Eye Contact — Overlooked & Underrated

(overlooked… pun intended. Pretty corn-e-a?

Why So Intense?

My outfit’s shit. I have a booger, don’t I? Ketchup stain on my shirt? Are you hitting on me? Someone you know is behind me. Did I cut you off in traffic? What’s wrong…

Maybe they’re judging you….

OR — maybe their eyes are just looking at your eyes.

It’s human nature to, first, scan a situation for possibly threatening criteria. Upon entering this cave: “Is there anything that will eat me?” comes before “Is there anything I can eat?”.

In the past, when a stranger looked at me, the thought, “Something is wrong with me,” used to come before the thought, “Something is right with me”.

Your Eyes Are Pretty… Pretty Weird

These twitchy, delicate orbs floating in your face are a source of input as well as communication. They relay thoughts and feelings.

Most of the anxiety I’ve felt from eye contact springs from what those orbs might relay to others. Sure, they can convey honesty, confidence, warmth, attraction, and competency…. and they can also convey insecurities , or emotions you would not like to convey or have misinterpreted by others.

A big help for me was acknowledging that the typical passerby isn't necessarily looking for any of these things. They’re probably just scanning their environment. No intrusions intended.

Why should I?

Good Feels — Eye contact is something we prefer from birth. To be acknowledged, reassured, empathized, to connect; these are essential. I can tell an immediate difference in my mood and momentum in a given day pertaining to how much I have connected with others; not just folks I know, but with complete strangers. I understand will power is a finite source, but these interactions can be very simple. A brief nod, or a smile in passing could make your day just as it could make anothers’. Just make contact.

I know there’s a line. I don’t necessarily recommend gallivanting on by and shouting, “HEY THERE!” while blinklessly staring into the depths of their soul. Brevity is best. Even if your short encounter doesn't go well… they’ll forget about it in a couple minutes. In my attempts, the good far outweighs the bad or the ugly.

Your Posture — Your stature directly affects your mood and behavior. The go-to for most when avoiding eye contact is to look down. How many people will you walk by in this world, right? Think about how much we slouch and look down at the floor or our devices in avoidance of basic interactions.

Phones are tools that provide amazing abilities. They give us the ability to pretend we’re on an important phone call instead of running into Jennifer’s rant about her Pomeranian’s dietary issues, and also allow us to “check our notifications” when passing by a someone in the hall… among other antisocial features! Spare your battery, attention span, and eyes for once. Step out of your comfort zone.

Missed Opportunities — I’m no smoker; no condemnation here… actually commending one aspect: They are a great networking tool. A smoking area is a wonderful melting pot to tap into. I know people who’ve met their best friends, spouses, and even their next employer because they were forced to socialize with some stranger. When you avoid contact, you miss out on opportunities you did not think were possible otherwise.

I have made amazing connections by simply looking up and and acknowledging a complete stranger.

Bad Feels — -You have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s realm. Some, in certain seasons of life, could use contact. You have the potential to be an ally.

I’ve had several moments that got me out of temporary funks by simply being acknowledged by someone else for even a split second.

I was parking in Durham a couple months ago and happened to nod at someone as I was locking my door.

Me — “hey there, how’s it going”
Him — “no complaints”
Me — “same here… but I can always gripe”
Him — “haha, true”

That simple exchange evolved into us getting a beer at Bull McCabes and hearing him out on potentially losing custody of his children. He was in a dark place. That discussion, exchanging insights, benefited us both. Had I of “minded my own business” he’d of been in a worse spot than he was previously and we would have of missed out on that experience.

Make It Or Don’t make it. Just. Don’t. Avoid it.

I don’t want you to think you’re wrong for not making more contact. It’s tough to do. What I am saying is that you should not feel wrong in doing so.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to feel like an imposter. There are an abundance of resources on this systemic issue. You’re not an imposter. You don’t have to feel that social anxiety. Acknowledging someone else at a bare minimum is a huge step in combatting this issue.

Be Inclusive, But Do So With Others’ Experiences In Mind —

I’m a white, mid-20’s, male. Women and minorities experience these interactions much differently than I do. There are many forms of oppression currently and throughout the history of our society. Women experience this more than one intersection. Cat calls, aggression, gawking are not daily regressions i deal with nor do I constantly have to be on the defensive as to what others’ intentions may be in interactions. Your best intentions may be met with rebuke. A simple hello may, or may not, go so well. Situational and self awareness are key here. Be understanding.

Eye Contact For Dummies… This Dummy

Again! This is something I’ve had issues with and have had to work on personally. Anything underlined in this post shares a good amount of resources I’ve found. Below are a couple odd tricks that have helped me.

Sunglasses — This is a baby step. You can achieve pseudo eye contact with minimal anxiety! Just walk around, chin up, and say hi every now and then.

Keys — I really like fidget tools. I’m not saying get to get spinners. Simply holding my car keys and having the option to fidget with them helps drain a lot of my nervous energy in passing.

Bartend — Pretty hard to avoid eyes when you’re the one handling everyone’s night cap… just sayin’.

Drive-By Compliments. NOT. FROM. YOUR. CAR. Thanks NerdFitness.

Make a compliment and keep going. Be that gregarious weirdo that makes someone's day and vanishes into the hallway horizon.

Shoes & Pets — Everyone thinks their kicks are fresh. Validating that in passing has had a pretty high success rate without seeming “creepy”. Same for the fur babies.

State The Obvious — “Ahhh. Chipotle! I’m jealous.” “Whew. Close. That’s a tough shot.” “Nice ride.” “Beautiful day!” That can be all it takes.

Something as “simple” as eye contact can seem small on the surface but has seemingly become quite the opposite for me.

// Cheers!

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