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For the last few days I’ve tried to make it a point to walk with my chin up a little more.  Not that I usually shuffle along like a sad sack, but I DO tend to sort of be looking at the ground a few steps ahead of me and I also tend to walk semi-absorbed in random thoughts.  Nothing inherently bad about that, but I’m trying to make it not such a constant habit.

I’ve noticed very few people meet my eyes.

Particularly people who are walking alone.  If they’re with someone else, they seem to be more comfortable and looking around, engaging their environment.  Alone people tend to do what I always do:  eyes down and forward except for brief glances.

Eye contact with someone else, at least a stranger, is broken quickly.  It’s not hard to decide why:  if I make and hold eye contact with a guy, it could be taken as a challenge.  Guys are like that.  It’s not spoken, it’s just understood.  If I make and hold eye contact with a woman, it’s an invitation or a declaration of interest or both.  Again, it’s something we’ve built into our culture.  It’s programmed, and regardless of the message you’re trying to send, you need to be aware of the message they’re receiving.

Funny, huh?  We move through life, a significant portion of it alone, and for various reasons don’t even look each other in the eye?  Our culture is weird sometimes…


14 Responses

  1. I have the hardest time making eye contact with my students. I don’t know what I’m worried about, but I look just about anywhere but at their faces.

    I’m usually better when I stand in front of a class – but I don’t teach a class regularly so I know it’s a one time thing and I can go on with my business. You’re trying to do something to tap into inner energy – I can see how, for me, that would be a sort of intimacy barrier that I’d have a hard time dealing with, and it could lead me to some eye contact issues. I’m not saying that’s what’s up with you, but I could see it happening to me.

    • Although intimacy might be part of it, I don’t think what you’ve said is exactly why. I think I’m partially just feeling awkward, don’t want people to see my eyes. I also don’t want to lose my concentration on what I’m teaching in order to look at them as carefully as eye contact requires. I don’t know what to do when a yoga teacher makes eye contact with me – do I smile? Do nothing? – and I don’t want them to think about that and break their own concentration.

      Part of the reason, too, is that most people do not look happy during my classes (even though they compliment me after! they’re just working hard during), and the looks on their faces usually jolt me into insecurity. Not a good feeling to have in that moment.

      Aw man, I’m sorry you have to feel that way during your classes!

  2. i’m an eye person. i make eye contact with everyone whether i’ve seen them before or not. i use it as a way to assess people… who looks me back in the eye, who holds eye contact, who looks away, who smiles, who looks down and refuses to look back up. each reaction says something different about the person, although so much of it is situational, like being at work vs at home:

    something you said… i wonder if that’s the reason so many of my co-workers think i’m a bitch or intimidating when they first met me… i always look people in the eye, but depending on what i’m thinking about (like, you know, MY JOB), i’m too absorbed to bother with smiling. so i make eye contact but don’t acknowledge them. maybe that comes across as dismissal? or like you said, a challenge? it probably doesn’t help that in heels i’m as tall as all the men in my office.

    then at home when i’m walking my dog i look at and smile at everyone. i smile bigger at women because i’m not worried they’ll think i’m hitting on them. with men i do a short/restrained smile then the look-away to make it clear i’m being friendly not flirtatious. it sucks women have to act this way but that’s how it is…

    Well, I’ll give you credit for being braver than me.

    It’s possible that’s why your coworkers react the way they do – because they don’t know how to take it, and so their default reaction is to get pissed about it? And I definitely think it sucks that you have to do the look-away to guys…as a prototypical Nice Guy I’d love to get a nice open smile from a gal…but to be safe you have to do it. Hell, some assholes don’t even need a glance to stalk you; actually holding eye contact and they’ve already picked out the wedding china and the kids’ names.

  3. I try to make eye contact as often as possible. It’s a dying art.

    For some reason, I have no problem envisioning you making eye contact with others.

    What’s your secret? 🙂

  4. I’ve often experienced the same as you and wondered about it. I find it a bit sad and pathetic that we, as a society, no longer really look people in the eye, but avoid direct eye contact.

    “Sad and pathetic” is exactly right!

  5. I love to make eye contact with people. Maybe it’s because I have killer eyes, or more likely it is the easiest way for me to express myself to others without HR getting involved.

