I’m standing across from a tall, lanky man in his late 20s or possibly early 30s – I’m not sure. We’ve never spoken. I don’t know his name, where he’s from or what he does for a living.
Yet, for the next two minutes I will gaze deeply into his eyes and he into mine.
Then I will shut my eyes. When I open them another man I know nothing about will replace him and the pattern will repeat.
I’m at an eye gazing party at a bar in downtown Toronto.
Also known as silent speed dating, eye gazing, according to its proponents, fast-forwards beyond small talk to the more important soul-baring stuff – namely staring silently into someone’s eyes to see if it sparks a connection.
Holding the gaze of 22 men ranging in age from their early 20s to late 50s, sparks a whole range of emotions for me – empathy, joy, fear, bewilderment, lust, boredom, anger and wonder.
Love isn’t one of them but it’s a fascinating, if slightly awkward, social experiment.
After about a half hour of mingling and, yes, small talk at the bar (“What brought you here?” is a natural conversation starter) the two round us up on the dance floor, lining up the men on one side of the room and the women in the other.
It feels just like a grade 7 dance.
The men move forward to stand an arm’s length away from the women in front of them. For the next hour physical contact is strictly prohibited as is speaking. Fortunately, laughter, which is inevitable, isn’t.
As Jeffrey plays down tempo house music, Vanessa – a yoga instructor and spiritual life coach – asks us to close our eyes and leads us in her deep, soothing voice through a meditation to help us let go of our day and bring us into the present with the person standing across from us.
When I open my eyes, I am relieved.
I am facing a person I like.
We had spoken earlier in the evening. He had laughed at my jokes and cracked a few of his own. Although there is no romantic vibe between us, he has a playfulness in his eyes and we spend the next 120 second grinning stupidly at each other and giggling.
My next few partners elicit a different reaction.
All are much younger than me with sad or fearful eyes, I try to send them invisible motherly hugs and telepathically let them know that it’s okay, life gets better.
Then I realize I’m going to exhaust myself if I keep doing that and decide to just let what will be be.
Throughout the rest of the evening, I spend:
- two minutes marvelling at the beauty of a slight Asian man’s eyelashes
- another two counting the number of times the strange fish-eyed older man in in front of me blinks (It was twice. How is that even possible?)
- and another two minutes oddly fantasizing about going down on a guy with an ugly sweater and a horrible Caesar haircut
I notice crooked noses, beer breath, how one man has a droopy left side reminiscent of a stroke, and how another twitches uncontrollably.
Throughout event, Vanessa reminds us drop our social masks, let go of any tension in our bodies, notice any internal dialogue and most of all keep breathing – something many of my partners seem to have forgotten how to do.
With several it’s instantly clear there is nothing between us and so we pretend to stare while thinking about other things.
When I see a guy who had caught my eye earlier in the evening coming up next, I get excited at the prospect of romantic chemistry. Instead, his eyes are hard and mean and our time is spent in a weird psychic wrestling match and ends with me pissed off for no apparent reason.
And then, it happens.
I open my eyes and in front of me is a bald man in his mid-30s. Behind his eyes is pure vulnerability and innocence.
I let go of everything in my mind and for two minutes an invisible current of energy passes through our chests and torsos and binds us in a ribbon of light. It reminds me or the having reiki or energy healing done. It’s unworldly and spellbinding.
And then Vanessa tells the men to move to the next woman and it’s gone.
After the event, I want to ask him if he felt it too but he’s disappeared.
I shrug it off.
Just as small talk can’t tell a person’s whole story neither can looking into a person’s eyes for two minutes. For all I know he could have values or a lifestyle completely incompatible with mine. My guess is he does a lot of meditation and yoga.
Still, what surprised me about the whole evening was how wrong I was about the few men I had initially found attractive.
Without the distraction of words or sexy accents or allusions to their status, looking into their eyes I could easily touch base with my own gut reaction and listen to that.
And one thing I’ve learned in my 44 years is that my intuition is usually right.
Still, for me, small talk is important. It demonstrates how a person gets along with others, what their interests are and uncovers commonalities to bond over.
After the session another man who I thought had a happy, contented energy approaches me to make small talk. I share my impressions of him and ask what he thought when looking into my eyes.
“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I thought you were normal.”
Normal? He clearly didn’t really see me.
But how many of us can say that the people we date really do see us?
And isn’t that what we are all looking for? To find that someone who gets the real you and loves you for who you are naked in body, mind and soul.
Although I didn’t make any lasting connections, or even leave with a phone number, what I discovered staring into the eyes of 22 strange men is that:
- looks can be deceiving
- people can surprise you
- and sometimes the easiest thing is to just let down your guard, drop your expectations and open your eyes a little wider.
You never know who might be looking back.