This Is Us

I Miss Eavesdropping

It really is the little things, apparently

Samantha Zabell
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readApr 3, 2020
An illustration of various female faces in a seamless pattern.

AA few weeks ago, I was at a crowded restaurant with two friends, sharing a pizza and attempting to focus on their stories while simultaneously trying to understand why the woman two tables away was crying.

It’s surreal how that entire sentence doesn’t… exist right now. Crowded restaurant, friends, huddled together with barely a foot between us. Strangers doing the same thing a few feet away. A young woman around my age with three men who seemed like her brothers, though they probably weren’t. As she began crying and gazing out the window, my attention shifted. Why was she crying? I focused, trying to listen despite the music and my own tablemates’ conversation. I crafted elaborate ideas in my head about how the four were related, who she was crying about. They paid the check and moved to leave, and I watched them hug outside the restaurant on the sidewalk. She walked away with one, the other two went the opposite direction.

I loved these small windows into other people’s lives.

NNew York City shut down slowly, and then all at once. There were the obvious things to miss and grieve: birthday parties, vacations, family dinners, movie nights. There were the things you didn’t realize you’d miss: 3D meetings with colleagues, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at the grocery store, petting a stranger’s dog in the elevator.

The big connections disappeared quickly. The small connections faded, quietly sliding into the background while we all wondered why we felt so alone.

I miss eavesdropping.

I was the person reading someone’s text messages over their shoulder on the subway, or listening to silence through my headphones at a coffee shop so that people at the next table would feel comfortable having their conversation at full volume. In parks, I listened to people on walks or sitting on benches as they discussed their marriages, their divorces, their bosses. I shared smiles with people who were like me — overhearing pieces of a stranger’s life, finding something we could relate to, sharing a moment of recognition.

I don’t live alone. Why not just listen in on your partner’s conversations? He paces around the…



Samantha Zabell
Human Parts

Audience development strategist, previously at Medium, Time Inc., Real Simple