How to Check Someone Out in a Flattering Way

IF BASEBALL is considered America’s pastime, then checking people out is humanity’s. Our eyes are naturally drawn to things we like looking at: namely, attractive people.

It’s safe to assume there will be a surplus of visual stimulation when we all venture out of our quarantine caves. There’s nothing wrong with taking it all in, but there’s a graceful, and perhaps even flattering, way to do it.

Trust me, it can get weird to be on the receiving end of a stranger’s lingering stare. I’m just trying to go about my day, and suddenly I’m wondering if I should be scanning for exits or potential witnesses. I’ve crossed the street to walk on the other side when a dude’s eyes were glued to my body as he came toward me; I’ve also switched train cars or seats at the bar when I realized someone was indiscriminately gawping at me. But stepping into a room and having someone look me in the face, smile, and say hello? This is fine and friendly!

I know there are a lot of mixed messages when it comes to how (or even if) men should check people out. Many women will tell you they’re generally aware that they’re being looked at all the time: on the street, on social media, pretty much anywhere their image exists—and it can get exhausting. Yet lots have internalized this stuff themselves, hence the inner conflict of feeling uncomfortable when strangers ogle them while also appreciating external validation about how nice they look—in the proper context, of course. It’s one thing to walk into a bar or club and turn heads. It’s much weirder and grosser to walk into a boardroom and experience that same reaction.

All of this is happening in the age of “WAP” and other women’s sexual empowerment anthems, which means you’ve probably noticed that women are feelin’ themselves more. They’re reclaiming their bodies as their own to flaunt as they please. The key is being supportive of that without assuming that any show of skin or hint of promiscuity is an invitation to voice your explicit approval. If you want to demonstrate your support, a friendly hello—the same kind of nonsexual greeting you’d give to your local barista or postal worker—is totally sufficient. Don’t make it about them being hot is what I mean.

“Sometimes you simply encounter someone so hot, their hotness acts like a supermagnet for all the eyeballs in the vicinity.

It’s no one’s business whom you choose to throw your lustful gaze at. However, making it someone else’s business—i.e., forcing them to react to your very obvious ogling—is when things can veer into creep territory. Whether the object of your lustful gaze wishes to be perceived or not, they probably already realize you’re checking them out, and if they want to take things further, they’ll let you know. If someone doesn’t reciprocate your eye contact or smile, they’re likely not picking up what you’re putting down. That’s your cue to snap out of it and move on.

Even if you’re not looking to take things further, you can still be guilty of an unsubtle checkout. Just because you’re married or otherwise off the market doesn’t mean you automatically stop noticing other people. (It helps to be in a relationship with someone who acknowledges this, too.) Sometimes you simply encounter someone so hot, their hotness acts like a supermagnet for all the eyeballs in the vicinity. If you’re one of those cool, cheeky couples who are very open and vocal with each other about whom you find attractive, congratulations, I am very happy for you! Still, don’t stand there leering, because I don’t want to feel like I’m the target of a unicorn hunt. Not saying you’re necessarily looking for a third, but depending on the situation, it could read that way.

These tips are also key in that virtual space known as online. You can stalk someone’s Instagram feed all you want without interacting with it—I mean, that’s the point of social media, right? We’re all curious to know what people are up to. And sometimes they’re up to some obvious thirst-trapping. (See Channing Tatum’s naked selfie for reference.) If you want to put yourself on someone’s radar, liking their Instagram post is a generally inoffensive way to do that. But commenting on the post with a heart or flame emoji? You are now approaching iffy territory. A midnight double-tap binge through someone’s entire Instagram grid? You are officially doing way too much! This will never not come off as a cartoon eye-springing awooga wolf call.

After several centuries of society positioning a woman’s appearance as her primary value, we are lucky enough to live in an era when women are rediscovering and reinventing femininity on their own terms. I’m assuming you don’t want to blow it by making it about you, or for you. Conduct yourself like a gent and you might just find someone making eyes at you from across the bar (hooray, vaccines!) this summer.

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