Eye Contact

04/09/2013 11:54 am ET | Updated Jun 09, 2013

Dear Waldo,

I have a terrible problem I hope you can help me with. I'm a fairly quiet guy and I don't dress particularly flashy or anything. But I get pushed around and beaten up all the time. People say the reason they slug me or fling me around is that I keep staring at them. It's true. I love looking people right in the eye. Usually they look away but that's okay with me, I just keep looking right at them. Some people tending to me after they've knocked me to the ground report that they wouldn't have slugged me if I stared at their shirt or their feet or at their hat or something but why do I have to keep staring right into their eyes? What I want to know is how come most people have trouble looking each other in the eye?

Yours Truly,

Fed Up With Being Socked

Dear Fed Up,

I'm sorry that you keep getting beaten to a pulp and dragged about, but I must tell you I'm not surprised. Second only to those rabble-rousing genitals of ours, our eyeballs are the trickiest part of our bodies and can get us into horrible, horrible trouble if we're sloppy with them. When two sets of eyeballs make contact, it can be every bit as confusing and demanding as when two sets of genitals make contact, and it's clear to me that you could use some guidance in the eye contact area.

Fed Up, the difference between Eye-Contact and No-Eye-Contact is as big as the difference between, say, manslaughter and man's laughter. That is, it's quite big. It changes everything, particularly between people who do not know each other well. When eye-contact is made between strangers, it's as though some powerful cosmic switch has been thrown and on come your footlights, up goes your curtain, and like it or not, there you stand at center stage in the darkened theater of someone else's skull, alone in the spotlight and desperate for a line cue. The result for many people is some degree of flopsweat. We worry that we're being misinterpreted. That our physical flaws are being judged. That what we like about ourselves is not coming through.

In short, we worry that our act is not being bought.

Socializing is work, and many people want to get off stage as quickly as possible and plunge into the safety of their dressing rooms where the costume comes off, the make-up comes off, and the only judgments to consider are one's own.

But you, Fed Up, you don't let your actors off stage. You just keep staring at them and staring at them. In my opinion, this is why you get punched so much. And so I offer you a few tips about eye-contact on this particular planet:

In the most primitive sense, eye contact is a power play. The one who looks away first is the weaker. The weaker is the loser. Losing is no fun. When you're having no fun, you simmer. People who are simmering are more likely to punch you in the nose than people who are not simmering.

If you are talking to a person, maintaining eye contact, even when the focus is forced and fake, runs no important risks and therefore is to be encouraged. However, maintaining eye contact with people you're not talking to runs all kinds of risks of misinterpretation because, thanks to evolution-in-progress, it may seem that you want to either eat them or mount them, both of which can result in you getting socked and dragged about and so forth.

And so, Fed Up, my thinking is that unless you're talking with someone, sustained eye contact is a good idea in one and only one other scenario: When you're gazing into the eyes of your lover. Long, languid staring into each other's eyes can be a great device for intense emotional connection, particularly while making love, but it does not come without problems. Because the moment will invariably arrive during the prolonged-deep-gaze when a question begins to take shape somewhere in the billowing love-mist and before you know it, there it is rapping on the door of your frontal lobe and hollering inside: Anybody know how long this gazing thing is supposed to go on?

And now panic, because the notion of laughing has occurred to you during this tender moment. You frantically scan your options:

A. Plunge immediately into a deep kiss and keep kissing until need for oxygen seems like a refreshing distraction;

B. Fake a coughing fit that leads you into a tying of shoes which leads you into a fake back spasm which leads you into getting more comfortable with lies of any kind;

C. Keep the love-gaze going in hopes that your lover will eventually need food;

D. Tighten your eyelids in order to look more dreamy, but also in case your true thoughts happen to be moving slowly just below your pupils like a ESPN chyron;

E. Aww, to hell with it. Just do whatever you do and hope for the best, keeping in mind that staring into your eyes was probably no picnic for your partner either.

Rule of thumb on Earth: Do Not Stare Too Long Into The Eyes Of Anything Except Maybe Fish.

Fed Up, I hope this offers some guidance. Good luck.

Your Fan,

Waldo Mellon