Michael Ellsberg invented a singles event called Eye Gazing, which took off like an addiction in NYC (“NY’s hottest dating trend” according to Elle) and has been featured in media around the world, ranging from CNN to The Guardian and others.
It is similar to speed dating but different in one fundamental respect—no speaking is permitted.
It involves looking into the eyes of each partner for 2-3 minutes at a time. If you go to such an event, as I did for the first time last Tuesday night, it becomes clear how uncomfortable most people are doing this. I don’t think it’s necessarily the best way to meet your match (and it can attract some strange people, especially in SF), but it’s a very telling social experiment.
For the next two days, test gazing into the eyes of others—whether people you pass on the street or conversational partners—until they break contact.
Here are three tips…
1. Focus on one of their eyes, not both, and be sure to blink occasionally so you don’t look like a psychopath or get your ass kicked. It’s not sustained eye contact, it’s too infrequent blinking, that makes people feel uncomfortable.
2. In conversation, focus on maintaining eye contact when you are speaking. It’s easy to do while listening.
3. Practice with people bigger or more confident than yourself. If a passer-by asks you what the hell you’re staring at, just smile and respond: “Sorry about that. I thought you were an old friend of mine.”
I first met Michael through a mutual friend because I was studying Cuban salsa, which Michael teaches, in South America at the time in 2005. It was through salsa that he came up with the idea of taking one of its strongest elements–eye contact–and isolating it.
It is possible to condition yourself to discomfort and overcome it.
Expect some butterflies and sweat with this exercise—that’s the entire point. Practicing uncommon behavioral conditioning on a micro level–maintaining eye contact in this case–has surprising transfer to larger macro-level decisions and behaviors, parallel to the controversial “test driving” of new friends I explored several months ago.
Remember: there is a direct correlation between an increased sphere of comfort–and hence a broader menu of options–and creating an ideal lifestyle.
Get uncomfortable for the next 48 hours and share your experiences, opinions, and suggestions.
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Posted on: February 17, 2008.
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