A while back Nicole was telling us how it was she came to be at a dollar store lying to a stranger about having a boyfriend. Half an hour earlier, Nicole was in church. There she made eye contact with a fellow parishioner. He smiled and she smiled back. After church, she went to the dollar store and as she was leaving with her pack of gum and gift bag, the Church Goer was walking in. He smiled and asked if he had just seen Nicole at church. He then asked her to walk her to her car (less than 20 feet from the exit) and then asked her, “her situation” to which she lied and said she had a boyfriend. He then left and Nicole survived to warn us all of the dangers of making eye contact with strangers — yes, even in church.
Accidental eye contact avoidance is practically a survival skill in the city. Random eyes trying to make contact with yours are everywhere. I wear sunglasses (even indoors) and practice staring blankly to avoid such situations. I put on headphones as a backup in case eye contact is made and conversation is attempted.
But it is possible I have become too good at avoiding eye contact.
Last week I was getting on the subway. I was actually on time for work so the car was a bit crowded. No problem except it was already 90 degrees and 99 percent humid. This commute was not going to be pleasant — but at least the train arrived.
I found a seat next to a woman dressed professionally. She did have her bag on the seat (which is probably why it was still available) but I did that knee nudge thing to let her know I planned to sit there and she moved her bag and I sat down all without saying a work (or even looking at each other).
Next, I pulled out my phone and started scrolling through Instagram — smartphones: another magnificent tool in avoiding accidental eye contact — when I got a text message.
"Are you sitting next to me?"
I looked over. Sure enough, I was sitting next to my friend Donatella.
I took out my ear buds and we laughed.
Donatella had been trying to get my attention since I sat down but because I’m a ninja when it comes to avoiding eye contact, she decided to just send me a text.