Why is someone reading over your shoulder annoying?

My girlfriend does that and I find it really uncomfortable/annoying, but I can’t quite figure out why. It’s not that I’m reading stuff I don’t want her to see or anything like that, it just feels intrusive. Why is that?

(I finally kind of said something about it earlier today and I think it may have hurt her feelings, so if you guys can help me figure it out so I can explain it to her, I’d really appreciate it. Plus, I don’t like not understanding why I feel the way I do.)

This mostly has to do with her reading over my shoulder when I’m on my laptop or writing in a notebook, by the way. Sorry for not clarifying. Though I think I would still find it annoying if I were reading a book or something.

It kind of depends on how they are doing it.
When they are standing just close enough that I can feel them there and they are breathing on me that gets to me.
If it’s a solid touching and I can’t feel their breath it’s not so annoying.

For me it’s that same feeling when you can hear music but it’s not loud enough to hear what it is.

If she sat next to you and put her head on your shoulder it probably wouldn’t bother you at all, as long as she doesn’t tell you when or how to scroll.

I have an area around me that’s my “personal space” for lack of a better word. When someone is in that space, I get very uncomfortable due to their proximity. And hovering over me is even more annoying - it’s like we tell our dog when he’s hovering at the table - quit “hawking” for food. It feels like he’s waiting to pounce - I get the same feeling when someone is reading over my shoulder.

It doesn’t help that reading is a solitary activity (at least it is to me). It’s not a “group” or “couple” activity. I have tried to explain that to my husband to no avail - when I’m reading, leave me alone!

Maybe you can tell her it’s just something that bugs you and even if it’s not rational, please just don’t do it. Everyone is allowed a few quirks like that.

I’ve never found it annoying when it’s done to me, and so I’ve always found it rather annoying when other people are annoyed when I do it to them. Annoying, huh?

In my family, we were taught that it was the height of rudeness to read over someone’s shoulder without being invited to do so because it distracted the reader (the one holding the written material), and reading was sacrosanct.

I think it’s one of those monkey hindbrain instinctive things from the days when our loinclothed forebears had to worry about being attacked by various predators or what not. No matter what I’m doing, I generally find it unnerving on a fundamental level when someone is “hovering” behind me, close enough for me to sense their presence, but not doing anything to actually announce their presence to me. Could be my buddy, could be Slenderman, I have no way of knowing without having to stop what I’m doing and looking at them.

Yet, just the same, when I’m at work and I’m pulling up information for someone, they could be right behind me, hand on the back of my chair, leaning over me to see what’s on the screen, and it’s ho hum business as usual. Just depends, sometimes.

If I invite someone to read over my shoulder, I’ll slow down to ensure they’re finished reading before I move on, and I’m inviting them into my personal space. If someone invites themselves… it’s like stepping on MY brake when I’m driving - thankfully that’s nigh impossible in most cars!

Right. You have to calibrate your reading speed to theirs. Bad.

I was never bugged by this until I was on a long bus ride watching a TV episode on a PSP with headphones and the elderly woman next to me was literally leaning over to watch it too. Mind she could not hear a damn thing so why would you want to watch a muted TV show in the middle?

Yep, the same goes for me. That’s what makes it so distracting; I’m always waiting for them to tell me when they’re done so I can turn the page.

She reads over your shoulder when you’re WRITING stuff? Hang 'er from the yard arm, that’s an offence against humanity.

Reading over your shoulder when you’re reading, however, I couldn’t care less about, though I know other people find it annoying.

Thing is, when you’re writing something, it’s like having a conversation (possibly just a conversation with yourself, possibly with some other random person). If she were inserting herself into a conversation in real life, you could choose to stop talking, or change the subject, but when she’s reading over your shoulder it’s the stuff you were already writing before she showed up.

PS. My husband is reading this as we speak. Guess it’s cyanide time then.

It strikes me as attention-seeking behavior – why are you paying attention to a book when you could be paying attention to me? – which I find annoying as hell. Is this part of a pattern of that sort of behavior?

That said, “It just annoys me, please don’t do it” seems like your best approach – why get into taking each other’s neuroses inventories over it?

YES. It’s not so much that I have an issue with people seeing what I am doing… it’s more that I get annoyed that they think they are entitled to know.

I have this one friend who will then come back with “No one has a right to privacy… the government took that from us. So what difference does it make if I read over your shoulder?” Uhh… I have no right to privacy from the government… but I definitely still have a right to privacy from YOU.

Took the words out of my mouth !

Yeah, she’ll read over my shoulder as I’m writing things, which I do find especially annoying. (And I laughed out loud at your cyanide comment, by the way.)

Ah crap. She does tend to be a little attention seeking sometimes. I hadn’t thought about that.

I think this may be more her being insecure and needing to kind of have a part in everything I do. Though she isn’t extremely insistent or anything about it - reading over my shoulder is (as far as I know) as far as she pushes it. Oh, and she’ll read through papers that I print out and set down for myself.

I think the main issue is privacy and the feeling that some activities are strictly solitary, as many of you have brought up. Not so much that I need to keep these things private/separate from her, but that I feel that the option should be there and be entirely up to me. When she reads over my shoulder, I can’t choose to keep it private/solitary. Unless I just only do those things when she’s not around, but I feel I shouldn’t have to. I suppose it feels like a respect thing to me - respecting my privacy/solitude and my decision about what I want to keep to myself or not.

I think I just need to explain to her where my particular comfort zone is and that she’ll respect that.

Thank you for all of your input, everyone!

I think it’s a personal space issue for me. You generally can’t read over someone’s shoulder without being really close, yet not able to be seen. Both of those intrude into my space bubble.

For me, the personal space violation is bad, but so is the idea that someone else is leeching off of my entertainment because they were unprepared. Next time, think ahead!

Of course, I can’t resist wanting to know what other people are reading/watching/playing on the subway; after I figure out the name of the book/show/game, my curiosity is satisfied. So I’m a hypocrite.

I think it is a matter of nosiness and summary contention. It’s hard to read when someone will disagree with what you are reading. It’s like having a spy. It’s the NSA you know, gathering information on you. I realize you trust your girlfriend and want to share information with her but this disagreement thing could be at the bottom of it. Disagreements and arguments. You know people who tend to your every word when you speak to involve you in argument, to catch you in a flaw? When someone like that is reading over your shoulder that’s a real problem. Reading over people’s shoulders as a rule is not very cool and perhaps in your subconscious you are aware of that.