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From what I remember, I think it's actually harder being a TFOL than an AFOL - as a teenager I never lost my interest in toys, and I remember one excruciating moment looking at X-Men action figures when a friend from school walked in, and I launched into this self-conscious spiel about how I was picking a present for "my little cousin"... ditto many, MANY self-conscious moments in the Lego section...
A shop is there to sell things. If that's why you're there, and what you're buying isn't covered by some other sort of of restriction (like age limits on alcohol), then there is no reason to feel guilty or look shifty. Everybody has relatives and friends for whom they can be buying something and that's what most people will assume. If somebody doesn't, then the problem is theirs, not yours.
The only person who knows the target of a purchase is you. If it's a legitimate purchase, there is no reason to feel guilty. If you don't feel guilty, you won't look guilty - and nobody will bat an eyelid.
A lot of crimes are committed because the criminal can act normally. Fortunately, some people can tell the difference between an act and the real thing - but you wouldn't be acting.
Be confident as you stride up the Lego aisle. You are in store to make your purchase or just browse, just as they are.
If kids are there I never bat an eyelid after all it is a "kids toy".
Maybe it is an age thing but as an "oldie" I never worry about what other people think of me. I am just happy being myself.
I was very self-conscious when I was younger until I just stopped caring. I've always liked superheroes and Star Wars and collectibles and LEGO. My friends are my friends regardless. And strangers in a store are just that...strangers. They won't remember you the second they walk out of the store. If someone truly judges you because of something you like, do you really want to be around that person anyway?
Buy what makes you happy and, most important, be yourself.
Lego may have an age range, but to be honest aside from the lower limit (due to the risk of swallowing, etc) there's no reason for anyone to stop playing with Lego.
An odd moment is when you are standing feeling CMF packets. I have tons of kids running around me, the parents are asking if this is the set they want, blah blah blah, but no one pays any mind to me (or they do and I don't pay mind to them..), but no one asks me anything and I don't care if they give me looks because I'm focused on finding the figure I want so I can get home. I don't want to stand there all day.
I think ultimately I judge them more than me because I hear everything they say. "Timmy, wouldn't you rather have this set since it is a lower piece count/more your age range/has characters I think you should have..." One time,the mom said you have $x to spend. The boy grabbed something UNDER that price, the mom didn't want to buy it. She instead said hey what about this one! (which was MORE than what she offered to pay...odd)
Be yourself, be happy with what you buy, enjoy your hobby. As long as you aren't buying the sets with ulterior motives, then you shouldn't have anything to be guilty about/worry about.
Anyways as stated buy what makes you happy! Lots of folks have hobbies they are just different than yours. Plus hang out here and the main page Brickset and you will be in fine company with folks of similar mindset as yours!
But if you're still feeling awkward about it, maybe buying online would help?
Help clarify one point....are we concerned about what the minimum wage clerks think or other people in the store around us as we buy?
Seriously though, eventually you will get to a certain age where you will not care what others think.
It's not really that I'm that self-conscious, and trust me, I act perfectly natural. I just think it's an interesting "challenge" for TFOL's and apparently some AFOL's, too. If anything this topic is just for fun.
I think I might have overstated the "problem" in the original post. Like in my reply to TigerMoth, this is really more for fun stories, etc. then seriously addressing self-consciousness, etc.
Unfortunately, I did have a moment recently when I chickened out with being completely fine with what I was doing: I went to a Walmart to get the Heartlake Hotel at 50% off, which would make it my first Friends set. I took it to the cashier, she rang it up, and as I was running my credit card, she said, "Girls sure do love these." I just nodded and finished paying.
As others have said, don't be afraid to be proud of yourself and your hobbies. And I also find it helps to be friendly to others. I'll always help people find specific CMFs.
While I would like to say I am comfortable with my hobby of being a LEGO Enthusiast, I will be honest in saying that sometimes I'm a bit embarrassed because of how my peers have treated me about it in the past. So here is what I suggest if you don't want to be spotted.
1. Pick a store at the edge of town, or one where you know many people don't go to. Such as a small K-Mart opposed to a large Walmart. For me, it's either my local Barnes and Noble or K-Mart.
2. Go in the middle of the week. Tuesday through Thursday. Less traffic, less people.
3. Go later in the day, after 6:00 PM. If all of these rules are followed, you will likely not be bothered. Course, I've been called out before. Sometimes I just send someone else to go get my sets, lol.
"Star Wars LEGO: You might think this is an ironic entry, but it’s not. It dawned on me a few weeks back, as I found myself in a children’s toy shop salivating over a LEGO Ewok village: Star Wars LEGO – and I mean of the proper old Star Wars, not the new fangled stuff the kids like – is made for dads. Not for playing with, of course, but for combining two of us dads' favourite things to do: taking on a mini-project and reminiscing about the childhoods we’ve never quite gotten over. If the kids are reading, I’ll have the new Death Star Final Duel set or Imperial Shuttle. Any man who doesn't want this needs to see a counsellor about his childhood."
* At least that's what I keep telling myself ;)
Yeah I only go in store to get things that aren't discounted other places.
I also find the LEGO Store staff super friendly and go there more often than Target.
This post amuses me somewhat as replace 'Lego' with 'top shelf magazines' and it practically reads the same - people worrying about what others will think, be confident, be yourself, don't look shifty...
For the magazine, there's only one type of end customer - adult. By stocking it, the store expects to sell it for somebody like you. A toy shop has several types of end customer, but you can boil it down to adult and child - and can understandably express surprise if a toy is for an adult.
Of course, the shop only knows TO whom they sell it, not FOR whom, which is why a teenage boy should have no qualms about going into a shop and buying a LEGO set, a girl's doll, female sanitary products or countless other things where they'd wish the Grim Reaper would turn up double-quick!
There's another difference - a teenager would be proud if he managed to secure a purchase from that top shelf. And far from looking shifty, he'd have a big grin on his face.