Real Eyes Realize

Antisocial Diaries

Emma is the editor & creator (and occasionally writer) for The Messy Heads. She enjoys yellow curry, print media, and singing to herself.

Antisocial Diaries is an ongoing thread exploring the concept of connection in an age of constant connection. Written by Emma, currently living in New York City and without any social media.

Where do someone’s eyes go when you look at them?

I attended a lecture called consciousness hacking on the top floor of a bookstore in the middle of manhattan. It was around 10 pm, and drinks were included with the class fee. I snuck an extra beer and found one empty folded chair halfway back in the room. About a hundred people had gathered to talk about how to extend beyond the mind. We talked LSD, we talked shrooms, we talked Nirvana, we talked about the ego and its imminent death. The lecturer then told us that we could all have the effects of tripping on LSD right now, if we were to just stare into someone’s eyes, unmoving, unexplained, for 10 minutes.

Maybe this explains why when I look at myself in a dimly lit bathroom mirror, I start to dissociate. Or worse, I start to see my face morph into something monstrous. Start to feel my features melting off and puddling on the floor. My nose is a bit off, my mouth shouldn’t be there, I’m a puzzle not put together the right way. Whatever is looking at me, it isn’t mine. Might also be blamable on red wine and lack of sleep, but theres something melty about even looking into your own eyes. The peripheries start to go milky, colors all blurring together.

If we are to go off of the “eyes are the window to the soul” adage, then I feel sad for my little soul. Looking at my physical form and not recognizing it, confused and trying to put the pieces together. Staring at just itself, blackness to blackness, iris to iris, looking into the void and seeing beyond a physical.

Is my soul’s only escape, only identity held within my irises? I have felt people’s souls shining out of their palms and cheeks and chests, but it lays completely bare when you hold their eyes with yours. An illusion gone away. Enough to give you butterflies or plummet you into a pit of fear. Without any explanation or science, you can look into someone’s eyes and simply know. Know what their intentions are. Know what kind of person they are. Know what they are thinking.

I decide to start looking into people’s eyes more, which turns out to be trickier than I initially think.

I start with strangers in the street. I pass by maybe a thousand people a day on my meandering curves with an iced coffee up lafayette, by the waterfront, through Tompkins park, and over to the cheapest but best dumpling place ever.

I decide not to avert eye contact like I naturally do, and even with my headphones in as defense it’s quite nerve-wracking. Some people are instantly weeded out, eyes focused on a phone. After I get over my anxieties and find some eyes to stare into, I find that staring into people’s eyes makes them uncomfortable, too. I see people seek refuge in the cracks of the sidewalk or the hem of their sleeve. Some people get startled by a long stare, averting their eyes every which way, hurrying past me. Some people hold my gaze, defiant and daring. Locked in this few second battle for bravery: who is most unbothered? Then some people smile, some people smirk, and nobody says anything.

Nothing comes of these stares but me feeling like I’m looking at something I shouldn’t be. I blink hard, I wipe my hands on my jeans, wanting to get off something invisible but residual.

I try to hold long gazes with people I already know, or am just getting to know. Sitting across from someone in conversation, never ever breaking eye contact. I can’t really remember what I did with my eyes before when I was in conversation with people, but it definitely wasn’t this. It feels weirdly intimate, even with people I already know pretty well. I notice some people completely avoid my eyes, staring at some arbitrary space nine inches to the left and above my shoulder. Their stare nests there for the entire conversation. Some people bounce back and forth, making eye contact and breaking it. A few keep staring with me, holding a gaze like you would hold hands walking down the street. This makes me the most uncomfortable. It feels like the more we look into each other’s eyes the more intense it gets, the less I can keep up with a conversation, and the hotter the room gets.

I reach my own limit and look away. This only happens with a couple of people, and I notice that these people are just more okay with making direct eye contact than others. Maybe they started from an early age and are used to seeing the colors of souls casually, but I just can’t handle that.

Sitting on a friend’s kitchen floor with half empty pizza boxes on the counter, I glance back and forth between the two people I am talking to, and ask them what they think about eye contact as I try to juggle between both of their brown eyes. They both have different stories to tell. What about when you have known someone for as long as you can remember, and then you look into their eyes and feel that you don’t know them at all? What if you look into a stranger’s eyes and instantly feel as though you know them, completely and totally? How do we discern a love at first sight look from naive hopefulness? How do we know if malicious intent glinting behind someone’s eyes is really just a reflection of our own paranoia? Do other’s eyes tell us secrets of their soul, or do we just see what we want to?

Maybe I end up staring off into space more than I mean to or putting on rose colored lenses far too often. But when I came home after a long day of searching for connection through stranger’s stares and stared at my reflection, I felt comfort.

I’m not sure what that glimmer means, but I’ll keep looking.


  1. Carme says

    hmm I really liked this. I can tell i’m gonna be thinking about this all week.
    It is weird when you look someone you’ve known your whole life directly in the eye. It feels like you’re meeting them for the first time all over again, kinda like staring at your face in the mirror for too long, like you said. I tend to “forget” what people look like, it’s kind of the same feeling as saying the same word over and over again. It stops having any meaning, it doesn’t make sense anymore. I always wonder how new people see my face, am I really what I see in the mirror?
    Of course not

  2. This was such an interesting and beautiful post Emma. One day I was walking through the busy streets of London and realised how many different lives I was passing by – stories I would never get to know and it got me thinking about how eye contact could actually open a window of opportunity of getting to know a stranger. I try holding eye contact with people I pass on the streets, yet somehow I find it harder to hold it with the closest people to me during a conversation…

  3. Lia Lara says

    Your writing was as raw and intimate as locking eyes with someone should be… This is something I think about a lot and walking down the street I often try to make eye contat with people. However, on the rare oasion in which someone looks back at me I break eye contact almost instantanly just beause I am use to and it feels like that’s what I am supposed to do. I never thought muh of it but maybe now I can try to bring this into consiousness atually look into peoples souls

  4. Samantha Thach says

    You have got me thinking, Emma. I avoid eye contact madly and this has inspired me to become a little more bold. I am definitely going to start looking into people’s eyes more. Who knows what will come out of it!

  5. Sydney Rittershaus says

    This is so crazy because earlier today I went on a run with headphones in and as people were passing by, I observed their behaviors and eye contact and how uncomfortable they were when I refused to look down. It’s so interesting isn’t it? Thank you for sharing this!

  6. some people could think you’re staring at them because you think they’re something wrong with them if they’re insecure and not used to strangers looking at them.

  7. This is probably one of my favorite pieces by Emma to date.. It reminded me of the post you posted almost 2-3 years ago about looking at your face in the mirror, but with added wisdom. It’s a glance into your life without the surfaced views of social media.

  8. While reading this i whispered to myself “i love you emma”. This might seem p weird but i have hated my eyes for the longest time. They are pretty but intense, people always tell me when i look at them it feels like i’m looking at their soul hahaha. I find myself not being able to look at people in eyes because i don’t want to make them uncomfortable.. it always feel as if i’m looking at something i shouldn’t, like you said. I’m now trying to embrace them more, to look at people in the eyes to find connection, vulnerability.

  9. alyshia guan says

    if my screen is a window then this piece is soul- and you do a fine job of illustrating such an infinite being through language Emma thank you for sharing

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