If you’ve ever been with a date or partner and felt their attention and the conversation fade out because they’re so busy drinking in the object of their attentions, following them with their eyes or their heads, doing double and triple takes, staring until they’re noticed, or even flirting outrageously if they have an opportunity to speak to them, you’ll likely have felt uncomfortable.
It’s not easy to be around someone whose attention is easily or very perceptibly diverted, especially if it causes you to raise questions about their character, your perception of the relationship, or even of yourself.
Noticing attractive people is not disrespectful. Checking out to the point of rubbernecking others when you’re on a date/with a partner is.
The difference is that ‘noticing’ something or someone momentarily won’t even register anything discernible to disrupt you both. That or you will be included in that noticing. Rubbernecking is obvious and disrespectful and will exclude you.
People who as standard behave with love, care, trust, and respect and have the ability to empathise, recognise that it’s not the Me Me Me Show and that what they’re comfortable with isn’t necessarily what others are. Once the rubbernecking is flagged up, they’ll seek to avoid knowingly and persistently doing something that’s disrespectful/hurtful out of respect for you and the relationship. It’s also basic courtesy when you’re out on a date not to eye up others.
If they continue, the original issue of them rubbernecking is transcended by an issue of disrespect and crossing boundaries.
My brother is a bachelor Mr Unavailable and doesn’t do it because he doesn’t want to look like a creep. And maybe that’s something to remember: Blatantly checking out someone and rubbernecking is disrespectful to both parties – there’s a fine line between leering and rubbernecking and it’s not attractive.
People make mistakes, stare for a little too long and don’t realise that they were getting carried away, once, twice at a push, especially once you’ve made your discomfort clear. After that, it’s a habit.
It’s an issue if they:
Tell you they can’t help themselves.
Claim that you’re needy and need too much attention.
Assert that you have ‘issues’ that are creating the problem – ie the problem isn’t their actions, it’s your issues.
Say it doesn’t mean anything – it means something to you.
It’s perfectly acceptable to have boundaries and to be uncomfortable with rubbernecking – the fact that they aren’t doesn’t make your feelings less valid.
If you have an expectation that they shouldn’t notice anyone it’s a little unrealistic, but if your expectation is that they shouldn’t rubberneck this isn’t unrealistic – basically stick to perceptible and obvious.
When in doubt, the litmus test is to validate your concerns against whether this is about internal fear or external? If it’s the former, there won’t be anything that they’re doing to create concern and it’s your own insecurity talking and if it’s the latter, there’s evidence of rubbernecking.
For eg. There is a big difference between a beautiful woman coming into a room, there being no perceptible change in a partner, but you claiming that you know they must be looking at them. However if a beautiful woman comes in and they rubberneck, that’s external stuff creating your concern.
If rubbernecking speaks to the insecurities and beliefs that you hold, it’s important to evaluate if it’s actually reflective of what you feel. For instance if it’s the part of you that feels like you’re not good enough or the part that struggles with abandonment and rejection, being with a rubbernecker is a non-starter. I wouldn’t put yourself through the pain in the arse agony of trying to get the validation of changing them.
If you are insecure, the truth is that rubbernecking will be one of a few things bugging you, if not now, soon enough. If you’re not insecure, you’ll respect your discomfort and boundaries and won’t allow them to say it’s all imagined.
However even if you do have insecurities, that doesn’t make you not wanting partners to rubberneck any less valid.
Does rubbernecking mean that you’re not good enough or that they’re rejecting/abandoning you? NO, and that’s simply because that’s placing yourself at the centre of someone else’s actions and making it solely about you ie. they’re doing X because of Y about me. You also have to be careful of labelling screw ups on another person’s part as rejection or abandonment of you/the relationship. If you do feel this way, you still need to work on your personal security even if they do stop rubbernecking.
The truth is that sometimes people rubberneck because they are so used to doing it that they lack conscientiousness and then for some, it’s a respect issue.
If you don’t know which one it is, you’ll soon find out when you flag it up – if it’s the former, they’ll respect your position etc and if it’s the latter, they’ll pull the shady stuff and/or continue to do it.
What I don’t recommend is that you put up with it out of fear of looking needy and jealous because you’ll compromise yourself and experience a great deal of anxiety pushing down your feelings.
If it’s the first few dates it’s likely a flush handle situation. Either nip it in the bud or set a limit of a certain number of dates, and if it continues flush. Just be careful of becoming invested and rationalising it.
If you’re further into the relationship, calmly explain your position. Describe what you saw (be specific as it paints a picture) because if they don’t perceive their actions as ‘checking out’ or ‘rubbernecking’, they’ll deny it. Follow it with ‘I’ll be honest, when I saw you doing that, I felt like you were being disrespectful’ and leave it there. Don’t over explain and keep it brief.
If they deny it, make sure you hear the code amber alert. Don’t deny or minimise – you can always ask them what they were doing. If they become aggressive, or claim you’re insecure or that you have issues, make sure you hear code red alert because that’s highly inappropriate deflection.
Note if you have had previous experiences of this and have seen evidence, don’t stick around to participate in relationship insanity.
If they claim they can’t control themselves, you’re fighting a losing battle – they won’t control themselves.
You’ve verbalised your boundary – if it happens again after you’ve made it clear that it’s disrespectful, you have to make a judgement call and evaluate whether there is enough going on here to make it worthwhile trying to work at this issue or whether you know that this is your limit and it’s time to bail. If there’s other code red/amber stuff, rubbernecking is just some not all of the issue and you don’t want to go into firefighting mode, trying to put out the flames of hotspots in your relationship.
Someone who is in your corner sharing a relationship with you (or wants to be) won’t expect you to break your neck trying to explain why you don’t want them ogling others.
I have a basic rule with adults: I’m not explaining simple acts of respect or my boundaries till I’m blue in the face to no-one. You shouldn’t have to teach a grown adult how to respect you so keep that in mind before you embark on raising anyone from the ground up.