Updated: Aug 1
It's weird meeting people for the first time. We're all naturally awkward about it. It's scary. We're all judging each other. I do not believe that anybody likes it. We all are somewhere on the sociophobe spectrum from mildly anxious to paralyzed and requiring medication.
We all know intellectually that the other person is probably just as uncomfortable as we are; there is no comfort in that.
Upon an initial encounter, we largely disregard the words that come out of other's mouths. Communication is 93% body language and tone; and only 7% content. Plus, our mind is reeling with judgment based almost entirely on stereotypes. ‘She’s gorgeous, smarter than me, wealthier.” “He is handsome, but too aggressive, probably lives in his mom’s basement.” It's very primal. Women (and probably smaller men) are basically terrified all the time. And there's certain rules. Don't stand too close. Don't hold eye contact for too long - that's creepy. You can smile, but only briefly, otherwise it's even creepier.
I go through a rapid assessment decision tree that I call the Six F's. The order is important. This may seem brutal. Remember, I said it is primal. Fight or flight chemicals are involved.
Let’s say you are in a line at the bank. You make eye contact with the stranger in front of you and strike up a conversion. In relatively short order I decide: Friend or Foe? Does this person seem nice or like someone who will push me down and steal my lunch money. If they pass the first hurdle and seem friendly, then I decide if I want to continue a relationship with them.
If I decide they won’t kill me and I want to get to know them, I go to the next step: F*@k, Food or Facebook? Am I attracted to them or is there some other opportunity to get what I need, not just Food (but hey, it fits)? Do I want to let them touch me, or do I see lawn care in my future? If they seem nice, and don’t fall into the two previous categories, but I still want them in my life, on to Facebook.
Or perhaps they are just one of the myriad of strangers we encounter daily. I will probably forget them that day.
Although my decision tree is a way to manage those awkward encounters with other humans, it is by no means a useful tool for sorting out people. There have been plenty of examples of me dismissing someone outright who became a great friend.
Sometimes I think human interactions are more about an individual's biological needs at the time than about their ability to navigate the fear of meeting strangers. They may appear uncomfortable, even rude, not paying attention to what you are saying and leave quickly. But maybe, they are not a selfish prick. Maybe they really must visit the facilities.
Judgement happens. I try to keep an open mind and see the humanity in people. Even if I don’t really like them.