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I'm a 21-year-old black male who is 5ft 4in (165cm).

With my stature described, my physique appears relatively 'soft' compared to the average adult, however, I think my personality or behavior along with my race is what puts some people off.

One thing that my family and classmates claim I do, and have done too much of, is stare at people without engaging in much conversation. I admit that I have this problem but it's not due to me being anxious but more so looking at attractive people or listening in to someone.

I've received mixed reactions. Some people get quite creeped out by this and others (mainly women) find me cute and non-threatening.

Should I continue the extended gaze at people, reduce it, or stop it entirely?

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It doesn't matter how tall you are or what your physique is. You are describing creepy behaviour and then asking how you can ensure people are not put off by it. Staring at people because you enjoy looking at an attractive person (and don't care whether they want to be looked at right now) or you are interested in a conversation (someone else's conversation that you weren't invited into) is pretty much the definition of creepy.

People are telling you that you are not thinking of others and respecting the boundaries and space of others. You can learn to do that. You might just change your behaviour without reminders, or you might let people's uncomfortable looks remind you that you're not supposed to be doing that. Or you might find a way to be authorized to look at a person or listen to someone's conversation, which is typically to attempt to engage with them. However if you do that, you must be prepared to take "not interested" for an answer and then stop looking at or listening to the people who rejected you.

  • There are many books out there on social skills, and the rule of thumb seems to be that--when engaged in conversation--direct eye contact should be made 50-60% of the time. Anything more than this feels predatory and threatening. When gathered with a group, eye contact with the non-speakers should be roughly evenly distributed among the remaining people. – Curt Aug 15 '17 at 2:17
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Just adding something...

Smile if someone catches you making eye contact. They've done studies on this; if someone catches you staring at them, smile and break away after 3 seconds.

I read once that animals only make eye contact to have sex or fight. You'll often be told to not look at apes in the eye in regions where there are wild apes and monkeys. Although obviously, this doesn't hold true for people, eyes are very important to communicating intent. They might see you desiring them, and find it uncomfortable Related link

My mantra: deliberately use your body language to communicate what you want to say. If you want to be friendly, don't hold a gaze on someone for too long, be near to the conversation (but not too close), and chime in occasionally. Friendly body language

  • desiring them? Hmm...that's interesting. I wonder how many women actually think that when I stare at them. – myopicflight Aug 14 '17 at 19:38
  • I was thinking that you can usually tell when someone's randomly staring vs checking them out. – user2191 Aug 14 '17 at 20:20
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    @myopicflight a lot. Either that, or something is 'wrong' (hair is weird, food on face, makeup smeared, etc) and both make people uncomfortable. You have a really big advantage here because you're actually noticing you're doing something weird, use it to change. – Summer Aug 16 '17 at 9:30
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There's some subtle differences that are worth noting here...

It's one thing to glance, it's another to look, and something else entirely to stare.

Most people don't notice or care if you just glance at them. Some people may think it's a little odd if you're looking at them for an extended period. Most people will be a little uncomfortable if you're staring at them.

With that in mind, try to avoid staring at people. Even women who find you nonthreatening probably don't appreciate it.

If you tend to "people watch" when you're out, try to divide your attention. Watch people, not a person. And try to be respectful of how you may be perceived while you're doing it. If a specific person tells you that it makes them uncomfortable, stop doing it to them.

  • Do you have any bad experiences of yourself or others staring at people too long for their comfort? – myopicflight Aug 14 '17 at 19:40
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    @myopicflight I think most people do. Most people get that they're making someone uncomfortable when they see the reaction from the person they're looking at. – apaul Aug 14 '17 at 19:55
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I'm not going to comment on the ethics of listening in on the conversation of others, but to be less creepy while doing so: Don't stare at them. Gaze into space or at a tree or car or something. Trees and cars don't find it creepy to be stared at.

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There used to be a girl in college (now a senior doctor somewhere) who would unintentionally maintain eye contact much longer than normal, which sent a lot of unintended mixed signals till I understood she was simply myopic (short-sighted) but too vain to wear her glasses, which she kept in her pocket. So she was often unaware -- she literally couldn't see that she was looking straight into somebody's eyes for minutes at a time, especially when her mind was elsewhere. Is the 'myopic' part of your username just a coincidence?

As already mentioned in a previous answer, a lot of scientific studies have proved that many animals find a direct eye-to-eye stare confrontational and threatening. These include cats, apes and human beings. Moreover some animals including snakes and cats 'transfix' their prey with a direct stare to immobilize them with anxiety. These are the evolutionary reasons why extended gaze upsets people.

Solution: look away from time to time. If you are myopic, be sure to wear your glasses or contact lenses whenever you are in the situations described in your question.

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Should I continue the extended gaze at people, reduce it, or stop it entirely?

Ultimately this is entirely your choice. But.

I find that being stared at puts me off. It makes me anxious, maybe something is wrong?? It generates stress in me.

Any behaviour generates a response.

I myself usually go about my business as I see fit, as I am in my very own plain vanilla state. This is least effort of course. But while interacting with the people around me I also usually reach out to be on my best (or at least not too bad) behaviour, to aim at a positive reaction, to put them at ease. This is a slight effort but also SO deep-rooted that I'm at ease doing it. My aim is to be a good person to be around.

Package deal is when I notice that something I do puts some people off, I usually decide to correct my behaviour. Doing anything else is to be (intentionally) rude.

That is MY choice. Please go about your business as you see fit, but also please be aware of the effect that your habits have, and accept the consequences. You will be avoided by anyone that is bothered by it.

  • Not my downvote. I'm not really sure how this answers the question. Maybe the question itself wasn't clear. – NVZ Aug 13 '17 at 18:42
  • @NVZ Title aside all the question text, especially the last sentence was about staring...(edited in tie-in) – Bookeater Aug 13 '17 at 22:25
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There definitely is the correct amount of eye contact when it comes to women. Generally, it is weak to avoid eye contact completely but you do not want to give a woman the psychopath staredown either. Your general body language can also be crucial in how you are perceived.

I go with the two Mississippi approach, if you see her look at you, meet her gaze. Smile a little cheeky smile and then if she breaks eye sight let her. This shows that you have enough confidence to meet her gaze and you also have no intentions of proving yourself to her. You are comfortable with yourself either way.

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