Sunday 16 October 2011


Have you ever caught yourself eavesdropping, telling yourself that you shouldn’t be doing it, and yet, like watching an accident occur, you can’t bring yourself to stop? It’s one of those taboo behaviors that everyone seems to do, but no one wants to admit to having done it. Kind of like...drinking wine coolers, listening to Kenny Loggins, and teasing your hair in the eighties – you did it, I know you did.

There are categories when it comes to ‘the eavesdrop’ which determines of course how brazen you are - or shameless. There is, for example, the overt hiding behind the door listening to someone argue, eavesdrop. Usually when you find yourself doing this, you do your best to create a hundred reasons why you are entitled to follow the individual(s) conversation: I’m their kid/best friend/parent/employee; I have a right to know if I'm about to be fired/dumped/grounded etc. All attempts of course of explaining why your head is plastered to the door with a glass pressed up tight to your ear. There is also the other often used excuse which is: they are being very loud and if I hear them, well, it’s their own fault.

I never said human beings were perfect.

My partner and I actually used this excuse the other day while our neighbors were arguing. They fight at an incredibly loud decibel and the walls are paper thin, so in short, we hear it ALL. While we secretly relish in the ‘Days of Our Lives’ drama that is going on downstairs – I’m thinking it makes us feel normal – I also find it infuriating because the boyfriend is a serious jackass, and it makes me want to go downstairs and scream some reason into the girlfriend for staying with him. Alas, this is rule number one of eavesdropping (ahem, aside from not to do it): if you’re not supposed to be listening, you’ve heard in essence nothing, so stay out of it.

Then of course there is the accidental eavesdrop. This usually happens on public transport or when you are sitting at a restaurant and the tables are so close you can’t help but hear that the couple next to you haven’t had sex since 1996. The other day in fact I passed two young boys in the park who were sharing with one another how they think it’s pretty ‘hot’ when two girls kiss in the movies…but seemed a less than thrilled when men do it. Ah yes, it does indeed start that young. You hear all sorts of gems on the tube, especially in this city. People breaking up, making up, complaining about their partners, bosses, the price of milk. It's pretty standard stuff, but every now and then you will get a nugget of serious amusement.

My partner often calls me from the supermarket to tell me about a couple that he often sees there, who during their shop proceed to fight down every aisle. No, it’s not the downstairs neighbors. As my partner loves gossip about as much as a loaf of fresh baked bread, he proceeds to follow them and text me the entire argument blow by blow. “Now she’s getting mad at him cause he wants to buy an expensive cheese.” “They just argued over broccoli and are now in a stand-off over butternut squash.” And so on…the fact that my partner is able to do the shop, make sure the King doesn't shop lift (by eating everything in the cart) and text at the same time is damn impressive.

I realize it is of course bad form to listen in on others conversations, but on a human level I think we do it to remind ourselves that we all have that similar propensity to wade in the pithy pool of petty pointlessness (sorry, I just love alliterations). Knowing the couple in the market is mundane enough to fight over cheese makes us feel better that we may have just had an argument in our own homes about the way our partner loads a dishwasher.  It’s either that, or we are all waiting to finally catch that one individual who is planning a murder or plotting to bring down the government. Seriously, has anyone ever overheard someone describing anything but inane crap we all fight/moan/complain about? That would be a bus journey to remember. I can just imagine my partner’s face if I texted him saying that I just overheard the couple next to me planning to storm 10 Downing Street with flaming torches. Now that would be a justifiable eavesdrop.

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