The Levels of Eye Contact

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Eye contact is important, especially in dating and gauging people’s attraction to you. Everyone should have a basic understanding of what each person is eye-coding to them in any given situation, and it doesn’t take a cryptographer to figure it out. Or if it does, then fuck it, I’m that cryptographer.

In this article, I will decrypt the 11 levels of eye contact for the uninitiated eye. Gone are the days of blindly guessing whether cutie at the bar has the hots for you. You will know. And if you don’t, you’ll at least have a pretty good idea.

The Power of Eye Contact

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard the saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” or some cheesy variation thereof.

Intuitively, we understand the power of eye contact. We’ve all experienced that moment when you look into someone’s eyes and see a million unspoken words. From the stern look in your mother’s face when the five-year-old you broke into the fridge and ate that tub of ice cream, to the scrutinizing gaze of the interviewer as you wondered whether you answered that last question well enough to secure the job of your dreams.

The power of the gaze is no mystery. There is a wealth of research behind it. Here are the highlights of what eye contact does.

  1. It’s arousing. Looking into someone’s eyes will make you significantly more aroused than looking at someone whose gaze is averted.1 Simply having someone stare back at you could make you all sweaty and shit.2 This should be obvious even without the research: if you want to arouse someone, don’t look at the floor, look at them.
  2. It captures and holds attention. If you want to catch someone’s attention, suddenly looking at them (even if you don’t move your head at all) will tend to do the trick.3 And if you want the person you’re having a conversation with to not be distracted, look them in the eye.4
  3. It makes people believe you. When you tell someone something they don’t know to be true, they’ll tend to believe it if you look them in the eye. Even if it were something they know not to be true, they’ll still be slower to disagree.5
  4. It makes people think you’re smart. We generally judge people who make eye contact with us to be smarter and more competent.6
  5. It makes you appear more sincere. You’re in the bar hanging with your friends. The hottie from the back of the room who’s watching you will think you’re more sincere, less anxious, and more relaxed the more they see you look at your friends while interacting with them.7

You don’t have to believe in love at first sight (I don’t), to appreciate the power of eye contact. Simply meeting eyes with someone won’t make them fall head over heels for you, but it sure will do many other things that can turn them from a “maybe” to a “fuck yes.”

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    (Don’t) Avert Your Eyes!

    If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re not entirely comfortable making eye contact with others. And that’s perfectly normal. 

    Eye contact can be fucking intimidating. It feels as though we are exposing ourselves in some way, like we’re naked.

    Generally, people find eye contact difficult for many reasons. Some suffer from trauma. Some have attachment and intimacy issues. Some are uncomfortable with who they are and therefore don’t wish to be seen. Some may have something to hide. And others may simply be shy, or inexperienced.

    The goal of this guide is to peel the layers of eye contact and reveal to you a simple yet powerful action that anyone—yourself included—can master.

    The Levels of Eye Contact

    Here is an entirely overly-analytical, and mostly-satirical-but-kinda-true-too guide to the levels of eye contact and what sort of attraction it means.

    Level (-1): No Eye Contact (Intentional)

    Beyond the lowest level of eye contact, this is when someone is not only not making eye contact with you, but they’re consciously making an effort to NOT look at you. In the heights of sexual intimacy, Level (-1) is subterranean. It’s a person’s way of saying, “Get away from me, creep,” without, you know, actually saying it.

    This eye contact (or lack thereof) is typically reserved for the horny mouth-breathers who stare at a girl’s tits, obnoxious drunk guys in full-on bro mode, the crazed ex-girlfriend stalker, or any other potential psycho in one’s vicinity.

    Level (-1) eye contact can also occur within a conversation. Just because he or she is responding to you verbally doesn’t mean you’re out of the gates yet. Put simply, if someone is intentionally making an effort to NOT look at you, they’re not interested. It’s the anti-intimacy. The non-verbal cue for “Give it up… and go the fuck away from me.”

