This morning, I stopped in at a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue before heading over to the office to see my first patient of the day. A few minutes after I sat down with my coffee and New York Times at one of the large tables, a famous actor accompanied by a beautiful woman sat down directly across from me on the opposite side of the table. She looked about 15 to 20 years younger than the actor.
Things quickly began to feel awkward because they were facing me, seated just a couple of feet away, and she kept glancing at me, her gaze lingering just a little longer than it should. I can only guess, but I think she was looking for some sign that I noticed the identity of her companion, or that I was noticing her. The two possibilities aren't mutually exclusive.
The first few times she did it, I ignored her. But I was starting to feel uncomfortable, so I mouthed "hi" and she mouthed "hi" back. But that didn't end it. She kept shifting from looking at the actor and speaking with him, back to looking at me. Then he seemed to notice her glances toward me, and he looked at me. He didn't look annoyed or bothered, he just started glancing at me, too. So I mouthed "hi" to him, and he said "hello."
Meantime, I was just trying to keep my head buried in my newspaper, but I must admit the whole situation was distracting, so I kept glancing up, and there she was glancing at me. She was also stunning, which was, itself, a bit distracting, and I'm not the ogler type. But I couldn't tune them out, and I could feel her continuing to look at me.
In the midst of all this, the actor and the woman were quite lovey dovey. It wasn't a a big, wet, 10th grade, PDA scene, but he looked smitten with her. He spoke in a very sweet tone of voice, chuckling at all of her comments and occasionally kissing her gently on the head.
Now here's the REALLY weird part:
She was gorgeous, dressed impeccably, like someone who has plenty of money to spend and knows just how to pull it all together, but she spoke in an extremely seductive, childlike voice, almost babyish. It wasn't the affectionate baby talk that some young couples use; it seemed to be her normal speaking voice, sort of a Marilyn Monroe playing a ditzy, childlike, bimbo character, but actually more extreme than that. It did not match her sophisticated, adult look at all.
Her appearance, her voice and the glances were all in keeping with a histrionic stye, but rather than highly sexualized attire, it was sophisticated and very tasteful. It was quite attention-getting nonetheless, which is the point.
Now that I think about it, I know an actress in Chicago who presents the same way. She was a model, and now she's devoting herself strictly to acting professionally. She's also quite bright—a graduate of a top-tier undergraduate institution and fluent in three languages. She dresses impeccably, but she also speaks with a childlike voice, which is a histrionic stereotype, though her voice isn't as extreme as the famous actor's companion. I've never her seen her perform, and I've wondered if she manages to alter her tone to appropriately play characters. In her acting classes and voice classes, they must have addressed the matter of her voice. But this raises another question: if she can alter her voice to sound more like that of a grown woman, why does she continue to speak in a child's voice in her everyday life? Well, that's what primary and secondary gains are all about.
Back to the actor and the young woman. As smitten as he seemed, I had the thought that he's just going to toss her aside when he's had his fill.
But it's so easy to be drawn into splitting as an observer, seeing him as the predator, while she is the innocent prey. But she's using him too, and I certainly don't conflate a defensive, manipulative tone of innocence with genuine innocence, if there is such a thing. Who, if anyone, will do the devouring and who will be devoured after mating isn't clear. People can be both predator and prey.
I do want to make it clear that I'm just speculating rather wildly above; this was more or less a stream of consciousness piece, thoughts passing through my mind as I pondered this odd encounter. In reflecting on a clinical situation, this sort of informed, freewheeling thinking could be a precursor to generating hypotheses, but then it's important to actually explore the data of experience with a patient more deeply, over time, occasionally making predictions and tossing aside speculation when it falls apart in the face of accumulating evidence.