Second in a series [gs *]
Let’s back up a bit, before we delve into exactly what happened at lunch. The whole eye-contact thing needs more context, because that’s where it all began.
Let’s also pause for a disclaimer – I’ve been busy lately. I’ve had this discussion of “I used to be a whore” many times in the past nine months. And several times recently, among people looking for better ways of working together (it seems to be a hot topic everywhere lately, and I’ve been riding that wave). So, if you were present for one of these discussions, please don’t guess that you know who I’m talking about – it could have been any number of guys. And that’s somewhat the point – there’s nothing all that unique about this particular man, relative to the gooey-muddle we fell into.
Just as I represent both more and less than me in this story (standing in, as I do, for an archetype), he too gets the honor of representing his type. He didn’t ask me to put him in my blog, like an insect specimen pinned to black velvet. But I didn’t ask him to stomp through my mine-fields, trigger a volley of explosions, and consume hours and hours of my life parsing the nuances of his generic offenses. Then again, maybe I did, and maybe he did too. I always believe we get precisely what we need in a given moment.
In any case, I’ve chosen to write about our mini-disaster, but let’s try not to make it personal. Don’t think about who he might be as an individual, just think of him as an example, an archetype, a man-boy struggling through the inherent hazards of groping his way through the dark towards manhood.
Anyway, back to the group: the discussion had got round to a certain point where I knew, in a flash, that I was going to say my piece. How this fits in the context – how I justify to myself that I’m not just high-jacking conversations that had other goals – had to do with the challenges to how we show up fully and authentically, and how we deal with each other in that space. My story was an opportunity for everyone to practice.
From the moment I uttered my words, his eyes were riveted on me. Smiling. He’d already spoken enough that I’d assessed him, provisionally, as intelligent, self-aware, serious about the topics at hand, grown-up – I didn’t feel threatened or unpleasantly scrutinized by his intensity. He’s not a freak.
In fact, I live at a certain level of intensity myself and generally find an intense openness far preferable to safe, superficial, conventional interactions. And to me, intense eye contact is pretty much normal. I long ago taught myself not to do the exact thing he was doing to me, peering inside another, overtly, intently – because I’d learned the hard way that it makes people uncomfortable. But that’s still my default mode, which gets overridden in certain (no, most) contexts. Eye contact, in itself, can never unnerve me. If you stare, I stare back.
In addition, I’ve spent much of my life among people engaging in various (and often sundry) kinds of spiritual practices, personal growth programs, and so on. Unless they’re trying to tell me what to think or how to live, I’m perfectly comfortable, and usually fairly familiar, with whatever they’re up to. And deep eye contact often seems to go along with most of those practices. At least that’s been my observation.
What I’m saying is – it’s not a big deal to me one way or the other. Deep eye contact or avoidance, each person has the place where they’ll connect and I can meet them there.
But in my experience, eye contact doesn’t have a single meaning. I used to have a restaurant boss, a cook, who, if you didn’t stare him down, hard, as he moved into his nightly rage, you’d be the one he took it out on. Years before that, I once spent about 10 minutes (or maybe just 2. . .) in deep eye contact with a huge teen-aged boy who was holding a gun to my head and swearing he would kill me (I’d fired from his first job him earlier that day). By my figuring, there are as many messages conveyed in the eyes as there are in any other mode of communication.
So, in this meeting, I notice this guy’s response and return it for awhile, then I go back to letting my eyes follow the group’s conversation around the circle. But every time I glance his way, his eyes are there, ready to meet mine, with a warm, welcoming smile. When he talks, his words are supportive and affirming of my openness and my story. I interpret that as friendly.
I’m not sure what’s up with him, but I’m curious. He’s sincere, seems to have something he wants to say to me, and is young enough that I can’t imagine what his intentions could be at all untoward.
So when he approaches me later to suggest we get together, I figure ‘why not?’ It’s just lunch.