Monday, November 19, 2012

What Do People See When They See You?

"I hate to admit that I find your elusiveness motivating ;)"

I just received the text message above from someone I don't really know. He's one of those guys we all have floating around on the periphery of our life, the one with whom we always exchange "Let's get together soon" pleasantries, without actually intending to make it happen. The way I see it, if you really want to hang out with someone, you don't just talk about it, you just do it.

In this case, I've always assumed that our failure to launch was a mutual thing. In all the months that we've been flirting with the idea of going out, it's not like he's ever rung me up and asked, "Want to meet up for a drink?" Yet the insinuation of his text message was that it has been all my not doing.

If so, it certainly isn't intentional. I haven't been trying to send a certain message by not saying much at all. If my game plan had been to create an aura of elusiveness, I wouldn't even have known how to do it. I learned a long time ago that it's pretty futile to try to manage people or how they perceive you. No two people ever respond to or interpret any one action in quite the same way. Have you ever forwarded a text message or an email to several of your friends trying to get a read on the person who wrote it? How often do you get the same interpretation twice?

I once sent a text message to someone I knew better than the guy above: "Morning. How are you?" I didn't really have any ulterior motive in sending it, and once again, I wasn't trying to create any particular effect. I just wanted to say, "Morning. How are you?" Most people, I imagine, would have read it and chalked it up as a simple start-your-day-off-right greeting, but the person I sent it to, bringing all of his personal baggage to the table, suggested that I was trying to be aloof.

I felt honored that he thought I could be so calculating so early in the morning, but really, what's so aloof about "Good morning"? Was it the fact that I left off the "Good"? Don't songwriters do that all the time?

I didn't even bother trying to defend myself. Why give him more ammunition to use to misread me? He was going to think what he was going to think about me, and there was very little that I could do about it. Although I've never considered myself to be aloof, or elusive, I'm pretty sure these two guys aren't the only ones who have. But then there are as many opinions of me floating around as there are people to have them. A former boss once gave a speech about me at my last-day-at-work party, and he described me as "the most congenial guy you'll ever work with." Does that sound like someone who's aloof, or elusive?

What people see when they look at you doesn't necessarily have anything to do with you. Perhaps it has more to do with whether they exited the bed to the left or to the right that morning, or whether they woke up alone or with excellent company. How people respond to something I've written might have nothing to do with the actual words I use. As a blogger, one who's accustomed to getting reactions to what I write that run the gamut from loving it to loathing it, I know that's right.

This is why I once got so frustrated watching a friend agonize over a two- or three-sentence text message that she was sending to a guy she'd just met. Granted, this particular text message was in Spanish, and it was to someone who didn't speak a word of English (and boy, have I been there), so that created its own special challenge. Spanish is a language in which taxi drivers won't have any idea what you're saying when you say, "El Salvador," unless the accent is on the final syllable: El SalvaDOR!"

The way I see it, though, in any language, anyone who will construct a personality profile based on one simple text message deserves what he or she gets -- or doesn't get. In the end, this guy ended up breaking my friend's heart anyway, so all her effort was for naught. If only she hadn't bothered to respond to his first text message.

Speaking of messages that go unanswered, right after I received the text message above, a message showed up in my email inbox from a business associate I'd emailed months ago who'd never responded. He apologized for the delay. He'd only just seen the email a few moments earlier. To be honest, I'd forgotten all about it, though I probably spent days after I sent it coming up with all sorts of negative impressions he must have had about me.

It's nice to be reminded that it really isn't always about me.
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