My Overly-Attentive Social Alertness

By now, my eyes and mind, together with my growing personal experience, act in concert like a living microscope which sees and examines even the most trivial gestures and mannerisms of the average person, a new acquaintance, a close friend, or family member with whom I am already intimately familiar. Telling others that I have this heightened awareness makes me an oddity among my friends. I prefer to think that my overly-attentive social alertness at least affords me a personality; an eccentricity that, as I like to say, “gives me character.”

That’s how I make a virtue out of a trait that, to the degree that I have it, might be a flaw; your realtor will do the same when persuading you to overlook your next home’s  ‘defects.’ It’s just good business.

It’s not so bad until I’m made acutely aware of someone’s vexing behavior and am, thereafter, transfixed by this behavior for several minutes, powerless to focus on anything else while it continues. It’s the unwanted sort of ‘mesmerizing.’ It happens when a speaker, whether due to nerves or habit, uses fillers like ‘er’ and ‘um’ which impair the smooth reception of a complete thought (before I know it, I realize I have been counting each instance of the non-words, unconsciously paying greater attention to the speaker’s style than to his or her content) ; or a different sort of talker, whose words I no longer hear due to his superfluous hand motions and other gestures unrelated to his speech; or the meal-time companion who smacks her lips and talks with a mouthful of food.

My personality, being what it is by now, is interested in what it’s naturally drawn to, leaving me fixated to the point of ignoring social norms–namely, that one is rude for staring at a person as he or she eats, no matter how impolite the eater’s behavior. I’m nearly unable to do anything else but watch. I’m compelled to observe closely, whether in reverence, keen interest, or horror. It’s not quite an uncontrollable urge–as with an addiction or an obsession, or the inconsiderate drivers’ oft-repeated excuse for making miles of commuters late to work: “I couldn’t help but look at the accident!”– but a temptation in which I knowingly indulge, and sometimes regret when the consequences are, predictably, undesirable.

With age and intention–and a small tendency toward mental instability in my DNA– has come a sharpened sense of human observation that could be, to those uninitiated with knowing such a person, unnerving. They were right, when I told them I’d be an Applied Psychology major, to say half-fearfully “I hope that doesn’t mean you’re analyzing me, right now!”

But I was. And I am. It’s what’s I do.

15 Responses to “My Overly-Attentive Social Alertness”
  1. Gnetch says:

    Oh I am like this sometimes. And most behaviors annoy me, and it annoys me more that it annoys me when it shouldn’t.

    You get my point, right?

  2. Like you said once, there’s no such thing as privacy. I guess if people are out and about they can’t object to being stared at.

    • beginswithm says:

      I’m not a creep about it, usually, but really weird behavior gets my attention quickest. If the person sees how aware I am and continues, then I don’t feel bad for staring.

  3. Victoria B says:

    I observe, but things don’t bother me, generally. I tend to find people fascinating because I want to know what makes them tick, why he has a nervous twitch when the conversation turns to bankrupt companies or why she unconciously plays with her hair everytime so-and-so starts talking. That’s what I go crazy with. It’s the writer in me trying to create characters from people’s idiosyncrasies and it’s the genes my dad passed on to be constantly inquisitive. 😀

    • beginswithm says:

      Most people don’t bother me, either, but I’m probably most attentive when I see something I find unusual. Otherwise, I just happen to notice things about people they/others miss just because few things like that escape me.

  4. Rachel says:

    I’m the same way; let me become aware of someone’s quirks, their unconscious attitudes, their nervous habits, and those things threaten to become far more interesting than anything they’re doing or saying. It happens online, as well; I know someone who’ll fixate on typos in entries and articles so much that it distracts him from the article itself. I’ll ask, “Hey, what’d you think of this race/gender/nerdy thing I sent?” and get back, “The author misspelled “they’re” for “their”. -.-

    I’m trying to fixate on nervous tics less, because I’m ridiculously self-conscious, and definitely have a few of my own. It’s a work in progress!

  5. I can and do ignore all kinds of things people do because I have odd habits myself. Unless something is particularly annoying to me, it doesn’t merit notice. Many things are forgivable, even. (Except for bad table manners. Bothersome.)

  6. S. Am says:

    In some instances, your overly-attentive social alertness can be falsely deemed as creepy. Be careful.

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