    That or you have some mustard on your face.

    Level 0: No Eye Contact (Unintentional)

    An unintentional absence of eye contact signals a lack of knowledge you exist. It means nothing other than they haven’t noticed you. Either they’re busy and focusing on something else, or you’re about as intriguing to look at as grandma’s wallpaper.

    Level 1: Glance (Unconscious)

    An unconscious glance is that moment when someone looks up at you and then immediately looks away, although they’re not aware of what they’re looking at. It’s basically when their eyes are wandering around and coincidentally meet yours for a moment and then continue wandering.

    The key here is that he or she is not aware of your eyes meeting and therefore nothing is registering to them as particularly interesting or enticing in that moment. Just like Level 0, this level of eye contact is neutral and there’s not much to take away from it. Most people aren’t paying attention to what they’re looking at most of the time.

    Level 2: Glance (Conscious)

    The second level of eye contact is the first type of eye contact where you’ve possibly made a positive impression on a person. This is when your eyes and theirs happen to meet and then they look away immediately, except they look away consciously, whether it be because of shyness, awkwardness, or disinterest.

    Body language studies claim that a person who breaks eye contact with you by looking down is intimidated (i.e., attracted) and a person who breaks eye contact by looking to the side is indifferent (i.e., not attracted).8

    I have no idea if this is true or not. But if someone breaks eye contact with you quickly and intentionally, it’s usually a polarized response: they’re either attracted and momentarily self-conscious by your presence, or they’re uninterested and avoiding making contact altogether.

    Most people are not comfortable holding eye contact with strangers, what would signal the interest here is that their eyes were drawn to you in the first place. So it’s not the breaking it so much that is important, what’s important is that they consciously looked at you.

    Differentiating between Level 2 eye contact and Level 1 eye contact is subtle and hard to do consistently with any sort of accuracy. Although you do pick up some acuity over time. It’s impossible to ever be 100% certain what someone else’s intentions are, so why not just assume everyone who makes strong eye contact with you is attracted until proven otherwise?

    A good exercise for someone who is new or shy is to practice never breaking eye contact with people before they break it with you. Walk around all day and make eye contact with people you find interesting or attractive. You’ll feel uncomfortable making eye contact with strangers, but that’s the idea. Keep doing it until it feels natural. It will help your confidence.

    Level 3: Glance and a Half

    Level 3 is the first level where interest is conveyed, ever so slightly. Like the other lower levels of eye contact, the glance-and-a-half is subtle and difficult to notice without a lot of practice. It’s when someone looks at you and breaks eye contact as they normally do, but they hold the eye contact for a split second longer than is normal. I’m talking maybe 1/4 of a second longer.

    Whereas Level 2 eye contact may last half a second, Level 3 will last 3/4 of a second. It’s subtle, it’s short, and it’s unconscious. Humans are wired to spend more time looking at things they find attractive on an unconscious level. So in their mind, they’re still breaking eye contact with you, but in practice, they’re actually looking at you 50% longer than they would normally.

    It took me a while to start picking up on Level 3 eye contact. Level 3 happens most often when they are consciously focused on something else, such as on their cell phone or talking to somebody they’re with. They don’t realize that they’re looking at you, though they totally are. Any eye contact from Level 3 upwards should be a strong incentive for the two of you to at least have a conversation.

    Level 4: Double Glance

    Here’s a good habit to get yourself into once you’re able to maintain eye contact with people walking around. Any time you make eye contact with someone attractive and they look away, keep looking at them for another few seconds. A percentage of them will look at you a second time. In my experience, this is a clear sign of physical interest, and 95%+ of the subsequent interactions you initiate with this person will be received warmly.

