constant eye contact it's really simple. Practice a lot. But remember, a lot of people find that just as creepy, if not more so. It's just too... personal.
posted by aspo at 11:52 PM on March 19, 2006

What I tend to do is let your eyes focus on the moving lips while you're talking to someone. That way, not only do you get better clarity in the conversation, but if someone asks, you can just say you're lip-reading to get a better handle on the conversation.

As for the looking at breasts, you're bound to glance. It's natural - not entirely wanted, but then neither is a fart. But for the sake of decorum, just don't stare for too long - CONSCIOUSLY make yourself look up if you find your head drifting down. And whatever you do, don't start poking at them like they're cherries on a cake.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 3:59 AM on March 20, 2006

I used to feel ashamed of the same thing. And then around 25, I confessed to a friend (who had marvelous breasts) that I simply could not quit sneaking glances at her cleavage.
And she told me that, if she didn't want people looking, she would have worn a loose fitting turtleneck.
So with her comments in mind, I still look on the sly, but am much more at ease about the whole thing.
In addition - look around sometime. Almost every man on the street, at any given time, has his eyes on some part of a female's anatomy.
posted by bradth27 at 5:34 AM on March 20, 2006

Try to imagine that every woman you are talking to is your grandmother. Get in the habit of thinking of her every time your gaze starts to wander. Keep a picture handy in your wallet so that you can flip to it to keep her image fresh in your mind. It may take some time to train yourself this way but it should work in the long run. Unless you are sexually attracted to granma...
posted by JJ86 at 6:14 AM on March 20, 2006

Has anyone actually told you they find you creepy? If they have then it's just possible the problem is with them and not you.

I disagree. I once had a teacher who spoke to all teenage girls with his eyes permanently clamped, unmoving, on their tits. He was definitely creepy. Obviously there was an age/authority element thing going on too, and none of us had the guts to tell him he was creepy, so we just sat there with our arms folded across our chests.

On the other hand, as others have said, everyone's eyes roam all over during conversations and I've never been particularly conscious of being stared at. Just don't talk solely to the chest.
posted by penguin pie at 6:36 AM on March 20, 2006

I am 5'10" and uncomfortable with prolonged eye contact, and so when I drop my eyes they go straight into the cleavage of any woman shorter than me. I do it to men as well; I know more than I ever wanted to know about the varying quality of t-shirt transfers and dress shirt buttons. But, with women, there's that additional aspect of "gah! wrong!" and trying to find somewhere else for my eyes to go, which just makes them want to be in that particular spot. I'm less likely to make women uncomfortable than a man is, but it's still awkward in my head.

Your description makes it sound as if you're not initially looking in that direction because breasts are there, but once you do look in that direction you are then distracted by the breasts. If it really just an issue of looking away, start by training yourself to look slightly down and to your right (or left, if you're left-handed) instead of straight down. That way you're not forced to death-stare someone in the eyes, but you're not so distracted that you cannot make brief eye contact with someone every minute or so.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:44 AM on March 20, 2006

While I can't really offer much advice about the breast-staring, with regard to the possible transgenderedness: why wonder about what it's like to be a girl when it's incredibly easy to find out? Seriously, pick up some female clothing, makeup and so on, practice a bit until you look good and hit a local tranny bar/club/night if there's one available, possibly in the company of people from one of the million forums and web communities dedicated to this sort of thing. It isn't anywhere near as hard as a lot of people would like you to believe it is.

Unless you're incredibly confident about passing for a born woman on your first go I wouldn't recommend trying it in straight or mixed circles, and obviously you won't be getting a particularly accurate picture of what life is like as a woman in society as a whole, but it'd likely help you to figure out whether taking a societally-feminine role in social situations is something you find enjoyable or enlightening. And remember, if you do find yourself getting something positive from the experience, that doesn't necessarily mean it's something you have to be all the time. There's a whole spectrum of possibilities for a person who identifies as transgendered, from occasional crossdressing alone at home to surgery and a complete change of gender role. Even if you find you're not enjoying yourself, it's worth having been there, tried it and found out.
posted by terpsichoria at 7:46 AM on March 20, 2006

First, the fact that you are worried about this behavior automatically pegs you as not-creepy. I and other women of the world thank you for your consideration.

