Sometimes, attraction just stares you in the face

Single in the city At dinner last night there were two cute guys, one cute couple, and one annoyingly beautiful woman (that everyone in the room stared at).

'Those who are far from the eye are far from the heart." While this Arabic proverb is similar to the "out of sight out of mind" English proverb, there is a notable difference: how much or rather, how long the eyes focus on an object, might be a reflection of what is in the heart; it is not always love. At dinner last night there were two cute guys, one cute couple, and one annoyingly beautiful woman (that everyone in the room stared at), three "yani" (OK) men and two women, and one truly annoying child that kept on rubbing his runny nose on my jeans. That was just at our table. All throughout dinner, any source of noise from the other table would get a few of us looking over for perhaps longer than we should.

But when one particularly handsome man came into the room smiling, all the single women on our table, and one married one, stared at him as he made his way to a table. And yes, you guessed it, the table was packed with beautiful women. Eh, back to eating. We don't really need scientific studies to tell us that there is an obvious human tendency to stare, gaze and watch others. Some people even make a living watching people.

Studies have shown that infants as young as a few days old stare longer at faces rated by adults as more attractive, and certain animals such as cats hiss and dislike photos of unshaven, unattractive, bearded men and stare longer at clean shaven, "more attractive" men. So the importance of being attractive is greater than we initially thought. I know that before I leave my house, I like to appear somewhat presentable (not always) and brush my hair, put on a little bit of make-up and some nice clothes, because - Hey, you never know who you might bump into or see along the way. Sure, I tell myself it is for "me" but really, we can't help it, we know will be checked out by others, especially by other females. We have to dress the part.

Wherever we go, unless pressed for time and stressed over something, we scope out the place and take a quick scan over the people around us, and sometimes, if there is a particularly interesting looking person, we pause and look at him or her a bit longer. If we are caught looking, we look away (pretend we weren't looking) or smile back. I know for me, it actually depends on how I feel about myself that day.

While you get used to it, some stares do bother you and stay with you. In my university days, I recall we had numerous debates at the university library about whether there was an "Arab" stare or a "Desi" (Indian/Pakistani) stare and whether it was more obvious and intrusive than say, a generic Anglo-Saxon stare. What was discussed at this multi-cultured and multilingual meeting point all through our undergraduate years earned us a permanent spot on the complaint posting board at the entrance of the library with notes like "noisy" and "annoying" scribbled next to a drawing of our location.

We reached a conclusion based on our small sample of men and women, that whether we like it or not, Arab and Desi men do stare more obviously than other men, and women stare at each other more often, and sometimes, the women look at other women more than men. We wanted to test this. So three of us, two male friends and I, who were studying psychology, went and sat inside a "hip" university coffee shop for several days around the same time and at the same spot.

We noticed that pretty much everyone who entered the coffee shop, would get a barrage of eyes looking at them from every corner of the place, with some stares lingering longer than others when they saw something they liked or disliked. The shortest stares were when there was genuine disinterest. So is the "lingering stare" more common in some cultures than others? Based on this simple study over a bagel and coffee, we noted a huge difference between those who stared longer and where they were originally from. Yes, we were all Canadians, but from different backgrounds.

But I found out later it is not as simple as that. Many factors play into the "stare", such as war, sudden richness, and gaining independence as a nation. In Lebanon, perhaps because it is a post-war country, people really assess what they see in public places. I noted that in former communist countries, they do the same. Whatever the case, it seems that if someone is staring at you for eight seconds or more, then there just might be something behind that stare - a like or a dislike.

For me, it all depends on who is doing the staring.