Dating without Speaking? The Weird World of Eye Gazing Parties

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.

What are you looking at?

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31 Replies to “Dating without Speaking? The Weird World of Eye Gazing Parties”

  1. Did you attend an eye gazing event prior to writing this in your book, or did you just like to experiment with the uncomfortable feeling of extended eye contact?

    About two weeks ago I went to watch my youngest sister do runway modeling for a clothing company here in Santa Cruz. One of the ladies — probably about 35 — did not blink the entire time, and she seemed to be trying open her eyes unnaturally wide. Well, the first thought that came to mind was “psychopath” because of what you wrote and I burst into laughter. Talk about uncomfortable…thanks.

  2. Hey Tim,

    Good to see you are having fun at the Gazing event! Looks like a blast… I couldn’t tell from the news piece, is there music playing while you are gazing away?

    It would seem not since it’s supposed to be free from distractions.

    Always fun to catch your blog!



    Hi Erik,

    There is music playing, but they accidentally forgot to put it on for one session and everyone enjoyed the silent gazing, which is definitely more intimate.


  3. Tim, I feel that this is just another flavor of your phone number request exercise from your book.

    ( so I combined the two a few minutes ago – )

    My results – local grocery store ( just got back ) … I gazed at 4 different women and got one BIG return gaze/smile … and one phone number.

    I think it makes the ‘gaze-e’ feel more comfortable with your eye contact if you smile a bit while you are gazing.

    This may sound silly but , … I practiced in front of a mirror for a bit until you find the ‘smile’ that doesn’t look like you are about to start doing an impression of Jerry Lewis …

  4. Reminds me of something called a “Quiet Party” that I attended years ago in DC.

    There’s no talking/cellphones/music/anything allowed, but you’re given a stack of 3×5″ note cards to write/doodle your way into someone’s heart.

  5. Hey Tim;

    I started working in a new office 6 weeks ago. It’s a software joint (with a surprising amount of stunning women). the whole office is a big circle around the building, so you’re always crossing paths with people going the other way. I’ve taken to the smile/wave/nod with pretty much everyone. But it’s really impressive how many honest smiles you’ll get from the ladies if you actually look them in the eyes when you do smile.

    A buddy of mine is a “religious group” that actually have a “drill” for this. They actually have to learn to stare at each other and they have to approach random people and start up conversation. The “experienced practitioners” have these deep stares and like no fear about talking to people.

    I think the average person could really benefit from doing such “drills” (which you talk about here and in the book). Point being, you don’t need to join an “interesting” group of people to learn these useful skills, just listen to Tim!

  6. Beautiful women are (unknowingly) geniuses when it comes to finding the “alpha” guys. One of the ways they have traditionally tested men (again, not on purpose) is by eye-gazing. It’s kind of a $hit test… you break eye-contact first and you’re out. This works with women because it works with men: in societies with strict pecking orders, the beta males risk their lives when they don’t break contact first. It’s an interesting phenomenon.


  7. Hey Tim ~

    I love the idea of eye gazing. I’ve been practicing being more courageous in my eye contact with people for a while now. It’s especially challenging as a woman because we have to fight a lot of social conditioning that automatically has us going into submissive mode anytime we feel threatened which, depending on circumstances, can be as often as any time you cross paths with a man. I sometimes have trouble fighting the urge to look at the ground when a man approaches in the opposite direction and I consider myself a pretty fearless chick! A couple of years of kung fu will do that for you. :o)

    In my gazing experiments I’ve also found men usually expect you to do the whole submissive thing, so how fun to discover that when I stick to my guns and return a gaze, the roles reverse and the man often gets uncomfortable and awkward!

    Attending one of these eye gazing parties sounds like a fun adventure.

    Thanks for sharing.

    And on a side note…

    If you don’t consider eye gazing the best way to meet your match, what do you consider the best ways? You’re always experimenting and trying unconventional things out so curious about your musings as far as finding a match go.


    Hi Kai,

    I love the role reversal. So true and also common between employee/boss if you get good at eye contact. It’s very powerful.

    For best places to find matches, I’ll let you know when I find mine 😉


  8. Ok,

    So how would you rate this event? 1-10( 10 being the best)? Seem ok,……how did you know it was in Elle mag ?

    Enjoy yourself

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  9. This is one of the craziest dating trends I have ever heard of, and I have heard of many. I love it. Don’t know if I would try it myself. My girlfriend might think I am weird. Is it cheating to stare into another woman’s eyes?

