Saturday night at Annie’s New Year’s Eve party, I spent quite a bit of time conversing with a man I’ll call “Francisco.” The following afternoon, Annie received an email from him that included a request for my contact information along with the following compliments, “I enjoyed talking with your friend, [insert my name here]. 🙂 She’s bright, insightful, attractive, sensitive, and a caring mom.”
I was flattered by his kindness, but I am in no way in a position to offer him anything other than friendship. And so friendship it is.
But after reading Francisco’s email to Annie, what struck me most was this: right now, at this moment in time, I am precisely those five adjectives to Francisco. Probably no more and no less. In the realm of first impressions, his picture of me is comprised of that information alone. Since our meeting, he may have subconsciously filled in some other details — perhaps he assumes that I like the same foods he does, or listen to the same music, or share the same political views. Maybe he imagines me to be charitable or a dog-lover. Or perhaps his brain has done none of those things and he is simply aware that he liked my smile. Regardless, he knows basically nothing of me yet. His complete experience of me was of a very pleasant conversation in a comfortable atmosphere.
So how long would it take for him to really know me? How long before he discovered that I am kinda complicated? How long before he realized that dating me is not for amateurs? How long before those first impressions gave way to less favorable, more nuanced ideas?
First impressions are delicious in their simplicity. They tend to be single-dimensional and as much a reflection of the recipient’s frame of mind as of the giver’s actual nature. I think, quite often, when we are predisposed to like someone, we come away with a positive impression of them. It’s far less common, I think, to find ourselves drawn to someone we hadn’t expected to like. For instance, I think Francisco came to Annie’s party with gentle and sincere aspirations of meeting someone special, and so, upon meeting me, was predisposed to find me all of things he has attributed to me. There is certainly nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s rather sweet. But it’s also not necessarily real.
First impressions for me have always been kind of dicey. Women either love me or hate me, almost on sight. With men, I tend to make a strong and positive first impression, but not one — I have come to realize — that is entirely accurate. I assure you that I don’t actively seek to mislead anyone or conceal anything about myself…. it’s more that I think those parts of me that you meet first tend to be my best parts. (I think that is true for many people, but certainly not all. I have had friends who were notorious for making poor first impressions, including one male friend who was never successful with women — despite being handsome — until they got to know him.)
James never shared much about his first impression of me beyond saying that I “intrigued” him, but other men have and their impressions have been fairly consistent. And often quite far off the mark. They imagine me to be easy-going in relationships (ahem, not really) and so confident that I have no apparent insecurities whatsoever (!?!). I’ve been consistently told that I come across as sublimely open and trusting (umm, guarded and naive is more like it) and that I seem to have an easy time developing intimacy with people (seriously, where do they get this shit?? This is true on some level, but certainly not as a rule). All of these impressions are very nice and kindly-intended, but they are simply wrong. And they set me up for a tumble off the pedestal that inevitably occurs if I actually open my heart to them at all.
The men who have weathered my pedestal tumble and still staked out a place in my life are die-hards. They are the kind of men who are able to smile at my failings and love me through my neuroses. Maybe one of these days, I will fall in love with a die-hard who will consider the effort to be with me worth it, and the lasting impression more valuable than the initial one.
A girl can hope, can’t she?