People Watching

My birthday is coming up, and yesterday, my family took me out for dinner to celebrate. We went to Olive Garden, one where a lot of older people tend to go due to its location. While we were eating, an older couple came in and sat down at a booth across and slightly down from us. I could see them from the corner of my eye without even trying.

I laughed to myself when they first sat down. They both pulled out Kindles – hers in a pink cover, his a black. Each had a stand, and they stood them on the table before them. She was sitting on the same side of the booth as me, so I could see her screen, but not his. The text was large enough for me to have read over her shoulder from where I sat, if I wanted. Both wore reading glasses, as well. It was funny to me, because as a voracious reader myself, I often take my Kindle, a paperback or a magazine with me when I go places, just in case I end up with even a few seconds of downtime that need to be filled.

But as my family and I continued to enjoy our meal and conversation, I began to notice something about the older couple. The waitress came and took their order, and they both spoke to her, lips curving into smiles and being very friendly. Yet they never spoke a single word to each other. They didn’t make eye contact even once with each other. They were right across the two foot wide table from each other, and they could have been total strangers for all the interaction they had.

I commented about this on Facebook, and a friend pointed out that perhaps they were simply so comfortable with each other after years of being together that they didn’t feel the need to interact. But it wasn’t that simple.

Do you realize how difficult it is to avoid making eye contact with someone who is sitting directly across from you? Really, you can’t avoid at least accidental eye contact at least once unless you are going out of your way to try to avoid it. And even when the spoke to the waitress, there was no togetherness to this couple. When my family was ordering, there was laughter and joking and commentary going on around the table. This couple interacted with this waitress as if they were having separate conversations at separate tables. There weren’t any interruptions, any ‘oh, I thought you were done’ moments.

There’s a certain familiarity in the air around two people who are just comfortable together without words. This couple didn’t have that. This couple really could have been total strangers to each other – in fact, had I not seen them come in together, I might very well have thought they were complete strangers who’d somehow ended up seated together.

I find myself this morning still wondering about this couple and their story. I wonder if they’ve been married for decades or just a few years? Did they marry for love or other reasons? Do they have children? If they have children, did they lose interest/affection for each other long ago but stayed together for said children and this is the result? Or had they just had a fight at some point yesterday ormaybe the night before and were still too angry to speak to each other? And then I think, if they’d recently argued and were angry, how did they come to be dining out? Was that a previously decided event and they simply kept going with that plan rather than talk to each other to cancel it? I didn’t sense that angry tension coming off of them, but who knows?

Do you people watch? What kinds of things do you notice about people when you watch them?

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