  10. I find it very hard to look in somebody’s eyes while talking.

    I get totally distracted. For me it’s very intimate and feels kind of electric.

    I only do it with women I’m attracted to, so if I do it with somebody else it’s like there is an attraction.

    If men look me straight in the eyes while talking, I avoid it or focus on a point between their eyes. For them it’s like I’m looking them in the eyes, but actually I’m not.

    I’m sure I could practice looking in a woman’s eyes and concentrate on talking at the same time, but I hate to loose that magnetic feeling of really looking.

    (I’m sorry if my English seems strange, I’m not English-speaking)

  11. I liked the playfulness of the video. And, I like what the exercise promotes – openness, honesty, genuine connection, etc. I think it’s important that Tim is widening the field – suggesting that this be done not only in the context of one’s dating life – but on a basic human interaction level as well.

    I’m not at all scared of holding sustained eye contact with people, but have learned that I prefer flying under the radar. It’s not about being submissive, it’s just about choice. I want to very consciously choose when, where, how and by whom I get noticed. A party of random people would not be my thing.

    Tim talks in his book about bending reality to one’s will. I think it’s the same with relationships. People can learn to bend them to their will – not manipulating others – free will is key to healthy relationships – but molding the relationship itself to be what you want.

    Any of us that are single might think that we’re trying to find the right mate. But, if we do a really honest assessment of our lives, perhaps we realize that now may not be the right time to find a life partner. So what to do instead? Determine exactly what you do need most right now. A supportive, romantic friend? Physical gratification? Someone to challenge you intellectually? Recognizing what you need most right now doesn’t limit the relationship to only that exchange – in fact in my experience it will often lead to a great deal more – but it does provide a starting point for your own enjoyment and evolution. Sort of like the micro/macro way that Tim describes the eye gazing exercise. If you don’t know how to get a limited set of needs met within a controlled relationship, how do you expect to be successful in an unlimited life-long relationship?

    Personally, I like the sense of protection that relationships offers. For the most part, I would rather be in a relationship than be single. It may sound like I am co-dependent, but I am not. I like the way relationships shelter me from psychic static. I don’t want to be out there meeting gobs of people – I know that I’m easily influenced and emotionally impacted – so I limit my access to potential relationships (my version of information overload) deliberately.

    This works really, really well for me. I get treated the way I want to be treated. I share as much of myself as the relationship merits – no more, no less.

    All without exposing myself to “psychopaths”. ; )

  12. Fun post! Eye communication really seems to be one of those ways that our animal nature shines through.

    Don’t laugh, but I’ve found that going through the same exercise with cats & dogs is a great way to play with eye communication and see what a big impact it can have. By staring a dog in the eyes (not just looking but staring with intensity) you can often solicit a bark, whine, growl, etc. Same works for cats, though they may not react vocally, just in the body tensing, hair raising, etc. But just as eye contact can rile them up, it can also calm them down — if you look a cat in the eyes, then go half lidded and blink, the cat will usually relax and do the same. Animals can sense the intent of the eye contact, and people do too, though maybe not always consciously.

    I’ve found that staring experiment can be a lot of fun when you add an element of purpose to it-—i.e., not just staring at someone for the sake of holding eye contact for 3 seconds, but in order to try communicating something specific with a gaze.

    For example, when talking to a good friend, look them in the eye with genuine interest and care; a child, show that you take everything they say seriously; with a romantic interest/lover, use flirt and desire; with a driver trying to barrel through the cross walk, total impudence and immovability. It’s fun to see how people react, and often good for relationships (when they’re relationships you care about!).

  13. If you’re intrigued by this, try “soul gazing” (just Google it if curious). It involves sustained eye contact during intimacy. It can make an intimate encounter VERY intense. I’d just recommend doing it with someone you already have a strong emotional attachment with (or someone you wouldn’t mind becoming attached to) as it can bring out some very strong emotions.

  14. Tim,

    Really interesting stuff. I’ve never tried it but as a regular member of the local Salsa scene, I definitely don’t need any convincing. I suppose it’s not surprising that that’s where the idea came from. It’s amazing how powerful and telling eye contact can be, not to mention how uncomfortable. Though at the same time, it’s definitely an amazingly arousing experience. I noticed in the video that some people seemed to hold hands while others did not? Seems like that might also make a huge difference. Which is the standard? Have you noticed a major difference between the two?

