How To Stare Into Someone's Eyes: A User's Guide

by Claire Davidson


I was listening to a podcast the other day (You Made It Weird, with Pete Holmes, if you need a new one) and the guest was talking about her father’s death. She had loved her father dearly, but never felt they had a particularly emotional bond, which I suppose may be common for men from that era. He was a successful businessman, who had a kind heart but wasn't the greatest at connecting with his daughters. But she discussed how in the last few minutes of his life she bonded with him more than she ever had. She had rubbed his back, and held his hand, and told him she loved him. And, barely able to move his mouth, he uttered “I love you too.” She said that her father looked her in the eyes and maintained eye contact with her the whole time—and what a moment that was, to be truly seen by him for perhaps the first time. Without the distractions of, well, life, getting in the way. 

I don’t tell you this to instantly depress you, but because hearing this story was an important reminder for me. How much move love could we all be feeling if we didn't wait until death to be fully present with others? I mean with the stress and minutiae of day to day life, it is the easiest thing in the world to be somewhere else mentally than where you are physically. (Do you know how much time I spend checking Instagram? You don't want to know.) But to sit with someone and not retreat to the nearest distraction is hard. To look someone in the eye and not look away. 

Yes, it might feel a little weird at first, because to function in today's world we often have to disconnect, especially those of us who are sensitive souls. We find coping mechanisms to deal with the horrors of the daily news and our own shortcomings and anxieties, whether it's drinking too much or incessantly checking the internet (been there). When life gets too real (which it always will) it's much easier to take ourselves out of the present moment than sink into the love that lingers just beneath the surface of our own mind-chatter. It is much easier to look away from life, and those we love, than fully drink in the moment. But when you can do it—whether it's with your boyfriend, your mom, or your barista—you get to experience the magic of true presence. You see another soul whose life has been filled with joy, regret, fantasies, and wrong turns, just like you. And that feels like the real enchilada. Like the whole reason we're here. It feels like love. 

They say many people become more spiritual in the last five minutes before death than they ever were in life. We all have such a finite amount of time on this planet with the people we care about. We have a handful of moments to truly see others and let ourselves be seen. So instead of turning to a distraction the next time we're bored and fidgety, what if we turned to someone we loved and stared into their eyes? Sure, it may sound cheesy. But think about it this way: any moment between two people can be as holy as the last one you have together. Any moment can be the moment you choose to see another person. Really see them.

Whatever you think of Hallmark holidays or romantic movies, our world is in serious need of love right now. And the older I get, the more convinced I am that presence is love. So I hope you'll join me in a call for more presence and less distraction. I'll keep snap chatting, but I think more staring contests are also in order.