    Should I see an attractive confident woman walking towards me I will make eye contact with her and shoot a big smile her way. It’s my way of saying, “hey, you’re hot! I just thought you should know.” Most of the time I get a smile back, and no sexual harassment worries.

    If I see someone doing something fun, I will make eye contact and usually give them a thumbs up. If I see someone being a dick, I look at them with a passionate plea to remove themselves from the gene pool ASAP. I love studying people while at the same time getting to remain shy.

    See, that’s the thing; I know that in reality the whole sexual-harassment-worries is something I’m really overblowing in my head. But I have a problem not doing so. I guess on some level I have a hard time thinking that your average woman would welcome attention from yours truly. (Although I’m getting better about that.)

    Hell, I just came from a meeting in which I’m moderately certain one of the senior VPs was mildly flirting with me. Based on a previous meeting in which I was significantly certain of said fact. Sheesh. I need to get a grip on myself sometimes.

    • That’s the thing though, you should not worry if they want to welcome the attention or not. If they do not welcome your flirtatious glances, they WILL give you a glance telling you that, then you go about your day.

      It my alternate reality there is a mantra that a person should be afforded the opportunity to ask for whatever they want as long as that person can accept no for an answer. Also stop looking at the average women and focus on the extraordinary. You’ll find yourself feeling like a sexy beast in no time.

      DUDE, where do I sign up to take your class?!?

  6. I read somewhere most primates view direct eye contact as a threat. Tough to escape our roots, eh? Why, just the other day I found myself picking grubs out of my husband’s pelt. I was like, “wooooah.”

    Since I started shaving my back every day, I don’t have quite as much trouble with the insects.

    Well, not with certain species, at least.

  7. last year it was my New Year’s resolution to complement 1 woman every day, stranger or friend. So it forced me to look at people, smile and say “You look nice today.” Or to my co-worker ‘Girl, you got game in those jeans!”

    I see the same 4-5 women every day with few exceptions. It might start to get weird if I did that!

  8. I’m an eye contact person too. It’s just something that’s been ingrained in me from my childhood and then reinforced (for a totally different reason) as I got older in self-defense classes and such. It really does unnerve some people but I’ve always seen that as more of their problem that mine. 😉

    Well you’re absolutely right on that last part!

    Like Snarkastrix said, maybe people just can’t deal with that from a woman so they have to cover up their discomfort with getting ticked off or something. Either way, who gives a shit…their problem, right on!

  9. When I was younger (and out more), I was very much an eye contact, smile, and hello person. When I’m teaching, I love to make eye contact because I live to see that moment when it CLICKS! When someone is mad at me, I have a lot of trouble looking them in the eye (my mom’s eyes twitch when she is mad, and it was bloody f-ing unnerving – it ingrained a habit). As I reverted into myself with depression over the years, I even still faked it most of the time, but working at home has taken it out of me a good bit. So, lately I too have been making a conscious effort to smile, make eye contact, and say hi or hello as I pass people when I am walking – or even making sure that I wave to people in our neighborhood area when I’m driving. I’m doing it because it generally makes my day when someone takes a moment to show me some common freakin’ courtesy and acknowledge my existence. 🙂

    I’ve heard people from other parts of the world talk about Americans and our insane needs regarding privacy. This is one of those aspects where I have to agree that it absolutely cuts us off from each other, at a very basic level.

    I hadn’t thought about that last bit, but I think there is definitely something to it. Like we have something to hide, or protect, I suppose?

  10. Beside everything that’s been said there is one other factor that is unique to you. Although it’s not as odd as it once was, people do tend to avoid you when you have a shaved head.

    I’m not an imposing guy but, on enough occasions to make me notice, people have stepped away and, I love this one, people have locked their car doors when I’m about to pass.

    Heheheheheheh. That one IS occasionally a bonus, and only rarely a detriment, methinks.

  11. I definitely appreciate eye contact and make sure that when I’m speaking with someone that our eyes meet and I’m not looking over their shoulder for a better conversation. My only fear? That I’ll freak them out with too much eye contact.

    There is one exception. If I loathe you, I will show my loathing by refusing to make eye contact. In this manner I do not acknowledge your existence… even if I’m speaking to you. I know it’s immature but sometimes that’s just how it is.

    For a second there I just KNEW you were going for the “My eyes are up here!” line!

    Yeah, the no-eye-contact is immature but sometimes when you’re dealing with assholes you have to give yourself permission to be immature.

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