Small Infinities of Eye Contact

Dayruiner – impromptu eye contact with strangers. In an attosecond, a relationship is forged. This is now someone you have technically met, no backsies. An impression is irreversibly made on both sides, and conclusions drawn just as immediately – ‘he seems nervous’, ‘why does she look so angry’, ‘what’s wrong with their face’, etc.

This is something I’ve had a lot of time to dwell on recently. It’s exam week for some middle schoolers at the hagwon I teach at. I’m purely there in a supervisory capacity, so I sit at the front of a classroom and keep an eye on everyone, so catching someone’s gaze at the exact second they glance up from their paper is something that happens with uncomfortable regularity.

The worst part is that there is absolutely no correct response to these silent exchanges, but a small infinity of wrong ones. Let’s go over them:

– immediately breaking the contact: akin to flinching at nothing. This can be seen a weakness of character, regardless of your polite intention. Like a weak handshake, it betrays an inner nervousness you probably don’t even have.
– maintaining your gaze until the other person looks away: a dangerous proposition. Several cultures see this is an act of aggression, even if you know the other person and are talking to them. Many animals, including dogs, perceive this as a challenge or a threat. Really, though, if you’re the type of person to actually hold someone accountable to a staring contest deathmatch that they didn’t know was happening, then there might honestly be something very wrong with you. Unless, of course, your victim returns it, in which case you’ll have a funny personal joke about how you met to reminisce on years down the line. You pair of demented hyenas.
– the unending spectrum of madness that lies between these two extremes~

So the question becomes, is there an ideal time frame for eye contact? Sadly, no: eye contact doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Every single other component of your face and body language could also be conspiring to make your entire aspect an insult to all with the sense of sight. Both parties are thrown to the mercy of whatever configuration one another’s features had settled in at the moment of impact. Just like duration, however, there is no ideal default setting. The warmest, friendliest face your mind can conjure becomes a bizarre, unhinged rictus when caught unaware.

What can be done? Little, other than to try to catch yourself before you jump to conclusions. Perhaps if you’re more personable than me, you could, you know, actually talk to strangers. Mad talk.


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