How to successfully avoid eye contact

Postscript examines the various tactics of the socially awkward

Sometimes, making small talk is just too hard.
Sometimes, making small talk is just too hard.

It’s that classic moment of panic when your gaze meets the gaze of another. You’ve just groggily stumbled out of your 8:30 class Friday morning with makeup from last night’s excursion to Ale House smeared all over your face, wearing well-worn flannel pajamas and your bed hair carefully tucked into your hood. You wouldn’t call this your best look. Three hours of sleep just doesn’t do you justice.  Then, you’re faced with the inevitable: the gaze of a sort-of acquaintance.

Your first instinct is to run. “Fight or flight” is ingrained into your DNA. Learn to love it. Then comes the desperate hope that maybe it’s not really who you think it is. Yet this hope brings about fleeting disappointment, that maybe you would actually like to run into someone you know and have a conversation, some form of human interaction, as opposed to being captured by the mind-numbing spell of the television screen.  

You hold the gaze for another second.  

And then you look away. Upwards, downwards, left, right, diagonally, it doesn’t matter. The eye flick has occurred, its sole purpose to avoid the emotional discomfort of recognition. You and the maybe-stranger have managed to avoid the awkward hellos, uncomfortable pauses and tiresome chit-chat punctuated with non-stop fidgeting and escape planning.

When you finally pull your eyes away from each other, your heart rate slowly returns to normal, the sweat on your palm evaporates and all you’re left with is ‘why am I such an idiot?’ 

Several eye flick identities exist, all of which you can try out to your heart’s content in order to find the one that fits you best.

The mp3 fiddler: This move is for the music junkies out there. In order to carry out this move, one must have a music player of some variety. Immediately after the eye flick has occurred, extract the music player of choice and pretend to be intently focused on the song selection at hand.

The watch gazer: This move is geared for those go-getters on the go. Chock full of commitments, your time is a-wasting. A casual glance at the watch sends the message that you are much too busy to spend your time on chit-chat, even if you wanted to.

The backpack rummager: A personal favorite of mine, this move is for those who are ridiculously unorganized and happen to be constantly searching for essential objects while rushing to class. Legit rummaging or not, this move needs to be perfected, as it is imperative that your bag does not completely fall apart, scattering your prized possessions all over the road. This mishap will draw more attention to yourself as opposed to helping you remain anonymous.

The clothes adjuster: This move is catered to the perfectionists out there. Whether you’re picking lint off your sweater or readjusting the hem of your shirt, a passerby will believe that your lack of acknowledgement was not intentional, but just a by-product of the pursuit of fashion.

The cell phone poser: This move is best left for those with an air of utter confidence. Nonchalantly fish the phone out from your pocket and pretend to be immersed in searching for an essential phone number or a rousing game of SMS tag.

The head scratcher: Find yourself propless? Never fear.  A subtle hair flick or scratch of the head while looking in the opposite direction gives off an air of deep thought. No one would want to disturb you while you are in a moment of pure Zen.

There are people on campus who seem to know everyone else on campus. They have a remarkable ability to remember everyone’s names and faces, reintroduce themselves to others and act like a normal human being. Walking down University with such people, you are inundated by introductions to scores of people that you know you will never talk to again due to your skillful avoidance tactics. You wonder what it would be like to be such a person.

But on second thought, you begin to imagine how much earlier you would have to wake up every morning, if you know you would undergo 15 conversations en route to every class. You realize that you really do value sleep above all else—which is OK, because you’re a university student.   

So here’s my confession. While I have referred to “you” throughout this article, I really do mean me. But I do have some hope that someone else will read this and relate to it in some form, and that perhaps I’m not the only neurotic, socially inept person here at Queen’s.

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