That's more like it.

Since writing a couple of days ago about my undeserved reputation, many friends have gotten in touch to share their thoughts. Most have been supportive, telling me to be myself and not to worry about the folks who don't get me. It's gratifying and reassuring to know that most people see me as as a friendly and outgoing person. One friend told me that she initially found me a bit too talkative, but admired my ability to make friends with so many people. It seems clear that the ones who have gotten the wrong idea are in the minority.

My father also sent me a thoughtful letter. He has counseled many people on similar matters in his professional capacity as a psychologist, so he surely knows a thing or two about the roots of this sort of misunderstanding. He offered me some valuable insight into the way people interact, particularly when they are just getting to know each other.

One thing emerged as a common theme: people in general, and women in particular, often interpret enthusiasm and openness as desperation. The reasons for this are myriad, but they all basically boil down to a basic principle of economics:

supply and demand.

Put simply, if one seems too eager sell oneself, the perceived value of what's being offered is diminished. In a comment on my previous post, Jacob pointed out an editorial in DN entitled The importance of appearing uninterested. It's in Swedish, but the gist of it is that at least in Stockholm, acting aloof seems to be de rigueur. Fascinating and funny.

This reminds me of an enlightening experience I had last year. A salsa dancing friend had recently gotten together with a Latino man. As she and I sat across from each other on the subway after a night of dancing, I asked her to explain the secret of the Latino appeal. She described the things that initially attracted her to him, and talked about how their relationship began. I asked for suggestion on how I could learn from the Latino approach. After a while, I'd heard enough. I had to interrupt her:

"So you're saying I should be an asshole!" 

She insisted adamantly that this was not what she was suggesting, and explained that the traits I saw as negative were in fact intriguing to her. She told me that the aloofness I considered so unattractive was actually something that she found attractive. A man who put all his cards on the table just wasn't someone who piqued her interest. She liked a bit of mystery, liked the chase, and actually enjoyed having to work a bit to get the man to open up.

I wasn't convinced, but I agreed to give the "asshole approach" a real try. A few days later, I had my first opportunity to do so.

I joined a friend one Saturday at a public park. She had invited her friend along too, and I found her friend attractive. Normally, I would have reacted by being friendly and trying to start a conversation with her. But this time I deliberately chose to keep my distance. I gave her a compliment to let her know I was interested, but then I backed off. I talked with my friend but pretty much ignored the other girl. She and I exchanged numbers, and I was surprised when she called to invite me out the following weekend. We had a great time and I thought "hey, this asshole thing really works."

But then I spoiled it. Instead of remaining cold and distant, I began to warm up and quickly returned to my normal, friendly self. I called to ask the girl out and received a limp response. I tried a few more times to get in touch, but my attempts to connect were met with disinterest. We haven't met since.

The experience taught me that I can make some people more interested in me by acting as though I am not interested in them. However, I didn't try this technique again. I decided that the kind of people who react to friendliness by withdrawing are probably not my kind of people anyway. The fact that so many of my friends have written to tell me not to change the way I am confirms the wisdom of this choice.

However, this doesn't preclude my being more perceptive of how others react to me. This is what I was getting at in the last paragraph of my previous post. I know can do better at adapting my approach to the particular personality of the person with whom I'm interacting.I am getting better at reading the signals people send out: body language, tone of voice, and so on. By being a bit more flexible in the way I interact with people, I can probably avoid giving the wrong impression. This doesn't mean I have to accept as friends people who are clearly not my type. But I think it's also quite likely that some of the people who have so misread me could have developed a more accurate picture of me if I had taken a more nuanced approach when first meeting them.

And who knows? I might even try to adopt a strategy of keeping myself in shorter supply. I'm my own OPEC cartel, and I have full control over access to the precious resource that is me. I begrudgingly accept the wisdom of this approach in some situations. 

It's clear that I still have a lot to learn about people. It is with wonder and humility that I look forward to this ongoing journey of learning.

I'd like to thank my friends for their thoughts and their support. There are so many wonderful people in my life, and I'm grateful for them all. I'd especially like express my appreciation for the friend who stuck up for me to the doubters. She's the kind of friend one keeps for a long time.

1 comment:

Roberto said...

Dear Michael,

We haven't met personally yet but I've been reading your blog for more than a year and we have chatted a couple of times... so maybe I can give you a quite "objective/external" opinion about how I see you (just from the blog, flickr..).

Well, I see that you are an easy going person. It's amazing how many activities you do: dancing, climbing, travelling, flickr, etc.....Once I told you I envy you :-D So, I guess you certainly are a friendly guy. I see you have the capability to talk to people you don't know, to introduce yourself, to find common topics to share with people. I bet I'll feel comfortable meeting you and sharing some time with you.

But sometimes with women it's difficult to understand how their minds work. If you show interest, then they say that you are desperated and just wanting sex. If you don't show interest, then they wonder why you are not willing to pay attention to them and they come to you.... That's how the Latino role works.. or even more, the latino macho would even be not polite with women, sometimes cheating, not paying attention (that's psycological mistreatment, I consider)... but some women feel initially atracted by that. At leat for a while, until they realize that this behaviour is not making them really happy. Complicated, right?

As everybody told you: just be yourself. It's impossible that everybody likes you. I'm teaching at the university and sometime ago I had to learn that it's not possible to avoid that part of my students don't like me. It's sad because I like teaching and I try to do it my best. This brought me to try to be closer to the students, to talk to them besides the lectures, even to socialize a bit with themin certain occasions. But I didn't work always and I was feeling a bit miserable when I realized that some of them did not liked me or they were even thinking I was an asshole.

Reading your blog I have always wondered how you are doing always sorrounded by pretty and "likely" interesting women. Well, I bet you are "successful" so, do not mind about some critics. Be happy and enjoy your great moment of life: young, a good job, Stockholm, sports, photography, travelling, a great family... Who needs more!!

PS: I'll be visiting Stockholm for a week in the end of july, attending a media science conference. I hope we can meet for a drink a to know each other. It'll be great to talk abotu your experience in Sweden and photography. I recently got a Canon EOS 400D!!