Broadly speaking, your body can sometimes be much more honest than you are. Take eyes, for example. Whether we want to or not, they can betray some of our deepest inner thoughts just by darting one way or the other.
So, what does it mean when someone doesn’t make eye contact with you? Well, here’s a handy list that will help you find some explanations.
When Someone Doesn’t Make Eye Contact With You: 12 Possible Meanings
1. Deliberately Ignoring the Interlocutor
If the person you’re talking to is constantly avoiding looking you in the eye while talking to you, it’s more than likely that they are doing it on purpose. In other words, they don’t want to engage with you and are giving you subtle hints to leave them alone.
Eye contact is vital to any conversation. After all, it signals the other person that you’re interested in what they have to say. Moreover, if they look at you intently, it means you have their full and undivided attention. In addition, if the person is trying to make eye contact, but is often looking away, then it’s possible they are just distracted easily.
There are cases where looking at someone in the eye directly can cause them to panic or have an emotional outburst. More often than not, this type of person has some sort of neurological or mental deficiency. In some cases, autism is the most likely cause of that.
People with autism can’t look at others directly because it overstimulates certain regions in their brains. In fact, looking into their eyes can cause discomfort, even pain. So, do you know for a fact that the person you’re speaking to is autistic? If so, don’t hold it against them that they can’t look at you in the eyes. It’s genuinely something they can’t help.
3. Showing Superiority
Interestingly, people who tend to think too highly of themselves often refuse to make direct eye contact with the person speaking to them. You can recognize this behavior, as it is normally combined with eye-rolls or suspicious winks.
This person is trying to tell you that they are better than you, that you are unimportant to them. The lack of eye contact, in this sense, shows that they have a superiority complex of some kind.
Talking with such people is generally not a good idea, as they will not even acknowledge your existence. And if you were to point it out and argue with them, you’re not coming out of the situation a winner anyway. So, if possible, avoid talking to self-important people. And if they give you the uninterested eye treatment, simply give them one yourself and move on with your life.
4. Showing Inferiority
Bizarrely, people don’t necessarily avoid making eye contact so that they will be superior to the person whom they are speaking with. In fact, the exact opposite can be true as well — the other person might instead consider themselves beneath your level.
Take a look at historical documents or view depictions of daily events from the past. You can see one common motif between masters and servants. A person from the ruling class will always have their head held high, looking into the distance or into the object of their desire.
On the other hand, the servants are usually looking down. They’re averting their gaze and not meeting those of their masters. In fact, the ones that made direct eye contact were punished, and the act itself was seen as a sign of defiance.
5. Hiding Interest (and Attraction)
Superiority and inferiority do not constitute the only dichotomy of eye contact. There are a few other situations that can be the reason behind someone not looking directly into you, but which are the polar opposites to each other.
One such situation involves interest and attraction. If a person you are talking to avoids eye contact, it can be because they feel a certain admiration towards you. It doesn’t necessarily have to stem from your position or their inferiority to you, but simply a bit of shyness. When we like someone, our pupils dilate every time we see them. It’s a subtle way of revealing how we feel, and it’s completely natural.
On a subconscious level, the person who likes you really does want to make eye contact, but simply cannot. Instead, they will make attempts at doing it without you noticing. For example, their eyes can dart about trying to reach yours.
Alternatively, they might give you side-glances, which can also be misinterpreted as negative reactions to the person they are directed towards.
6. Hiding Disinterest (and Lack of Attraction)
As stated above, eye contact is a powerful indicator of interest, especially when combined with dilated pupils. In much the same manner, a glassy look of disinterest can be recognized rather easily. All it takes is for the person to look at you directly.
Individuals who don’t want to show you how they truly feel about you will try to avoid looking into your eyes directly. If you spot this kind of behavior during a date or when you’re talking to the person you like for the first time ever, it’s a sign that they might just not be into you.
They can respond to your questions, engage in conversation, and even laugh at your jokes, but if the eye contact doesn’t match the polite behavior, then it’s not meant to be.
7. Desire to Flee
Let’s use a hypothetical situation with this one. You’re at a party with one of your friends, a huge party, and everyone seems to be having a good time. There’s lots of music, dancing, good food, something sharp to drink, and it’s full of handsome men and beautiful women ready to mingle.
However, instead of taking all of this in and chatting with you about the party, your friend keeps looking sideways. Perhaps they are also looking down at their watch a lot, or in the general direction of the door, or through the window. Either way, they are not making eye contact with you, but they’re also not looking at the object of your conversation, i.e., the party.
From that behavior, the lack of eye contact is rather obvious. The person who refuses to engage with you clearly doesn’t want to be there, for one reason or another. Their body’s natural reaction to this desire to leave is as simple as literally “looking” for an exit.
8. The Need to Think Deeply
We’ll use the same party as an example. But let’s say that the music has winded down and that people are now more clearly speaking to each other. You and your friend are with a few more people and you’re engaged in a difficult subject. And then you notice that your friend, though appearing to engage with you, doesn’t seem to look at you as often.
This reaction is also natural for humans. When engaging in a conversation that demands a lot of the person’s mental faculties, they will disengage for a brief moment to gather their thoughts and think of an answer, an argument, or a hypothetical.
By looking blankly into the middle distance, the body allows the brain to use more of its capabilities. In short, it’s a way to focus on a subject. More importantly, it’s not meant to be rude behavior. The person is simply taking their time to return to the conversation with something of substance to share.