    I’ll have to try it.

  15. Tim,

    I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds amazing. Eye contact is critical to communicating confidence and attention. But too many people are uncomfortable with it. I concur that practicing eye contact will serve you well in life. Especially if you learn to do it with empathy and curiosity and leave your anxiety behind.

  16. I had to post this for everyone to SEE! These are my top 3 favorite gazing experiences. I’m getting better at it – and the situations are getting quite comical.

  17. Yeah. I remember when I tried out eyegazing in a meeting with my boss. I backed down after a couple minutes, but now that I’ve gotten used to it, we’re “gazing” more as equals now.

  18. I do this all the time with my girlfriend, when we run out of things to talk about!

    Plenty of communication can happen non-verbally.

  19. This is a great challenge. I remember a couple years ago I did something similar where I had to smile and say hello to 10 people every day that I didn’t know. I’m sure that it brightens up the day for a few people, but it was nothing compared to the energy it gave ME.

  20. ok, so um, what if you’re blind? It is about the view, or simply seeing someone’s truth beyond the facade and act that everyone arms themselves with? Can the same be achieved by touching someone?

  21. Not that I read those kinds of books (::blush::) but there is a book called “How to Make Anyone Fall In Love With You,” that really emphasizes how to use eye contact to your advantage. Personally, I HATE it when someone fixes me with an unblinking, reptilian stare, but the looking, then looking away, then looking back again seems to communicate interest to men in a way they understand (plus it takes very little effort and it’s cheaper than outsourcing my yahoo instant messenger).

    Also, I don’t understand how a guy who does ballroom dancing can have any trouble whatsoever meeting women. Have you tried It’s not really a dating site, it’s just for people looking for dance partners (but there’s a place on the questionnaire you can specify if you’re open to dating or not).

    On the same note, but I don’t know how popular it is out west, contra dancing has a reputation for pairing up couples (lots of contra dancers wind up marrying people they meet at the dances). Just a suggestion. Plus, it falls under the category of “living” rather than outsourcing. I think if you can get the job done as part of the “living” end of the plan, rather than the automating-and-outsourcing part of the plan, isn’t that more in line with the plan??? Color me confused.

    On completely different note: I was driving to lunch today and brainstormed an idea for a business I could launch and automate, using drop shipping or even commissionjunction-style affilate sales, but I don’t know how to go about getting it up on a web site (plus, it might have some legal implications as far as tax laws and employee benefits laws, etc…) How do I find someone to talk to about it, who I can be fairly confident won’t steal my idea??

  22. Very Interesting. I had NO idea that this had become a dating trend. Makes sense, don’t you think?

    I make it a habit to gaze into people’s eyes as much as possible, both professinally and personally. Eyes and how a person uses them (or doesn’t use them) as they speak to you, is always telling of the person, as well as, how they respond and receive you.

    I will not partner (romantically or professionally) with anyone who cannot substain eye contact with me. Maybe it’s the alpha female in me. Who knows?

  23. A few years ago, In a self-improvement project, I joined the pickup-artist community, and at a convention this was the same eye-gazing exercise…..with the other males attending. The results were amusing” pitting testosterone with others. This ebb and flow of dominance. In particular it was fun to see how long one could go before smiling before smiling to relieve pressure..smiling by the way is a pressure reliever.

    I’ve historically been either completely avoidant during normal interaction or stare down. It’s not so much as fear, as I just don’t care to interact with most people, and want to be left uninterrupted. Of course when ‘dating’ this isn’t appropriate, and ironically people that are attractive I tended to be shy about so don’t make eye contact and drop voice projection.

    A strategy I developed to help, was inspired from Mystery ( suggested a desensitizing session. Say initially fearful of clubs, what he recommends going to a place with no expectations..scouting it out so it’s not novel, growing familiar, so that making the additional steps is less difficult. It’s sillly to think how just knowing where the bartender and the bathroom is can make things easier.

    Similar thing applies to eyegazing. So I practiced 1) getting photos from sites (google, various dating sites) of people I found attractive and didn’t find attractive and focused on maintaining eye contact with them completely virtually. It seems silly, but it helped greatly in letting me maintain a connection with people, and spilled into other areas of my real life, like bosses. The goal of course is not to stare down, but rather form connections as desired and not be artificially limited by ingrained social convention.

    This is a great exercise right up there kinda like laying down on the sidewalk or the middle of a busy mall.