    Girl in tunnel turning around looking at camera giving eye contact attraction

    What’s funny is that even on Level 4 eye contact, most people are not conscious that they’re doing it. I’ve approached women who have looked at me twice in a row and I mentioned that I saw them look at me, and they seriously didn’t remember looking at me. I’ve even said, “We did an eye contact thing. We made eye contact like three times in a row, you didn’t notice?” And they didn’t… or they were lying scumbags. Either way, just goes to show how most people are off in their own little world not thinking about any of this stuff.

    Regardless, the unconscious mind is always seeking out things it finds interesting or intriguing, so if their eyes keep falling on you, it’s a sign.

    Level 5: The Gaze

    The Gaze is the last level that can occur unconsciously although it’s usually conscious. This is when someone looks at you and just keeps looking at you past the normal “look away” moment. This is a solid 2-3 seconds of eye contact without them breaking it. When undesired, this becomes the infamous “creep stare.” But in the cases of desirable people looking at you, this is extremely good news.

    This is why it’s so important to get in the habit of being able to hold eye contact because otherwise, you’ll miss out on all of the people giving you Level 3-5 eye contact. The Gaze is a clear and large sign of interest. You’d be pretty dumb to pass up this signal.

    Girl in street looking at camera

    Level 6: The Smile

    The sixth level of eye contact is The Gaze plus a smile. If The Gaze is a clear sign telling you that they’re interested, throwing a smile on top of it may as well be a neon flashing billboard. If someone you find attractive gives you Level 6 and you don’t talk to them, not only are you an idiot, but you probably have some serious anxiety going on.

    Level 7: The Eye Fuck

    This is someone who makes eye contact, holds it, smiles, and then never stops. They just keep staring and smiling, and staring and smiling, sometimes for minutes at a time.

    Eye fucking is the first level of eye contact that makes the leap from “interested/curious” to “they want to have sex with me.” Eye fucking doesn’t withhold any intentions. It’s about as much interest as one can possibly display through eye contact alone. If you get eye fucked by an attractive person and don’t act on it, you’re probably blind or mid-seizure. I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation.9

    When undesired, The Eye Fuck is exceedingly creepy. If you’re a man and you regularly eye fuck women who do not reciprocate or smile back, then you will likely meet Mr. Pepper Spray in your near future.

    Eye fuckers will often end up approaching you if you don’t approach. Although many of them will give up if you don’t approach for a few minutes and assume you’re not interested. If you’re a man and a woman is eye fucking you, the hint should be clear: she wants you to talk to her.

    Level 8: The Dreamboat

    The Dreamboat happens when someone has fallen for you. This is when you wake up in the morning to someone staring at you with that dreamy smile like they’re drunk or stayed up all night sniffing glue. It’s the way two people look at each other when cuddling and making cutesy noises while rubbing their noses together.

    The Dreamboat almost never happens before you’ve had sex with someone, and if it does, they’re either Amish or it’s a giant red flag. Usually, it starts happening a month or two into a new relationship, although it can happen in as little as a couple nights together (or in rare circumstances, one).

    Man giving eye contact

    Assuming the feeling is mutual, The Dreamboat is amazing. It’s the most validating eye contact a person can give you. Centuries of literature and million-dollar films have thrived off of what The Dreamboat stare signifies. It’s what we humans are obsessed with on some level. And whether we like to admit it or not, it’s what most of us are after in the long-run. So when you find it, enjoy it.

    But… if the feeling is not mutual, if The Dreamboat is a one-way street, it’s not always such a pleasant experience. Unrequited love is no fun for anybody. Nobody likes to break a heart and make those eyes cry. Just be honest and upfront, break things off with respect and dignity, and hope that their eyes don’t morph into…

    Crazy funny man opened his eyes isolated on a white background

    Level 9: The Crazies

    The 9th and final level of eye contact cannot be explained as much as experienced.

    When you experience The Crazies, a person doesn’t even have to be present to see them. They haunt you. They’re everywhere and nowhere.

