Look away, look away NOW!

Good eye contact doesn’t come naturally to me.
I look at a person and I am constantly directing myself  to look.

And action:
Yes, that’s right keep looking,
Now stop, that’s too much.
Look away, look away now.
Look over their shoulder.
That’s right.
Now you can look back at them.
What nice eyes they have, they have little flecks of brown in the green.
You’re staring again.
Look away now.
And down at the clothing.
Not too low.
And look back at their eyes again.

I can stare at my husband and it’s okay. I don’t find myself directing my eye contact with loved ones. With immediate family. I don’t have to think.
With people I know well I still have to direct myself. With strangers more so. Why doesn’t it come naturally? I have been around long enough. I have watched enough people and how they interact with each other.

How long should you actually look at someone before looking away? If looking at someone shows interest in what they are saying and shows your own confidence then what impression do we give if we don’t follow the normal social behaviour? If we make eye contact with a person of the opposite sex does that automatically mean we are interested? I hope not. Because I like to look at everything. Sometimes I am so busy looking that my hearing shuts down. I then have to ask the person to repeat what they said. I cannot talk and drive well. I used to try and do eye contact while I drove but that freaked out my husband. Naturally. I have learned not to do that. I only look front now even if I talk. I know that driving takes priority over talking.

When does a look become a stare?
If we look for too long, forming a stare, does that present itself as a challenge, such as to authority or hierarchy?
If we barely look someone in the eye does that mean respect or shame in trying to hide something?

Max was describing  in a post here how he was approached by security guards at a station and questioned because of his unnatural body movements. He has Aspergers. Reading this triggered my memory of the bus stop incident. I have only begun to understand Aspergers but it all clicks into place for me that I find it to be such a relief and wonderful that I understand so many people and I can relate to their experiences.

This happened many years ago but I remember most of it as it were yesterday. I was waiting at a bus stop in the centre of town on a Friday night. I was going home.  I had already said goodbye to my friend and I was by myself. I used to wear a large navy army coat. It kept me warm and I thought it looked trendy at the time. Anyway my bus arrived and I went to get on. The driver said you’re not getting on. I looked at him in shock. Speechless. I might have said pardon. I can’t remember exactly what I said. I was the most polite child. Behaved well in public. I looked innocent. I didn’t look the rebel type or dye my hair. I was stunned by this rejection. I recovered myself and asked him why not. He said because I was sniffing glue. At first I was insulted. What me? That would have been the last thing on my mind to do. I had a large coat on that was all. I showed him the inside of my coat but he didn’t believe me. He thought I was hiding a glue bag. Again insulting. He read me so wrong. My memory and I were so disturbed by this incident that I don’t remember if I had to wait for the next bus or the driver reluctantly let me on.

I realise now that my poor eye contact must have alerted the driver that I was trying to hide something in my coat. My body movements may have been stiff or rigid or unnatural.  Again stacking the deck against me. I may have been feeling the lining of the coat with my face. It was fluffy and soft. He must have looked at me and summed up that I was trouble and that my actions appeared like someone he had to deal with at an earlier time. He didn’t want trouble. At the time I had no idea that I had Aspergers. Understanding this incident helps me now. Even if I knew then that I had Aspergers and tried to explain to the driver he wouldn’t have believed me because there was no knowledge of the topic of Autism to the genneral public. The film Rain Man hadn’t been released yet. And for a girl to have Aspergers. Well. This incident no longer bothers me.

In reality the issue may have been with the driver and seeing me could have triggered a memory of a violent situation on the job with a youth from an earlier time. Perhaps he panicked and decided to reduce the chance of being accosted. I don’t blame him. A lot of the time we see things only from our own perspective and of course other people view life differently regardless if they are on the spectrum or not. That’s human nature.

Ane Brun – Do You Remember

2 thoughts on “Look away, look away NOW!

  1. Hello again: So much of these eye contact “rules” are culturally determined, and I think it originates in our animal instincts: I can remember (when substitute teaching) a complaint from teachers who said that African American children were “deceptive” “hiding something” because they wouldn’t look an adult straight in the eyes! In Black culture, it’s IMPOLITE for a child to stare – it’s defiant. I do think it goes back to predator / prey behavior: large carnivores STARE at prey; prey avoid eye contact. I think Aspergers see many social humans as being aggressive (they are). When children, we react as prey: if we can get away, we will. If not, we avoid eye contact. Adults in Western cultures want children to “pay attention” – to make eye contact, both as a sign of obedience, and a test of how aggressive the child is, since aggression is actually admired in the West. We appear weak, deceptive and pretty worthless to the typical social person.

    • Thanks for sharing Gone Wild. Different cultures certainly do have different rules. I found living in Asia more relaxing for a lot of reasons, the eye contact for one. Then you add the male/female societal roles. Assertion is acceptable for a man but seen as aggression if projected by a woman. Trying to imitate the “game” in the West is confusing and full of white lies, loudness, posturing and frankly I don’t like playing. I would rather skip that completely. If we treated everyone equally then there would be no need to appear intimidating, loud or show dominance. For a typical social person this would cause great discomfort. For me it would be ideal.
      Today was a good eye contact day for me, I met only Chinese and Indian cultures today. I feel like a stranger in my own culture and feel more at home in a multicultural society.

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