Eye Contact on the London Underground

When you get on an underground train carriage full of people you notice that for every person asleep, head buried in a paper or reading the train adverts, there is someone who, just like you, is scanning everyone and anyone. Sometimes the motive is sexual, and from time to time you might find someone attractive enough, that when your eyes meet, they linger. In such cases heat rises in your chest, you may go beetroot red or keep cool. Whatever the outcome after you have shared a lingering glance, after that frisson of sexual energy shakes through your body, the space around your admirers’ face becomes a sacred space. If you are a genuine lothario you may allow your gaze to softly focus on that space again. If not, and you are feeling the whole thing a bit too close for comfort, then that space becomes a taboo. To gaze anywhere in that zone induces a constriction in your throat. If the person is located some metres away from you, you can spend the rest of the journey affectin to have never noticed. If they are sat opposite you on the tube, you will undoubtedly feel a degree of discomfort, as the fact that your eyes can no longer lazily sweep from right to left without jumping the bit in the middle, betrays what has just happened. In such cases you feel a huge relief once your partner has gotten up and gone.

Sometimes on a tube you might feel furtive or voyeuristic. You will, if you are sat on a seat at the end of a row, one which has a fibre glass wall to lean on, use the reflection in the glass to peer into the features of some peculiar beauty you have noticed. The reflection in the glass often brings this person’s face closer to yours, so you feel intimately voyeuristic, and yet miles away, as if day dreaming. Every now and then, you may, if you are looking at someone, who like you is well acquainted with and currently engaged in the practice of glass panel ogling, find their reflection staring directly into your eyes, at which point, after recovering from your mild heart attack, you can pretend, as your eyes dart away, that none of this really happened, or if it did, that it happened in the parallel universe of reflections, thus invalidating it as a real life experience.

Sometimes the motives for people making eye contact on the underground are aggressive. The person you are staring at, an alpha male dominator, tall, looks across the length of the carriage, staring into the eyes, coldly, of any person, usually male, who has drummed up the courage or stupidity to look him directly in the eyes. A trick to deploy is to stare the psychopath inbetween the eyes, confusing jhim, inducing the feeling that he is being taken on, but in a way that cannot completely anger him, because you are not looking at him directly in the eyes.

Eye contact is often made between people who are stood on the platform and people who are sat on a train, as the train pulls off from the station. Exciting, but less dangerous with no consequences, the assumption is you’ll never see the person again, there being clear boundaries, that is, a train going in the opposite direction, down a dark tunnel. A man is walking along a platform chatting to a female friend, and for some reason feels happy, his spirits rise, he laughs, and out of the corner of his eye, he notes a woman, pretty with short hair, intelligent, smiling, looking somewhere in his vicinity. As the doors of the train close, he says to his friend ‘look at that girl looking at me’. His friend notices, nudges him and winks, which makes the girl on the train laugh, and with the train doors closed, she firmly fixes her gaze on the eyes of the man, who knowing that the train is about to pull off, has his smiling eyes firmly fixed on hers, a deep warmth penetrating his body, as he realises he will never see her again.

People who make eye contact with each other on a train or the platform, or in life generally, are sending out a message that they need someone in their life, whether it be a friend, lover or aggressor. However Londoners do not tend to do this, even when this is how they feel.

Some of course, who make this eye contact, may already have a lover, and want another one. Wolves and sheep. One guy, a Nigerian dude, one day approached a girl, who he’d seen many times waiting on the platform. He told her that he just wanted to tell her that he thought she looked great. He took that same train many times more after that occasion, but never saw the girl again.

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