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The “Shame” Subway Stare: Have You Experienced It?

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Noticeably absent from this year’s Oscar race was Michael Fassbender, star of Steve McQueen’s Shame.  The film is a haunting, full frontal nudity-inflected portrait of a sex addict adrift in contemporary New York, a meditation on loneliness in an urban wasteland, in which Eastern European sex workers beckon through the computer screen as Fassbender combs the streets for prospects at all hours. Even without a statue, however, Shames influence is being felt across NYC in a notable new behavioral trend called “The Shame Stare,” or simply, “The Shame.”

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What it is: an extended, sexually-charged subway stare, from one party to another. It begins innocently enough: one person checking out another person. But the staring never stops, and tension mounts until the object of the stare gets off the train, or the two parties decide, wordlessly, to disembark together. “It’s a tough balance of intensity and vulnerability, space and encroachment,” says starer Reik Ballea, 35. Ballea, who lives in Prospect Heights, and has been using his long subway commutes into Manhattan to practice his “Shame” regularly. “[In the movie] he was just looking, curious, like he was looking at something interesting, like a pretty tree,” he says. Too intense and a starer can come across as a “psychopathic mouth breather.” But if you act too shy, “you’re not making her heart beat a little faster.”  To date, Ballea has achieved only a partial “Shame,” in which himself and two women left the subway together following a Shame stare, but did not go home together. (N.B.:  Fassbender never catches up with any of his stare objects in the film.)

Last week, Brooklyn female Lydia Sabinson, 29, was hit with her first “Shame” while riding the L train from Williamsburg. “Demographic-wise, it was clearly a man who had seen and watched the movie,” she says. “Normally these indie film-watching hipsters are shy and hesitant, so this was an exciting change.” Sabinson says the man employed a half smile during the episode, which toned down the possible ‘disgusting leer’ factor. “A leer is one-sided, but this allowed me to participate in it. He knew that I knew, etcetera.”  The man did not follow her off the train, however, again resulting in only a partial “Shame.”

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Naturally, the Shame and its practitioners are skirting the line of more unwelcome methods of flirting with strangers, including but not limited to creepy weirdness and arrest-worthy practices, such as stalking. But attempted with caution and care, it can be a fun and exciting way to spice up a subway ride.

HOW TO SHAME

Step 1: Notice your object. Make sure it’s someone that makes your heart beat a little faster. A false Shame can only lead to actual shame for both parties. Remember they will feel your vulnerability and interest or lack of it – so don’t fake it.

Step 2: Look at the object. They will notice you looking eventually. If they see you and look away, they will definitely look again to see if you’re still looking. Do not look away. The energy can only build. Now they know it wasn’t an accident and that you’re really looking at them.

Step 3: Don’t be a psychopath. (Worth repeating: Don’t be a psychopath.) Remain vulnerable and human. Share the moderate fear you are inspiring: “this is unusual. Who is this person? Are they crazy? What are they doing? I sort of like it, it sort of scares me. I sort of like that.” They are looking for a reason to think you’re insane; don’t give them one. Keep your eyes soft, blink and smile if you need to. Most importantly, if they really don’t seem to be into it, quit immediately.

Step 4a: Silent Pursuit: Fassbender character’s top choice.  See the object depart, get up, go with them. All in silence. Maybe they’ll engage you back at this point. If not, let them go and revel in the mystery of human interaction. (Once again: Don’t be a psychopath. If they don’t engage back, leave them alone.)

Step 4b: Strike up a conversation / Subway Shuffle.  “I like your shoes,” followed by a step towards the object (* easiest if you’re not both seated).  Avoid diffusing the tension you have built up here. Keep the energy of the stare continuous, if not the actual stare.

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GLOSSARY

Quarter Shame: You look. Your object sees you looking. You look away. Object sees you looking away. Game over.

Half Shame: The initial encounter results in an obvious connection and intrigue between the two of you. The moment to make further contact by starting a conversation or pursuing her is passed up. No further contact is made.

Full Shame: Steps 1-4 end up in sexual contact immediately following the first encounter.

Double Shame: One Shame, two objects. You only live once.

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