Have you ever noticed that people are usually content to sit quietly and leave you in peace – until you have headphones in. Suddenly, your earbuds are like a beacon to those around you, begging for them to interrupt your music or podcast session for pointless conversation.
Perhaps you’ve encountered a similar scenario: you’re on the bus or waiting for public transport and decide to relax, unwind, let the sweet sounds of music carry you away while you wait. You close your eyes as you listen. You’ve just settled into the rhythm; your stress levels have started to decline when you feel that dreaded sensation – the annoying tap-tap-tap of a stranger’s finger on your shoulder. You open your eyes and see the stranger peering at you, uncomfortably close to your face, and gesturing for you to remove the blessed buds from your ears. You try to mask the annoyance on your face, maybe even swallow a bit of rage as you oblige, and force a polite, “Yes?”
“What stop is this?” They ask. Your eyes slide up to the sign directly above their heads, and you inwardly sigh as you reiterate the same information that is clearly stated mere feet away from their line of vision. As they nod at you, you gingerly place your earbuds back in place and desperately try to find the feeling of peace you just had.
Maybe the scenario has been slightly different, but we’ve all been there, right? At one time or another, we’ve all been enjoying our fleeting moments of solitude only to be interrupted by some well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) stranger who simply must speak to you. My favorite is when they make a big deal about interrupting you just to ask “whatcha listening to?”
And ladies, I’m sure we can all appreciate those times when a not-so-gentleman beside us has relentlessly tapped our shoulder in what can only be described as a concerted effort to annoy us into removing our headphones, only to try out his best one-liner, usually of the negging variety. I have yet to meet a woman who fell in love on the 7:05 train to Newark. Especially when the unwanted suitor just interrupted Agatha Christie.
Or, you’re at work, just trying your best to get through a hectic day without becoming a headline or needing bail money. You’re there in the break room, you’re obviously at lunch, and you’re trying to get in a few chapters of that audiobook you just started and lo and behold… in comes the coworker with boundary issues.
Why is it that as soon as you put on headphones, you’re suddenly much more popular than you were five minutes ago sans headphones? I mean, it’s like you’re wearing a sign that says, hey, interrupt me, no, please go ahead, I’m not doing anything at all here like listening to a book or letting the music calm my frayed nerves or really, anything at all important… I mean, honestly, I’ve been waiting here impatiently for someone to notice that I have my headphones in, so really, go ahead. Interrupt me.
Sometimes I have to wonder, are these people actually that eager for human interaction that they would force themselves into your world of earbud bliss? Or do they find some enjoyment in seeing your stunned face as they yank you out of your reverie?
Let the masses hear my plea: if you see someone with headphones in, whether they’re on the bus, in the break room at work, or walking through the park, for the love of all things good and holy…
DO NOT DISTURB.
The book reading is the one I relate to the most. In an old job I’d get two 15 minute breaks and a lunch break. In the morning break I’d wind up trying to time it so that I knew the cleaner would be busy elsewhere, because she had an annoying habit of coming into the staff room to ‘sit down for a minute’, then waffle at me. She’d look at the book and fire off questions in rapid-fire mode, about the book. ‘What’s it is like? Who’s it by? Are you enjoying it? Have you nearly finished it?’ Then she’d move on to a different topic.
The answer in my head (I never said anything, more fool me) to all her questions was ‘if I can actually read it I’ll tell you’.
THIS DRIVES ME NUTS!!!
With headphones on these days you’re almost certainly connected to your phone or a tablet or a streaming service to get your music, podcast, or audio book. If anyone who’s actually important and knows me needs to interrupt me, they can send a text or email or something that will make my headphones say “boop!” If you don’t know me well enough to have my phone number or email, then by definition you’re not more important than my music or book, and you can take a long hike off of a short pier.
I’m not an ogre, as much as it might seem that way. I’ll be more than willing to make exceptions for people point out that I’m on fire, that they’re on fire, that there’s a rampaging T-Rex in the neighborhood, the plane’s crashing, a woman’s water just broke, or a reminder that the Chiefs game is starting in five minutes.
One advantage of being a far middle age white guy… strangers leave me alone. Probably afraid I will try to sell them life insurance.