Esther Anandaraj muses about the perils of making and maintaining eye-contact for a person trying to maintain equilibrium in a myriad social situations.
Eye contact can be a bad thing. It can bring nothing but trouble your way. Here are a few instances where eye contact got me into a few uncomfortable holes.
Cross wires with the cross-eyed
I met Abigail next to a beverage station at a conference once . It was the RM50 kinda conference so I expected nothing more than the tea you get served when you order Bubble or Milk tea at some dodgy stall in the middle of a mall, or something you can purchase in bulk from cheaptea.com. Dilmah, Earl Grey or the English Breakfast were not the order of the day. Apparently, panda dung tea is the most expensive tea on the market – yes faeces – but that’s not the point of the story. Let’s stick to faces, instead.
I was looking for familiar or friendly faces and it so happened Abigail smiled at me. At least, from my position and angle (true North, by the way), Abigail appeared to smile at me. So I walked toward her and as the distance melted away, she continued to smile and wave – only, it then became clear to me that she was actually addressing someone behind me.
Now, that’s embarrassing.
You’re at a conference and you meet someone whom you think smiled at you, maybe even liked you, but in reality she’s signaling someone else. To cover up the impending moment of utter embarrassment, I greeted her anyway with my best smile and said, “I didn’t notice your friend behind me.” But as I looked into her eyes, it dawned on me that Abigail was cross-eyed. I know her name was Abigail, given the fact that she was wearing a name-tag, because dyslexia is a whole different cup of tea. I just don’t know for sure now if she was gesturing to me or the person behind me. Either way, I felt bad on top of feeling confused.
Disappearing into ethnic eyes
I met Su-Lyn at a church event. Her smile was infectious and it was so wide it stretched all the way to her ears. She possessed a pleasant disposition and was a good conversationalist. As the meeting ended and people started to disperse, I found it extremely difficult to extricate myself from the conversation I was carrying with her.
Let it be known that, up until then, I’d never had encountered such difficulties before. Ending a conversation had always been easy. I usually needed to do nothing more than shift my gaze, divert my attention to another matter like my watch and the time on it, and look up again into my conversation partner’s eyes in preparation to bid farewell. This strategy failed miserably when it came to Su-Lyn because I had great difficulty locating her eyes. Being of Chinese descent, Su-Lyn was ‘blessed’ with the common mata sepet trait.
Finally, after taking the courage to perform an attention-grabbing move, I started scratching my back vigorously. Su-Lyn stopped in mid-sentence and expectedly asked me what the matter was. I related a quickly cooked-up tale of a one-sided love affair with panau, to which she immediately said, “Go home and apply some calamine lotion.” I smiled, my eyes naturally seeking Su-Lyn’s as she returned it, but I forgot to mention that when Su-Lyn smiled, her eyes disappeared altogether. So at that moment, I gave up at all attempts to locate them.
Imprisonment by bedroom eyes
Dave greeted me as soon as I stepped into the Starbucks outlet. The moment I looked at Dave, I could not look anywhere else. What the -? I remember asking myself. But here I recall a silly game I used to play in primary school called the ‘Staring Contest” or ‘Blinking Contest’ as it was popularly known. The one who blinks first is the loser. Well, Dave the Barista and I started an unofficial blinking contest game against our will that lasted a good 2 minutes before another crew-member shouted out some incoherent instructions and released me from my reverie. I had been sufficiently paralysed by Dave’s beautiful bedroom eyes. Now, bedroom eyes are a hazard, especially to the female gender. They’re especially hazardous when they sit on an equally captivating face because everyone around you ends up staring at you like a specimen on a petri dish.
When avoiding eye contact is wise
A colleague randomly approached me one Monday morning to tell me how her weekend went. It was a freaking Monday morning, for crying out loud, and there’s a reason why the official colour of Monday is blue. Anyway, her stories are always the same, usually revolving around how she’d gorged herself silly during the weekend and whether she looked fat that particular morning – yawn – a typical ‘shoot me now’ moment, basically. The trick when it comes to escaping yarn that you don’t want to get entangled in, is to avoid eye contact. At all cost. When said colleague walks past my cubicle these days, I quickly duck and stare straight at the computer screen to create the impression that I’m up to my eyeballs with work. Having said that, I do sometimes wonder why no one sends me lunch invitations anymore.
The key to success in life may have to do with maintaining proper eye contact but there are exceptions. Sometimes, to crawl out of a hole of embarrassment from having given eye contact in the first place, you need to close your eyes, take them off the situation or person involved, or put on sunglasse so the problem becomes a few shades harder to notice. Contact lenses may help, too. Especially the ones that make your eyes look scary and fake like those of a fish. But that would kind of defeat the purpose.
At the point of writing this article, Esther subscribes to the fallacy of “See no evil.”