blogging · eye contact · people · perception · strangers · writing

Face in a Crowd

What do people see when they look at me? What draws them to glance my way in the first place, and what makes them stare for a few seconds longer than usual? These are questions I wonder about often. Was it something I did to catch their attention or are they searching for something in me that has sparked their interest?

Sometimes the feeling seems to be mutual between me and the person in the crowd. Or maybe it only is because I think it is. I could be misinterpreting the person’s signals because of whatever emotional state I am in.

The last person I looked at in this manner was a guy in a department store who appeared to be close to my age. My motivations behind why I look at people can vary. In this case, I guess I was curious. I didn’t peer in his direction with the knowledge he was already there, but he happened to be in my line of sight as I turned and so my eyes fell on him. His gaze pinned on me about a second later after he noticed my staring. How do people know which person to seek out when they can feel they are being looked at? It’s a weird instinct all people, including me, seem to have.

I really suck at reading people’s expressions, even if I believe eyes are a window into a person’s inner soul. The longer I looked as the seconds ticked by, the more frustrated I felt that I couldn’t get a clear read on his face; probably because he wasn’t settling on just one emotion as he also seemed to be taking in my glance and sizing me up as well. I thought I saw some uncertainty in his eyes and maybe a sliver of curiosity. For a moment I considered offering up a small smile to prove I was harmless. I didn’t do it because it’s not like the movies where two strangers share a meaningful nonverbal interaction and understand each other without saying one word. If anything, there is always that chance in real life that smiling at a stranger can cause a misinterpretation of the intention behind the action. I freaked at the idea he might think I was hitting on him or being weird for no reason.

In the end I looked away and walked off towards the exit. I wondered if he was still watching me but I didn’t peek to check. In the short span of time when my attention was on him, I had fleeting questions in my mind about who he was and what he was doing there. It was like thinking those things unconsciously and not realizing it until I broke eye contact. I felt let down in knowing I would never get answers to my ponderings. It’s not as if I haven’t experienced this situation before; being curious and wanting to know a person beyond just their face. And although the disappointment sets in, it also goes away just as fast because there’s nothing tethering me to the person. I may have remembered his face in the hour after the encounter but now all I have is a fuzzy recollection of some guy. Just a blurry face in a crowd.

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