When you are talking to men, do your eyes flick down to their chest? Where do they go when you break eye contact? Repeat this behavior with women. Whether it's looking past her, flicking your eyes to a corner of a room, whatever. If your eyes also flick down to men's chests, it's not so much a breast thing as it is where you're trained to look when you're breaking eye contact.

And don't take this to mean you shouldn't keep working on not staring at the tits all the time, but a reasonable woman understands that sometimes the eye-flick happens. Men and women do it. Especially if her breasts are big, and especially if she's wearing a cleavage-revealing shirt (in fact, if she's wearing a cleavage-revealing shirt and gets crazy offended if someone glances at her tits, she needs to rethink her wardrobe). It doesn't mean the guy's automatically undressing her with his mind (at least I think it doesn't).
posted by schroedinger at 7:49 AM on March 20, 2006

I agree with Lyn Never. I've actually been noticing it a lot in my salsa dancing classes recently -- you're dancing with someone who's basically a stranger for several minutes, it's uncomfortable making eye contact that whole time, so both the man and the woman tend to look either over the other's shoulder or at the other's chest. It's just kind of an instinctually "modest" way of holding your gaze, slightly down and humbled/abashed.

As Lyn Never says, I think maybe just shifting your gaze over to the right or left, or training yourself to look up or straight to the side instead of down, might help.

And as a woman who often wears fairly low-cut tops, I can't really say I've felt like many men are STARING staring. I don't really mind "glances," and most of the time don't even notice them. You could be beating yourself up unnecessarily harshly.

As for the whole "you're obviously a straight male" thing, well, most of the men I know who are completely obsessed with breasts (or at least who are completely obsessed with my breasts) are gay men. Maybe because they just don't think they need to hide it as much or something, but every single man who's made innappropriate comments or actually asked to feel me up in a non-makeout situation has been a gay man.
posted by occhiblu at 7:53 AM on March 20, 2006

I should clarify: That last bit was not meant to imply that you're gay, just that "Looking at breasts automatically means straight man!" is a justifiably false statement.
posted by occhiblu at 8:07 AM on March 20, 2006

First, its okay to occasionally look at a woman's breasts by accident. Your eyes are gonna look. Staring, that's another story. As for being a less crappy conversationalist--try this.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:25 AM on March 20, 2006

penguin pie--I had a female teacher that stared at the girls' breasts and the boy's crotchital regions. She was nuts.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 AM on March 20, 2006

Looking at another human being's anatomy is a perfectly natural behavior. We all do it to some extent. The fact that you are uncomfortable invites further investigation.

There are at least two schools of thought on whether or not women are inviting your attention when they wear clothing that reveals the shape of their anatomy. The first states that if a woman doesn't want you to stare at her body, she'd cover herself up. After all, dressing is a conscious act.

That said, women have the basic right as human beings to not be publicly sexualized without their consent. Though staring may seem harmless or flattering to you, an attractive woman may be fondled by male eyes tens of times a day or more, even if she's dressed professionally.

For example, a friend of mine from a previous job was very attractive. When dressed for work, she intentionally hid her body shape rather well. However, she could only do so much to hide her rather large endowment. Without any cleavage showing, and certainly no visible skin below her neck other than her hands, she was still quite curvy. Some clothing made this look, for lack of a better word, dumpy. Clothing that accentuated her thin torso, on the other hand, tended to exaggerate her chest. She did not want the attention of her male (or female) colleagues.

As is common in many jobs, she attended company functions. Some of the functions were dressy. In an effort to participate, she'd dress up appropriately for each event. And each time, men would crawl out from under whatever rock they had been hiding under and strike up conversation with her. Without fail, they'd talk to her breasts. On many occasion, I heard her say, "My face is up here." After every event, such attention would linger for a few weeks in the office. She even was promoted a number of times after such events. The final straw was having her breasts promoted while the rest of her was demoted to personal secretary. It was the best money she ever made, but she had to endure constant, unwanted attention. (She was college educated, experienced, and talented. She was not a secretary at any point in her career until said promotion.)

