Eye contact can be challenging for me sometimes. I know it’s important, I know it makes people feel heard and connected, but damn it be awks sometimes. It’s incredibly intimate and makes you feel seen. It reminds you that, hey, you are right there. That’s you.
A good friend of mine got married this past summer and after the ceremony she pointed something out to me I hadn’t realized before.
“You have to maintain eye contact for a long time. Like, way too long,” she said, a fellow introvert who probably is as much of a fan of eye contact as I am.
I’d never thought of this. Over the past few years I’ve been to a lot of weddings. A lot. If weddings were Cheetos and I was pouring myself a bowl for the past two years that bowl would be full. You know what I mean? Cheeto metaphor?
Jared and I have attended so many weddings we foolishly thought planning a wedding would be easy. We thought it would be as breezy as a sailboat on a windy day. We got this, we smugly muttered to each other after we got engaged. We’ve seen sooo many weddings.
Now, eleven months later, my hair has literally been falling out in chunks. I’ve been dreaming about DJs throwing soda cans at my face (what is that about?) and I’m waking up in cold sweats more often than a character in a low-budget horror film. Shit’s been real.
I keep joking with Jared that we need to practice eye contact for our wedding ceremony. We’re gona be standing up there, holding hands, and staring into each other’s eyes for a long time. I’ve probably never looked someone in the eye for longer than .03 seconds unless they were a poster of Leo DiCaprio from Titanic.
The other day Jared and I went and picked up our marriage license. But *spoiler alert* nobody told us we would have to take an oath. As in, an employee of the county stands up from his desk, raises his hand in the middle of the open-air office while the person next to us is trying to take his ex-wife off his trust, and makes us take an oath.
We raised our hands as well, since we were asked to and we’re little string puppets when it comes to official government business, and listened as he rambled official marriage license jargon at us. Something about the information being accurate, etc etc. But the whole time all I could think about was how weird it was to be staring into a strangers eyes while my hand was in the air and someone nearby was talking about registering his boat.
I had to force myself to stare into his eyes. Then I said “I do.” Good practice for the upcoming wedding ceremony. I nailed it.
People with anxiety (and even those who don’t have anxiety) can often struggle with eye contact. When I worked with children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder we had a variety of games and activities all tailored specifically to encourage eye contact. It’s a basic form of human engagement, and yet it can be challenging.
As our wedding approaches faster and faster I keep thinking about the intimacy of eye contact and how Jared and I need to start practicing it for 30 minute increments at a time. But, for now, maybe I’ll swing by the country administrative office again and ask an employee to raise their right hand and ask me if I am who I say I am. In the words of Sylvia Plath, I am, I am, I am.