Eye to I

eye-contact-true-feelingsNot to sound like Jerry Seinfeld, but what’s up with people making eye contact with strangers? Or rather, intentionally avoiding eye contact?

I figure there’s a certain culture about these things.That you make eye contact and greet a person you know well, you make eye contact and smile at someone who know but not well, and when it comes to strangers, you do a bit of a dance to see who’s comfortable with what. You see a stranger approaching, glance in their direction, see if they are glancing at you, and if so, at the point of passing, do a shy glance and smile. Not significant eye contact, just a glance of human recognition. Or there’s a casual sense that they don’t want to connect so you just don’t.

Unless they are staring at you in an uncomfortable way or it’s someone you really don’t want to acknowledge for safety sake. (Or you believe it’s a safety reason and you’re just not familiar with ‘they’re kind’ and you associate them with someone to fear.)

And then there are those who don’t want to make eye contact with strangers or just stay in their personal zone, and they use the convenience of a technology prop. Like head phones or checking their phone – or if they are desperate, holding a cell phone to their ear as though they are having a conversation. It’s getting easier to avoid stranger contact in seemingly socially acceptable ways.

And then there’s the person I encountered the other day. 15215292971_3aa2918ef4_m

I saw her down the hallway in my office building, walking toward me as I walked toward her. It was the usual, getting a sense of what this other stranger wants to do but as a friendly person probably smile on my part. As I approached her, I glanced in her direction. And then the interesting thing happened: first she looked stone straight ahead, like she was in a military line being yelled at by a drill sergeant. Then as my glance was in her direction (mind you, I’m not weird. It was a mild glance, not a glaring stare), her eyes rolled up and away, like an intentional statement of ‘not only am I not looking at you, I’m looking away from you.’ 

What does THAT say?


Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

What it said to me (after I absorbed one of those happens 1% of the time encounters) was that it was unfortunate that this gal was not comfortable with a casual, in the realm of normal, decades older stranger of her own gender, that somehow made her possibly feel threatened enough to send this strong signal of lack of human contact. Without analysis, I simply felt sorry for her.

Later that day – ironically – I learned that her job in the building is quite a public one. One where she’s sits at a desk that that visitors would stop at to ask directions or other questions, and one that requires her to handle small real people problems all day long. Oh dear. Clearly this woman doesn’t have Walmart Greeter in her career plan.

But who knows? Maybe when she’s behind HER desk and in HER zone of control, she’s OK. Friendly, warm and ready to make eye contact. On her terms.


~ by Susan Walker on September 12, 2014.

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