    It’s the guy who wakes you up by banging on your window at 3AM crying that you never called him back. Or the girl who faked being pregnant because she thought it’d get you to get back together with her. Or the guy who carved your name into his arm as a birthday present.

    They’re the eyes that look at you in earnest when they say they want to quit their job and move to Tahiti so that you two can be together, perfectly alone, forever. The Crazies signify delusion, hopeless emotion, and the complete loss of a grip on reality. The Crazies often come with a restraining order.

    People who have seen The Crazies and lived to tell do so with a level of humility and despondence. Most have dealt with their share of irrational and dramatic relationships. Some have perhaps witnessed The Crazies for fleeting moments—an enraged girlfriend who ran around at him with a baseball bat, the guy who left her 43 angry voicemails in one night—and these people pass these stories of insanity around almost as a badge of honor.

    But most of those who have seen the depths, looked into the eyes and seen the true amorous insanity behind them, like any true veteran prefer to keep the pain and horror stowed away in their hearts, not to see the light of day.

    They say all is fair in love and war, and in certain places and at certain times, the two don’t feel so different. And like any war story, living it and telling it do neither justice.

    What Do You See?

    Humans have a tendency to make things more difficult than they have to be. When we’re not sure we can do something, we put it off. We turn whatever “it” is into a 12-headed hydra that haunts our every waking moment. But if we’d just gone ahead and done it, we would have discovered “it” wasn’t so bad after all.

    Eye contact is one such “it.” Unless you have a pathological fear, in which case you’d better seek professional help, eye contact is something you can practice and get good at.

    If making eye contact with strangers is one level too far, you can begin with people you feel comfortable with. Next time you’re listening to your best friend tell you about their day, look into their eyes rather than at their ears,10 or at the wall behind them. Next time your partner is giving you The Dreamboat, curl up in it and let it take you out to sea. Drift away to its loving tunes.11 

    Another easy trick is: if you feel uncomfortable looking into someone’s eyes, stand or sit a little further away from them. Research shows that the closer you stand to someone looking at you, the less you’re able to make eye contact, especially if the other person is of the opposite sex.12 Find that sweet spot that works for you.

    Practice your eye contact. Learn to decode the 11 levels. Let your eyes be the windows to your soul. And your dating life will never be the same again.

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    1. Jarick, M., & Bencic, R. (2019). Eye Contact Is a Two-Way Street: Arousal Is Elicited by the Sending and Receiving of Eye Gaze Information. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1262.
    2. Nichols, K. A., & Champness, B. G. (1971). Eye gaze and the GSR. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7(6), 623–626.
    3. van der Wel, R. P., Welsh, T., & Böckler, A. (2018). Talking heads or talking eyes? Effects of head orientation and sudden onset gaze cues on attention capture. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 80(1), 1–6.
    4. Senju, A., & Hasegawa, T. (2005). Direct gaze captures visuospatial attention. Visual Cognition, 12(1), 127–144.
    5. Kreysa, H., Kessler, L., & Schweinberger, S. R. (2016). Direct Speaker Gaze Promotes Trust in Truth-Ambiguous Statements. PLOS ONE, 11(9), e0162291.
    6. Wheeler, R. W., Baron, J. C., Michell, S., & Ginsburg, H. J. (1979). Eye contact and the perception of intelligence. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 13(2), 101–102.
    7. Iizuka, Y. (1992). Evaluation of Gaze Pairs by Female Observers. The Japanese Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 31(3), 231–239.
    8. See for example: here, here, and here.
    9. Ah, you’re in a committed monogamous relationship and don’t want to cheat. That’s a reasonable explanation. Yeah, good for you.
    10. Seriously, dude, it’s fucking weird when people do that.
    11. Research shows the more in love a couple is, the more time they spend gazing into each other’s loved up eyes. Revel in it. Don’t break the spell.
    12. Argyle, M., & Dean, J. (1965). Eye-Contact, Distance and Affiliation. Sociometry, 28(3), 289–304.