He didn’t like to meet people’s eyes. He never had, really, but he had only noticed it as he’d aged.
It had been something he’d always done — looking past people while they spoke to him, or focusing his eyes in entirely the opposite direction. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to pay attention to them, or that his mind was elsewhere. He did want to listen, and he was paying attention.
It was more that there seemed to be so much pressure in the gaze of others. He didn’t understand the pressure, or where he felt it came from, or his aversion to it. He didn’t think people created it intentionally.
Eye contact made him uncomfortable, simple as that.
As a young child, he hadn’t bothered with it, because he hadn’t know it was wrong not to look at people who you were talking to. When he’d figured that out, he’d made a show of at least turning his face toward people, to make it seem as though maybe he was actually looking at them, if they weren’t paying close attention. Yet his eyes never met theirs.
Sometimes, now, he made an effort to look people in the eye when they spoke. It made him anxious every time, even with people he knew well: his mother, or his brother, or his best friend. He feared he was sending signals to them he didn’t recognize himself, because whenever someone met his eyes, he felt compelled to look away.
He preferred to look at people who wouldn’t look at him in return. It wasn’t that he wanted to spy on people or watch them unobserved; when he thought of how much it sounded like he did, he felt creepy and even more uncomfortable than when someone caught his eyes while he was trying to observe them discreetly.
Did everyone feel this way? Did other, normal people go around staring into each other’s eyes while they talked? He didn’t know, and he was too afraid to ask anyone, because it made him feel different and alone. He got the idea that they did. Certainly movies and TV made him feel like people always made eye contact when they talked. The actors’ eyes were always so steadily focused on the target of their words.
His eyes always flickered around, back and forth and down and up. He could never be an actor, he thought, not on film. People would go back and rewatch and see all of the ways he looked that had nothing to do with the person to whom he was speaking.
None of that changed when he met her. He still didn’t like looking into people’s eyes. He couldn’t tell you, for sure, the color of his best friend’s eyes, and they’d known each other for eighteen years.
But he loved to watch her, and he didn’t care if she knew.
He loved to look into her eyes, and he didn’t look away when she looked back.
With anyone else, that which had brought him discomfort his entire life still did so — but with her? With her, it didn’t matter.