The youthful gaze

If I had the opportunity today, I would apologise to all who were troubled by my youthful gaze. Yes, I would apologise to serious students, whose focus was set on making the grades for university and setting the stage for a bountiful future, who had to put up with a weirdo glancing all around. I wish I had been more cultured then, and had chosen my companions more wisely.

Young men need to learn what is appropriate and what is not. Even then, I detested the saying of friends when an apparently beautiful young woman walked past them: “Check that out!” — but I too had to learn to restrain my gaze. I had to learn what was appropriate and what was not. Mostly I learnt that the hard way, finding myself ostracised and anathematised each time I got it so completely wrong.

Of course the incel generation protests, raging: “What hope do we ever have of finding a partner or a soulmate then?” Nobody teaches this generation the virtue of patience. Nobody advises them to await their turn. No, the pursuit of companionship has been transformed into the pursuit of prey. The young man, rejected, rages, demanding what he has not yet earned.

Every new generation must be taught to restrain their gaze anew. Parents must teach their sons what is right and wrong, teaching them about wholesome relationships, which will necessarily blossom in the fulness of time.

Ironically, I had my induction into the leering gaze at the hands of friends raised by Muslim parents. With their young English girlfriends, these teenage boys with Muslim names introduced me to a morality that would have shocked my strict Christian parents. I’m glad that my exploits were limited to sending an embarrassing letter and an unrealised crush. I only went to a nightclub once with them, but left repulsed and exhausted.

Ironically, even as a wavering agnostic, I was closer to Islam than they were then. My meeting with my beloved would be derided by men like them, who by then had enjoyed a multitude of conquests. Mine started with a prayer, then an introduction by mutual friends. It was a traditional meeting, our behaviour tempered by the expectations of our South Asian hosts. According to the young men I knew in my youth, we were doing it all wrong, but for me: it was an answer to a prayer.

Even though my behaviour was quite modest compared to that of my companions, I’m sorry for the gaze of my eyes back then. I’m sorry young women felt bothered by me and my friend, until they had to come up with implausible excuses to send my friend away. I’m sorry that, collectively, we created such a toxic environment then.

How foolish we were when we knew nothing of patience, gratitude, akhlaq. How foolish the young man who knows not how to restrain his gaze.

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