People make a really big deal about eye contact, and if they think you’re not looking at them, they take it as either as you insulting them by intentionally not bothering to look, or take it as evidence that you’re not really a full person and don’t need consideration.
This is tiresome and a bad artifact of our culture. Many people can’t or shouldn’t make eye contact, and this social rule limits communication with a broad range of people.
However, people who make a big deal about eye contact can’t actually tell with great precision where you are looking. They think it is very important to them that you actually look at their eyes, but it isn’t. As long as you look in the right general direction and your face is pointed at theirs, you will usually be perceived as making socially acceptable eye contact.
Sometimes you can tell by looking at mouths whether or not this is working. There is a thing people do with their mouths when they perceive someone as looking at their eyes — I don’t know how to describe it, unfortunately.
If you’re talking to a group, it helps to periodically look around the room in the direction of all of them. Even if you can’t actually *see* all of them well enough to discern eyes or facial expressions, if you look in the right direction, it will be perceived as eye contact, and they will be more likely to think that you are talking to them and care what they think.
It shouldn’t be like this, but it is, and learning to fake it can greatly expand the range of people who will assume that you’re a worthwhile person.
I get overwhelmed just by looking at people’s faces (not just their eyes). I wish it were easier to fake eye contact for me, but it’s not. That doesn’t mean I don’t try, but it’s anything but pleasant. I just wish — and this isn’t directed at you, OP, but to the non-autistic writers of the kind of “social skills” advice you typically read — people wouldn’t act like it’s so easy to fake eye contact, and that, therefore, we don’t have an excuse for not looking at people.
I agree, and I should have written this better – I knew something was wrong with this post and I think that’s part of it.
I can’t always do this. I can’t even *usually* do this. And sometimes I can, but shouldn’t.
Being able to fake it sometimes has gotten me to be able to get some people to listen to me who didn’t before, though.