It’s so easy nowadays to avoid having eye contact with other humans. This we know, of course. Smartphones, social media, even video calls because although you’re looking at one another, there’s no actually possibility of eye contact. For me, eye contact has always been difficult with most people. It’s least stressful with strangers, like those I interact with while running daily errands, but it’s also least likely to happen with those strangers. With people I care about–friends, family, etc.–eye contact is much more stressful, perhaps partly because it’s a requirement for an authentic connection. I know I have to do it, so I force myself to do it … sort of.
It was so easy for the two years that I only really interacted with my daughter. Because of the stress in my life, I found myself in a figurative desert. I didn’t talk to friends except through email, and only every few months at best. I talked to most of my family through text messages and email only. No phone calls except for brief “happy birthday” wishes to my mother and niece. My mother visited town a couple of times as well during these two years, but even during our conversations, I kept things light, surface subjects only. And I did a lot of listening instead of talking, which was how I wanted it. While the slow contented numbness of being isolated for so long set in, I found it even easier to shirk any sense of obligation to make eye contact with anyone I encountered.
Clearly it’s an issue of fear. Fear that I will be seen, that something within me will be revealed when I’m actively trying to conceal it. Fear that it will force me to have an intimate connection, where I’ve been apprehensive (that’s an understatement) of having a connection, especially an intimate one, with anyone.
There’s also a legitimate fear of what I will find in another person’s eyes, which ultimately is part of that connection about which I’m so apprehensive. That something in them will be moved by me, or that something in them will move me, for good or bad. And although I’m a brave girl, I’m not brave when it comes to putting my heart on the line with an individual person. Saying, “Here’s the truth that I can’t even say out loud, the truth that maybe I’m not fully aware of. Feel free to take it inside your unspoken truth and maybe both of our combined unspoken truths will make something much greater.”
So I look away when eye contact happens. I blink rapidly, I fidget, I look around the room … anything to avoid more than two seconds of eye contact. All I can do is gather those moments of true connection and find that with each one I’m still okay and no one has stolen me from myself or broken my heart … not irrecoverably or irrevocably. Because I need to be ready for anything, as we all do. (Otherwise, you might as well lay your heart on the floor today and let it dry up.) At any moment, someone could appear out of the fuzzy grey of the world, cast their eyes on yours, and you won’t be able to look away no matter how much you want to. Before you have the opportunity to blink nervously and look at the wall, the connection is formed. And then what do you do? Run away and tremble violently in the corner, or embrace it and risk it all?