Avert Thine Eyes

"Don't look! Keep your eyes shut!"
“Don’t look! Keep your eyes shut!”

As a child, I would say I was relatively shy. I pretty much kept quiet and only engaged in conversations when others initiated the interactions. I didn’t go out of my way to talk to people about things until I had prior talks with that person. I could probably say that this was the case even with my own family. I got along fine with my cousins, but when it came to aunts, uncles, and grandparents, I still felt a bit uneasy.

I don’t know if this is necessarily a cultural thing, but for the longest time, I’ve had great difficulty making and maintaining eye contact with people. I believe this is generally the case for particular Asian cultures like China and Japan, as extended eye contact may appear as a sign of challenge or disrespect. As for Filipinos, I’m not too sure if that’s the case. For me personally, it made me uncomfortable. Sure, I wasn’t going to get my face melted off by the wrath of God. It just felt intrusive. I felt as if their eyes were piercing me when my gaze matched theirs. I would often look off into the distance behind the person, on the person indirectly, or on other things during conversations. I would make sure to stay engaged in the conversation in other ways such as nodding and giving verbal acknowledgements. I would try my best to pass some glances to their face every now and then. Anything but prolonged matching of the eyes, and I was okay.

dead tired
It’s probably more like this
Don't worry, it's not like this
Don’t worry, it’s not like this

I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m shy today (slightly, I suppose… maybe reserved), but I still have to make a conscious effort to make eye contact with those I talk to. It’s not that I’m disinterested or not paying attention to you, it’s just how I am. I suppose this can be a bad thing if the person I’m talking to isn’t aware of the cultural and personal differences I have about such things. I suppose this can be particularly problematic in work-related matters. I often wonder if my boss thinks I’m droning off or not paying attention during our conversations. The fact that I often multitask in the office doesn’t help.

I have good reason not to look at you directly.
I have good reason not to look at you directly.

So if we’re engaged in a conversation and you see me looking around, I hope you don’t feel bad. I am paying attention. Just know that it still is a little bit of a struggle to maintain my gaze on you. Just know that I am trying really, really hard to communicate my interest physically. Mentally, I’m there. Trust me. Visually, well… I’m working on it.