What’s up with eye contact?  Why is eye contact something we avoid (or don’t avoid.)  What’s really going on when we “contact someone with our eyes?”

My daughter and I in a stare-down with the camera.

Alright…I admit it.  Nothing earth-shattering about this question, but I have always been intrigued with the power of eye contact.

Two stories come to mind:

1.)  In my early 30’s I used to compete in the sport of triathlon.  I was at an event in Panama City, FL and staying at a resort hotel with my friend Allison.  When the event was done we piled into the hotel elevator, speedos still on, bikes and gear bags, helmets and cycling shoes. With all that stuff, there was barely enough room for the two of us, much less a third.

He was, I admit, an appealing guy…in his early 30’s also…still, as we were, in his tri suit, with bike and gear.  My friend Allison was clearly attracted to him.

We had 20-some floors to go up in the elevator and Allison wouldn’t take her eyes off of him.  I mean…the woman was in a stare-down.  Somewhere in the few short seconds that it took the elevator to go from ground floor to up, he said directly to her in a tone that wasn’t necessarily friendly, “What are you lookin’ at?”

My friend Allison continued her steady gaze directly into his eyes and said in a tone of voice that had humor, a certain amount of aggression and a definite unsettling quality to it…”I’m lookin’ at YOU!” (Note emphasis on you.)

He got off of the elevator before we did and they were to never see each other again. I think she totally creeped him out.

2.)  This isn’t a story really but more of an observation.  Ever notice how adults, with no hesitation whatsoever, are totally comfortable with a stare-down with a baby, infant, toddler and even kids up to the age of say…6 or 7?  I know that I am.  There is a comfort there, that my looking at them and often directly into their eyes won’t be construed as anything other than a connection that is genuine, authentic and friendly.

Just watch a grown man with a child.  Airplanes are an awesome space to do this.  Business guy, dressed in full business suit, begins a rousing game of peek-a-boo with the four-year old in the seat in front of him.  She, peering over the seat and his upping and lowering his head up and out of her vision only to pop back in, seconds later.  Smiles abound…if not downright laughter.

I’m fascinated with what attracts us to certain people…not in a sexual way (although that’s pretty interesting too :)) but just two people, one to the other. When we enter a room-full of people, or gather onto an airplane our eyes are naturally drawn to certain individuals in that space with us.  Should eye contact be made, there is a split second of connection, but then we pull our gaze away.

I’ve noted that when I am in a “right space” I am far more inclined to, when talking with my friends, or even with strangers, hold eye contact, not to shy away from it.  I’ve come to see eye contact as something like a crystal ball-view to my well-being.  When I’m comfortable holding my gaze (avoiding the creepy factor element outlined in (1)) then its a pretty good sign that I am right with myself…my internal thoughts are in a positive and peaceful space rather than negative or fearful space.

I’ve also noted that those people, whom I consider highly evolved, peaceful loving people, are more inclined to make eye contact with me when I’m talking with them.  Kids are the perfect case in point. They haven’t yet added any negative messaging to that authentic gaze and are therefore more inclined to enjoy the eye contact rather than shy away from it.

I have to admit, I also think something else is going on.  There is an intimacy there.. when I look someone in the eye…and that can be where the discomfort comes.  Our culture tends to add a long list of implications to eye contact…implications that lead us to construe stories that really don’t exist.  We as a culture often shy away from genuine, authentic relationships because there is a deeper fear, at least for me on occasion, that something bigger and more powerful may be revealed there…something that is unknown and therefore intimidating.  It’s often easier to stay safe and comfortable within my own lonely circle…at least in here I know what to expect.

When I make eye contact, there is a connection which goes from outside to inside…thoughts, feelings, an energy exchange that brings me back into myself…it can be unsettling if I let it…but if I’m open, fearless and willing to connect, the eye contact can open up new possibilities, relationships and furthered growth.  I’m always amazed by the coincidences that reveal themselves when the eye contact leads to conversation, connection and friendships.

No big or deep revelations this Monday morning…just some food for thought and interesting observations.

How are you with eye contact?  Does your willingness (or not) to make it, say something about the space YOU are in?  Any stories about it you’d like to share?  When someone is making eye contact what stories/internal messages do you construe to explain the eye contact?  What does this internal conversation about eye contact say about you and how do these messages affect your actions?