Looking In The Eye

Take it from personal experience; if there’s one thing almost all introverts have in common, one pure distinguishing trait, that’s this:

Introverts usually don’t look at people in the eye when they talk. It’s a common idiosyncrasy, and is much more common than one thinks.

A large part of that is due to the fear of the unknown. Strangers are a part of that unknown — that big mass of darkness that is uncomfortable and suffocating to the senses. As introverts, we have our eyes and ears turned inwards, attuned to the secret sights and sounds of our own hearts and minds. It’s so frustrating, therefore, how these senses completely fail us when we are forced to turn them outwards, towards the unfathomable din of society. To sum it up, introverts don’t meet eyes for the same reason why bats don’t stare into sunlight. Because it’s scary, it hurts, and maybe because we tell ourselves that the world of sunlight isn’t our world, and that we don’t have to brave it.

A smaller part of that idiosyncrasy is due to prejudice — the prejudice of society, of extroverts and of the status quo. As an introvert, I’ve spent the childhood years of my life half-hating them, half-admiring them. We ask ourselves questions extroverts will never dream of: How does society hear itself? How do extroverts fit in so easily? Why does success always seem to favor extroverts? Is introversion a weakness? We’re like a species of plants, overcrowded out by another species of plants because we don’t have what it takes to survive, to populate, to selfishly reach out for sunlight and cast our shadows over the unfortunate undergrowth in the zero-sum game that is society. Introverts don’t meet eyes because we see aliens everywhere, and the gears of society cut us in the parts of our ego that we cannot even name.

The tiniest part of that idiosyncrasy is due to neither fear nor anger, and is the strangest one of all – it is due to a simple lack of need to. Most introverts access other people using themselves as the basis of judgment. When one’s eyes and ears have been turned inwards for too long, faces, features and all other peripherals no longer become crucial in one’s understanding of a person, nor in one’s development of a relationship with the person. Everything about that person is, instead, an accumulation of thoughts and memories associated with him or her, his words, actions and opinions; maybe a bit of his face and his general look, but only very generally. In fact, the closer we get to certain people, the more they would appear to us as disembodied globs of thoughts, memories, emotions and individuality. The face no longer matters, the eyes no longer matter. All that matters is that state in which they are them.

Introverts like to hold on to things, a weakness if there ever was one. They see something that’s stable and nice, and they just want it to stay that way. It takes us ages to form solid connections, and whenever that becomes threatened, we suddenly feel a desperate need to protect it from change. We want to believe that familiar things would stay familiar, but that’s a selfish impossibility, and when they don’t, we get more upset and even more confused.

The eyes stop meeting when the familiar thing about the other person’s eyes have changed.

Only a few times in my life have other introverts made themselves known to me. Stepping out of one’s own shadows indicates trust, and while it is easy to take it for granted that people generally talk to people, I know how much effort that takes for an introvert if that is done voluntarily. Sometimes, something in their voice speaks out to me, reminds me of myself and asks to be understood and appreciated, and I cannot help but want to try. I want to say, give me a chance, maybe I could do something about it. Maybe I can stick around and show you that we have the same kind of shadows, and that these shadows can be tempered to bend around you like a hood in sunlight. Extroversion isn’t something to be afraid of or a skill you can’t pick up; it’s just a mental muscle you haven’t learnt how to contract yet.

If someone doesn’t look you in the eye, he or she could be anything from fearful to arrogant, from shy to depressed. But in all of these cases, one thing you can be sure of is that he or she is living in a world of loneliness, and only the thawing of sunlight can change that.

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