There's no crime in having an appealing figure. At the same time, there's no crime in enjoying said appealing figure. There is a boundary, probably determined by each individual circumstance, that you should seek out and respect. In general, staring at someone else's body while you talk is considered, at the very least, uncomfortable. If you wish to avoid this discomfort, do your staring in private. Set yourself up at an outdoor cafe in the late spring or summer. Order yourself a drink and sip in the sights, sounds, and smells as you window shop those who pass by. Don't stare obviously. Wear sunglasses if need be.

It has been my experience that when a woman dresses herself, she's keenly aware of the kind of attention she's inviting or trying to avoid. However, even when wearing the most revealing of outfits combined with an obvious invitation to flirt, staring at a woman's chest while carrying on a conversation, especially at work, is most likely going to produce discomfort on the part of both participants.

Here's another work related example, though reasonably unique. I do work as a photographer. On occasion, I'll get a job that requires me to photograph an attractive woman in a revealing outfit, sometimes even minus the outfit. I'm a professional, not some sleazy guy with a camera looking to get paid for cheap thrills. I don't seek these types of jobs, but I don't actively avoid them either. Money is money, after all. I will always, when addressing or conversing with a model, make appropriate eye contact, but I will never look at her as a sexual being or object. Even when she is working the camera so that the viewer believes what she is doing, I know this is scripted, professional, and, above all, not for my enjoyment. Perhaps you ought to practice this mantra, but indulge yourself when the social component is absent.

As an aside, I don't stare at the breasts of any woman I am engaged with socially. This includes, much to the discomfort of others, when I'm at a strip bar. Yes, even when I am paying a woman to dance topless in front of me, I make extended eye contact and drink in the rest of her body, carefully avoiding prolonged glances at anything she may consider private. The times I've been in such circumstances, I've been told repeatedly, "It's okay to look." You and I are likely opposites in this respect. If I have the need to see breasts, I fulfill my need with my loving, consenting partner. If she's either not loving or not consenting, I indulge myself privately, hopefully with women who've consented to the media I choose to view.
posted by sequential at 9:39 AM on March 20, 2006

If you're in a man's body and find yourself looking at women's breasts, it means you're a healthy heterosexual. Last time I looked there was nothing wrong with that.

and also bullshit.

looking at breasts is fine. breasts are lovely. straight men (and queer women) naturally like breasts. hooray for boobies, etc. but straight men don't naturally take time out from a face to face conversation to check them out (as if you won't see some more in like, five minutes). it's horrendously rude, and it's a choice.

it's not clear whether this is just a thing where you have trouble making eye contact (in which case there's plenty of good advice already) or if this is a breast issue. it seems like it could be the latter, in which case some of the "attaboy" responses are really disturbing.

assuming you're not someone who needs a sex change (occam's razor - but you would know better than i), what you probably need to be looking at is how men are socialized pretty much from birth to objectify women.

yes, straight men are hardwired to like boobies (and straight women can probably get away with a lot more ogling without being obvious about it :) . but we are taught to make sexual attraction more important than genuine social interaction as equals. even if you were never taught such lessons explicitly, i guarantee you've picked them up. this would even seem to be indicated by framing this is some sort of "problem", when it's really a choice. you're thinking with your cock. don't do that.

that can be difficult, sure - and there's some good advice above, like fixate on their eyes instead. but that still assumes that the best solution is to find some other part of their body you really like and fetishize that instead, rather than focusing on them because you're interested in what they're saying.

if you're not interested in someone because they are genuinely boring, then you have two choices :
1) stop talking to them
2) suck it up and fake it (if you are required to maintain contact with them.

but if you do this with every woman, you might really want to start thinking about why you can't seem to take women seriously when they talk to you.
posted by poweredbybeard at 12:08 PM on March 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

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