9. Aversive Stimuli
Here’s a bit of an extreme situation, and we’ll use the same party scene as an example. Let’s say that you’re all engaging in conversation, and someone mentions a detail that’s a little extreme. In other words, one of the following subjects happens to pop up:
• Extreme sexual deviancy
• Physical defects
• Unpleasant odors
• Decomposition of food
• Decomposition of bodies
• Bodily fluids
• An unpleasant historical or political figure
• An unpleasant sexual encounter
• Contamination of air, water, or soil.
Even a mere mention of some of these topics is enough to cause a visceral reaction in certain people. An individual with arachnophobia, for instance, will go pale the minute you describe to them how a spider walks.
Another common reaction is, of course, averting one’s eyes. It’s an instinct in humans, i.e., they don’t want to see nasty things, even if they don’t really “see” them in front of them. Yet another similar reaction includes dry heaving.
10. Social Anxiety
Social anxiety disorder is, by far, the most common reason behind averting one’s eyes. People who suffer from this condition often have a hard time looking at their interlocutor even if they happen to enjoy their company. And that’s especially true if they admire the person they are talking to, or are afraid of them.
It all comes down to fear of rejection. A person with social anxiety doesn’t want the other individual to hate them or think less of them, so they shut themselves off, so to speak.
And the lack of eye contact follows this pattern of behavior. After all, if you can’t be sure that the person in front of you will accept you for who you are, you can’t exactly open yourself up by looking straight into their eyes.
Interestingly enough, this type of behavior doesn’t happen when a person suffering from this condition is in their circle of close friends or family. That’s because, within that circle, they have already achieved a level of acceptance.
The aversion to gazes mostly happens in situations with new people, such as dates, job interviews, meeting a stranger, asking for directions on the street, or talking to someone in uniform (e.g., the police or the doctors).
11. Hiding Deceit
More than 90% of the time, you can tell that someone is lying to you through their body language alone. There’s always a tale or two; sometimes they gesture too much, other times, a part of their face twitches, and some raise their voices abnormally or start to stutter. But by far, the most common one involves eye contact, the good old “look me in the eye and tell me the truth!”
On some level, conscious or subconscious, an individual who’s lying will not want to face the person they’re speaking to. The liar is, on the one hand, certain that their eyes will be a telling sign of their deceit.
On the other hand, however, there’s a degree of shame and discomfort there. After all, the liar knows they’re actively doing something wrong to the person in front of them by not telling the truth, so they don’t want to meet their gaze directly.
Sadly, expert liars and people with severe social deficiencies (e.g., sociopaths, psychopaths, etc.) know about this tell full well. That’s why they are capable of lying to your face without as much as flinching. Obviously, there are other ways of telling that someone is lying, but eye contact is so immediate and direct that most people latch onto it first.
Sometimes, the lack of eye contact is simply due to the person feeling bored. They might be in a situation where there’s absolutely nothing of interest, but they can’t exactly leave or do anything about it.
So, as a response to said boredom, their eyes simply refuse to meet the person they’re speaking to because they’re occupied trying to find anything else that can tickle the person’s fancy.
5 Reasons Why Eye Contact Matters
1. Showing Respect
When you speak to someone, looking into their eyes directly will signal to them that you respect them and that you’re interested in what they have to say. It’s a powerful communication tool for any opportunity.
Based on our list, your interlocutor might think up any number of reasons as to why you won’t look at them. But if you’re upfront and direct, you let them know that they are worth your time.
This skill is exceptionally important in job interviews and brokering deals. In effect, it seals the deal before the handshake is even offered. And the best part is, it’s all subconscious and honest.
2. Understanding One Another
Looking directly into the eyes of the speaker implies that you are paying attention. But it also implies a few other things. Namely, by looking at them, you’re letting them know that you’re trying to understand their points, that you’re engaging in the topic of discussion and want to learn more.
Combining this behavior with affirming vocal acknowledgments (i.e., saying “mhm” or “yeah” every few lines or nodding your head) will make you one of the best listeners. After all, if the speaker knows you’re trying to understand them, they will extend the same courtesy to you when you have a point to make.
Do all of those long gazes between couples in movies, with puppy-dog eyes and enchanting smiles, seem a bit sleazy and cliche to you? Well, there’s a reason they’re so overused. Simply put, they actually represent one of the most common emotional responses humans have to one another.
When two people bond on an emotional level, be it through love between partners or between parents and children, they exchange gazes. A warm look in one’s eyes signals empathy and emotional understanding. And that’s something we as social animals need on a daily basis.
4. Honesty With One’s Thoughts and Feelings
Empathy and honesty go hand in hand, and our eyes reveal both emotions. Once again, let’s take an old Hollywood cliche as an example. How does a typical love story set in the 20th century begin?
Why, it begins with two people exchanging a glance across the bar. Their eyes met, as an uninspired Hollywood scriptwriter would jot down. In a sense, it’s a signal between both parties that there’s romantic or sexual interest. And the second those gazes lock, it’s more or less set.
5. Confidence Indicator
Looking directly into someone will show them how confident, assertive, independent-minded, and eager you can be. It’s a bit of a power-play move, sure. But it also works if you’re at the bottom of the business totem pole.
By showing your courage and looking at your higher-ups or your colleagues directly, you’ll exude confidence. Furthermore, you’ll open yourself up for better and more prosperous business opportunities. The same rule applies in dating, meeting new people, shopping, or any other kind of social situation.