Faking Eye Contact

Given my recent interview, I thought this would be a good thing to address today.

You would never guess that I have autism based on my eye contact. I can look at someone for an entire conversation without looking away. But the thing is that I’m really not looking into their eyes during that time. I am completely faking it.

In fact, I fake it so well that I even manage to convince myself. In the past couple weeks though I have realized something that has nearly made me laugh out loud during my conversations. I almost never actually make eye contact. (That’s not the funny part.) The funny part is that people think I’m making eye contact. I find it hilarious that people have no idea that I’m not actually looking into their eyes.

What’s my secret?

I look at people’s eye lashes or the skin just beneath their eyes or their nose or their eye lid. Only every once in a while do I get caught in actual eye contact with someone and need to look away.

How do I know that people think I’m making eye contact?

Your eyes can’t focus on two places at once. Therefore it is impossible to look someone in both eyes at one time. So to compensate for this, your eyes move back and forth between looking at each eye. When someone is looking into your eyes you can sometimes see this back and forth movement. However, if someone isn’t looking into your eyes, their eyes probably won’t move back and forth because they are not constantly shifting focus between your eyes.

So I can sometimes notice someone’s eyes moving back and forth between mine and realize that they’re actually looking into my eyes, but I’m not really looking into theirs. In fact, this is a trick many people use without realizing it. If you get caught up looking into someone’s eyes it can be a very intense experience, but if you simply look at someone’s eyes it doesn’t have the same emotional effect.

Eye Contact

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at looking people in the eye when I talk to them. Sometimes I find myself looking away and have to bring my gaze back to the person I’m talking to, but looking people in the eye isn’t as uncomfortable as it was a few years ago.

I can’t exactly explain why looking people in the eye is so difficult or uncomfortable, but I think it has something to do with the intensity of looking into someone’s eyes. “The eye is the window to the soul.” I think that when people look me in the eye I feel that statement very much sometimes, like they are looking inside me and that feeling is very uncomfortable. It makes it feel like your insides are churning and you can only get relief by looking away.

I think now that I understand why eye contact is so important, it is easier to look people in the eye when I’m talking to them. Although it still is uncomfortable looking someone in the eye, my understanding of the purpose of eye contact makes it more bearable and makes me feel more comfortable with it. I think I also focus more on the conversation and what the person is saying so eye contact isn’t in the forefront of my mind.

I also don’t think that this is something I could have overcome by just deciding one day to start looking people in the eye. I think that it was a combination of becoming more comfortable with conversing with people and with making a decision to improve my social skills. Looking people in the eye was just another aspect of improving my social skills and I slowly got better at it by practicing looking people in the eye when I talked to them. Sometimes it was only for a few moments in a conversation, but I now can look someone in the eye for a full conversation and only look away when it is appropriate to do so.