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?
9 responses to “the simplicity of first impressions”
Nice post. I have discovered that no one ever has a completely accurate view of who you are. The reason for this is because we tend to change to suit the company we keep, or to fit the atmosphere we find ourselves in. For instance, my friends know me as being one way, while my grandmother knew me to be a different person. First impressions are based upon the company and the atmosphere in which we first meet. If I am out with friends that I am comfortable with, I will be more open, talkative, passionate about subjects we might engage in and this will be the impression someone makes of me. On the other hand, if I am around people I barely know I am very shy, speak only when spoken to, and do not engage in any subjects that I am passionate about or will address it in a more refined and reserved way. If I meet someone while I am out with my friends, they would find it hard to believe that I am ever shy and reserved. If I meet someone while I am surrounded by people I barely know, they would find it hard to believe that I can be very passionate and talkative. Both are aspects of who I am, just not the complete picture. Just as the impression people are making about you are true impressions that have developed due to the atmosphere and company you were in. You are the things they have said you are, but you are those things under certain circumstances. I have learned to accept the first impressions that I make of others, but I understand that impression is only one part of the picture, it’s not the whole enchilada. Discovering the whole enchilada only comes with time. Now I may like the taste of that enchilada once I taste it, or I may not. It truly depends then upon where I am and who I am being at that moment.
Thanks for commenting… You’re definitely right about how first impressions are like a little taste. I just think it’s interesting how we tend to invest so much assumption into those impressions. 🙂
I think we invest so much assumption into those impressions, because we separate the individual from the environment. When we are meeting someone, we forget to take the individual in context of their surroundings. Everything he said about you, however, was absolutely wonderful. What bothered me about your post was how you then negated each comment. What he saw and described is exactly who you were in the moment he met you in the environment you were in. In other environments, perhaps the negative is true, but it wasn’t true on the night he met you. Embrace the positive as deeply as you embrace the negative. You are who you are, good and bad. No one is perfect and we all have our faults, but also have those facets of ourselves in which we shine.
You did not ask for my suggestions but I will offer them anyway. You might have better luck with men as well as women if you sought to be transparent and authentic. People often put on masks for public consumption to fit in.
Now if you take off the mask and let the real you shine through then perhaps people would not project on you and see you for who you really are good and bad. We all have good and bad in us. Just saying.
Hi Mr. Wilder, I hope you don’t mind that I respond to your post. I realize that it was not directed at me. And I also hope that I am not crossing some blogging law or something by doing so (I am new to the world of blog). I’m just curious to hear what your definition of “authentic self” is, and what school of thought that you follow regarding the idea of an “authentic self”? Thanks!
John, you’re assuming that I’m not myself… but I am. It’s just that the assumption is that that’s all there is. As my friends will tell you, when I meet someone, I assume for quite some time that I don’t really know them yet, but it seems that a lot of people don’t. They meet someone, draw some conclusions and call it good. Then they’re surprised or disappointed when there’s more to the story. I’m surprised and disappointed when there isn’t.
Most people wouldn’t say that I have a first impression problem, and I didn’t exactly mean to characterize it as such, either; I suppose it only seems that way to me because I wish they could just know me fully in that moment and draw whatever conclusions they were going to ultimately draw. But that’s not how it works.
I don’t mind. The idea is to present yourself as you really are and not put on false fronts for public consumption.. It is a generally accepted notion in psychology. I don’t have a particular school to point you to.
It is just easier to be the real you and then people don’t have surprises, in other words the old philosophy of “what you see is what you get”
I hope that this explains it.
If you need more please feel free to email me on my personal email at
email@example.com and I will be glad to chat with you. You can also see my blog posts at marriagecoach1.wordpress.com. Any other communications should be there instead of someone else’s blog unless she gives us permission.
Blessings on you and yours
Perhaps my advice was misdirected. Perhaps it should have been aimed at the shallow people you are meeting. I always assume that there is much more to the story. That is why I have a history of VERY long first dates. My last one was 6 hours and the one before that was 21 hours (no sex either) just talking non stop.
Blessings on you and yours
First impressions are interesting. The thing is, people are constantly changing. Yes, our core personalities are supposedly “set” by the time we’re 10- but- people usually continue grow.
I’m with you on the hoping there is more after first meeting someone. I like a person with dynamic and facets. And with that, even if you’ve been with someone for 20 years, chances are good that there may be parts of both of you that haven’t seen the light of day for that entire time (which can be good, imo).
Being an introvert means I don’t like parties and large gatherings. The environment I’m in can totally skew a person’s perception of me- male and female…………