A Friend Who Avoids Eye Contact
A reader is upset that her friend never makes eye contact when they are speaking to each other.
This really resonated with us because we’ve experienced this frustrating behavior, too. As your friend looks at everyone but you, you’re silently pleading, “Look at me!!”
I frequently go out with a group of women friends. When one of them talks, she seems to be looking at everyone else but me. It even happens when the three of us walk together. Is there anything I can do or say to her?
It's fine if she feels closer to other women, but....it can't help but make me feel bad. It's rude, and I'm not imagining it. I would never do that to anyone.
I have a feeling you might say, "She's probably not aware, don't take it personally," and I know that, but it's not satisfying.
I'm grateful I have other friends in the group who are not like that, but this really gets my goat. I can't very well say, "Joan, it often appears as if you look at everybody else but me." Any other thoughts?
I notice my husband behaves the same way when we're with friends. For example, If someone asks him a question, 99% of the time, my husband will look only at the person when he's answering rather than the rest of the group. I've spoken to him and he tells me he’s not even aware that he’s doing it.
Of course, it’s totally understandable you would feel uncomfortable when a friend can’t look you in the eye.
Not being able to make normal eye contact when speaking is common among people who are diagnosed with social anxiety. But more often, there are other reasons. It could be that the person is shy, feels nervous, or lacks self-confidence.
But here’s the wrinkle: All the reasons above aren’t likely with your friend because she only does this to you. She’s able to look other people in the eye, and you’re wondering, why not me?
For whatever reason, she may be intimidated by you or more uncomfortable with you than she is with your other friends.
And it’s entirely likely that this person isn’t even aware of coming across as rude and disinterested. She’s probably “oblivious” like your husband.
Because you feel hurt, our suggestion would be to address the issue directly—with an abundance of kindness—and get it off your chest. Don’t let your anger get in the way of giving this woman some objective feedback about how it makes you feel.
Find a private moment when you’re alone together and tell her you’ve noticed that she doesn’t look at you when she is speaking (refrain from telling her it is only you).
Explain that you’re not sure why it happens, but you value the friendship, and it makes you feel bad. You can even mention that you may be overly-sensitive to it because you notice your husband sometimes doing the same thing when he’s with a group of his friends.
With awareness, your friend might be able to make more of a concerted effort to look at you when she speaks.
Since this friend may feel uncomfortable with you, be cautious in the future that your chats with her don’t inadvertently come across as critical or threatening.
You may not be able to change your friend, but at least speaking honestly about this issue might help you feel less upset if it happens again.
Irene & Sheryl
If a friend is consistently behaving in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s good to discuss it openly.
Thanks for reading Friendship Rules! If you haven’t already subscribed, sign up to receive new posts weekly.
One of my friends has Aspergers, and she struggles with making eye contact, so I understand her difficulty and I give her a pass on this one. But not everyone has this diagnosis. Generally speaking, I notice a lot of people lack conversational skills. My theory is that social media has gotten us used to communicating alone on a screen and we're losing some basic social skills -- such as how to talk to each other in person.
Just last night I had dinner with a close friend who demonstrates this behavior over and over again. Her deceased husband did the same. I would never mention it. I believe they both have/had social anxiety. In any case, they can't control this behaviour. I never took it personally. It is their issue.