Here’s How to Use Eye Contact to Flirt Without Being Creepy
If you’ve ever watched a romantic movie, you can probably tell that there’s a relationship between eye contact and attraction.
Two main characters will stare at each other. One of them will seductively wink at the other — a gesture that only works if both of them are staring into each other’s eyes — or the one with the crush will constantly be looking anywhere but at the object of their affections. That’s because maintaining sustained eye contact with someone you’re attracted to can be nerve-wracking … but why is that?
We seem to instinctively understand eye contact’s role in attraction, but rarely do we seem to know why it’s important.
In order to stare the problem in the face, AskMen spoke with a handful of dating experts and therapists who know a thing or two on the topic. Here’s what they had to say:
Does Eye Contact Always Mean Attraction?
Eye contact is a powerful connection between two human beings. Being able to recognize and respond to it, whether verbally or in terms of understanding what it means, is a big part of human interaction.
That manifests itself in factoids like “liars have difficulty maintaining eye contact” or “people blink when they’re lying” — the notion being that eye contact represents a kind of honest version of the self, and if you need to distort that, you’re going to struggle to return someone’s gaze.
As a result, it’s no surprise that to some people, like Connell Barrett, a dating coach for The League and the founder of DatingTransformation.com, eye contact conveys confidence.
“Holding someone’s gaze tells them, ‘I’m interested in you, and I’m worthy of you,’” says Barrett. “It also makes a person feel ‘seen.’ As the saying goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul, and part of attraction is feeling that the other person sees the real you.”
“It’s a clear symbol of interest and openness to further engagement,” he notes. “It can be an automatic and unconscious response, as no thought process is utilized, but instead just an honest and immediate expression of attraction or disinterest. Getting a potential partner’s attention is exclusively about getting them to notice you and to see if they engage your gaze.”
Types of Eye Contact Attraction
Yes, eye contact can mean attraction, but it can also mean a simple, non-romantic or non-sexual curiosity. Someone could look your way because they’re trying to figure something out about you, or it can even indicate a negative fixation — that is, they’re looking because they don’t like what they see.
And even within attraction, eye contact can convey different things. To break that down, here are three different ways attraction can manifest itself in terms of eye contact.
This Could Mean: Attracted to you, totally unafraid to admit it
It Could Also Mean: Downright creepy fixation on you, no manners
At some point in your life, you’ve probably noticed someone staring at you. Whether you thought they were attractive will vary, but there’s a good chance you didn’t love the feeling of being intently focused on. That’s because for most people, staring can feel like an invasive act, particularly when it’s done by a stranger.
One potential reason for that? On some level, we do recognize that staring is a sign of deep attraction, and it can be unsettling to have that stated, even non-verbally when you’re not expecting it. As well, staring can often imply that someone is objectifying you by looking at just your body, rather than your true self.
“Someone who’s confident but not attracted to you will keep their eyes on your eyes and your face,” says Barrett. Someone with less pure interests, however, “tends to let their eyes drop to your chest or torso. They’re taking in the ‘whole package.’”
2. Furtive Glances
This Could Mean: Attracted to you, but shy about it
It Could Also Mean: Trying to figure out who you remind them of
If you take a peek at your crush and you don’t see them staring at you, there could be two explanations: a lack of interest, sure, or they may be taking furtive glances at you, just long enough to register you before looking away.
According to Barrett, the quick, furtive glance is actually a pretty common sign of eye-contact attraction.
“A clear sign someone is attracted to you is making eye contact, briefly averting their eyes and then returning their gaze to you,” he explains. “They know they shouldn’t stare, so they look away, but can’t help but bring their focus back to you. It’s a natural push-pull.”
It may not sound very romantic, but meeting each other’s eyes for just a second can make for a very intimate shared experience, one that seems all the more powerful and meaningful because of, rather than in spite of, its brevity.
3. Total Avoidance
This Could Mean: Extremely nervous with a big secret crush
It Could Also Mean: Genuinely don’t know who you are/a case of social anxiety
Less common (but no less real) is the reality that sometimes, someone who’s deeply attracted to you will completely avert their gaze, doing their utmost not to look at you.
While some people are willing to stare at someone they’re into to their heart’s content, others are much more shy about it. This is the ‘push’ part of the ‘push-pull’ dynamic Barrett describes — avoiding eye contact can be a sign that someone is attracted to you, but is too shy and anxious about that attraction to give in to it.
However, this is typically only the case for people who spend a fair amount of time together platonically, where admitting to a crush might be inappropriate. If you think someone you’ve just met is avoiding looking at you, there’s a good chance it’s not a case of secret attraction.
How to Attract Your Crush With Eye Contact
A few good moments of eye contact can open a person up to seeing you as a potential romantic interest without so much as a word.
However, that doesn’t mean you can just start seducing people with your gaze left, right and center. It only really works when a few other pre-conditions are met: how attractive they find you, whether they’re the person who develops attractions easily or frequently, what context you’re exchanging glances in, and so forth.
To help you out, we say you should…
1. Be Subtle About It
Perhaps the most important rule of attraction through eye contact, as you may have gleaned earlier, is that too much of it can be creepy. Since you probably don’t know the person you’re looking at that well, you should be extra cautious not to overdo it.
Women in particular are often used to unwanted attention from men, and staring too long and hard at a woman can signify that you might be a threat rather than a potential candidate for romance.
Don’t stare at them for hours (or even minutes) on end, particularly in a space where they may not feel super safe, like on public transit or in a store. Instead, limit your looking to a few brief glances.
2. Follow Their Lead
If you do manage to achieve eye contact, don’t hold it for too long — try to be the first one to look away. However, a moment of eye contact, particularly if they don’t immediately look away, may signal that they’re open for more.
If you sense that they’ve started looking back at you, now’s your chance to establish a little more prolonged eye contact, and potentially work in a smile to acknowledge what’s happening.
However, if they look away immediately and go back to ignoring you, don’t try to force it. It’s easy for a staring guy to seem creepy, and rather than setting yourself up for a nice conversation, you could be putting them in a cold, panicky sweat. Eye contact can be magical, but part of that magic is the spontaneity and realness — it can’t be forced.
3. Talk to Them (About Something Else)
If you get into a little routine of exchanging glances and smiles, that’s a good opportunity to try to start a conversation with them. One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is discuss the eye contact that just happened.
“Consider the gaze an invitation to approach and break the ice,” says Barrett. “Don’t talk about the eye contact itself. Discussing the signs of interest is too meta, and can sap the moment of its ‘it just happened’ feeling.”
Donaghue also agrees, noting that it’s best to “use the communication to build confidence and motivation to engage and flirt with the interested person.”
“Go talk to them and ask them out,” he suggests. “But if they do not respond to your eye contact, or your other attempts to flirt, have the integrity to leave them alone.”
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