Here’s Looking At You Kid

Julie Mansmann
Julie Mansmann

When you are speaking to me, you may notice a few things. I talk with my hands because my Italian grandmother did this and at age 10 I decided it was a good idea too. I say “ultimately” a lot because I think it’s a nice word for closing thoughts. I typically have pens sticking out of my bun because I always want to be prepared to take notes about something. And I am 98 percent certain that, when you are speaking to me, I will not be looking you straight in the eye.

I can’t explain what my problem is or how I plan to fix it. But I run a newspaper with a few columns that need to be filled, and I thought about minoring in psychology for a while, so, I’ll try.

The first time someone brought my eye-contact issues to my attention? High school. Gym class. I was talking with a girl whose name I can’t even remember since freshmen year came to a much-needed end. We were deciding if we wanted to play football with the boys or soccer with the girls – the girls who were on the varsity team. Excellent options for the athletically challenged 15-year-old.  I began muttering something about how I would rather be an ignored wide receiver than have my shins kicked in by Calhoun High School’s ruthless midfielders when she asked me why I kept staring at the wall.  And I had no answer for her, just like I had no answer for a professor who asked me the same question last week over a discussion of project ideas.

Observation one: I didn’t know either of these people very well. Theory? Meeting new people makes me uncomfortable.

Too bad I’ve wanted to be a journalist since the seventh grade.

In my work as a student in this field, I meet and speak with new people every week. I am not afraid to call or meet them, and my voice never breaks when I ask them questions. In truth, I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, thoughts and ideas. People fascinate me – why else would I want to be a reporter, an occupation some consider to be professional voyeurism? In basic terms, I want to meet new people and share their experiences with more people I don’t know for a living.

Hypothesis, incorrect…sort of.

First, it should be noted that I can’t look anyone in the eye when we are talking . Men, women, older people, younger people, new friends, close friends, co-workers, professors, the president of this college, the mayor of this village, my aunts, cousins, brothers and mother. If they’re looking at me, I’m looking at the floor. So theories that I have a fear of authority figures, that I am intimidated by my peers and/or that my body language reflects how I’ve been conditioned by society to feel that I’m inferior to men are, also, all wrong…sort of.

Observation two: I am 98 percent certain that if I have spoken to you before, I have apologized to you. My co-workers tallied 75 “I’m sorry” moments in our office before they stopped trying to keep count. I guess that’s a problem, too.

Theory? I am not afraid of the people I speak to, but rather of whether or not they wanted to be speaking to me in the first place.

My professors tell me to look people in the eye when I interview them, to show them that I am serious about what they have to say and appreciative of their time. And I am all of those things, so much so that I have this problem. Sources and strangers, friends and family; I respect you, I care about you, and that makes me nervous because I don’t know if I am deserving of the same from you.  I ask you personal questions, for favors and advice…and who am I to do that? I don’t want to bother you, and I don’t want you to feel burdened. So, I don’t look into your eyes because I am selfishly afraid that I’ll see those emotions there. I have preemptive guilt. And I guess you don’t deserve any of this either, since I should be paying attention to you. It seems that we’ve reached an impasse. But believe me: it’s not you, it’s me.

Who could have guessed that it would boil down to a cliché? Don’t answer that.

Observation three: I’ve been this way for 20 years. Theory? I will learn, grow out of my nerves and change.  I don’t know if I can prove my hypothesis true, though. I clearly never finished that psychology minor.