An undeserved reputation

Sometimes life’s little surprises turn out not to be so surprising after all. A case in point was the surprise that came tonight.

I have a reputation.

While chatting tonight with a woman I consider a good friend, I learned that she has recently heard similar things about me from several women. Apparently, some women in the Stockholm salsa dancing scene have gotten the idea that I’m desperate, that I’m too friendly, and that the only reason I go dancing is to hit on girls.

I wrote that the news was not really surprising. Why? Well, my undeserved reputation probably explains the cold reaction I have gotten from some women.

The timing is ironic. This is because I have in the past year made a conscious effort to be more open and more direct with people, on the theory that honesty and forthrightness are their own reward. Be straight with people and they’ll be straight with you. I’ve made many new friends by letting this side of myself shine. In a way, I’ve become reacquainted with the person I was many years ago, before adolescence. This has made me wonder: kids make new friends so easily, so why isn’t it as easy with adults?

The answer, of course, is that adults often have hidden agendas that they conceal deliberately. I’ve written before about friendliness to strangers and making friends; and it’s obviously more complicated among adults than among children. Most adults with any amount of real-world experience have learned to be a bit suspicious of eagerness.

How suspicious people are, and of whom, depends greatly from person to person and culture to culture. The groups of people who dance salsa in Stockholm perfectly illustrate this. In the Swedish salsa dancing scene, there are basically two types: Swedes and Latinos. The Swedish men who dance salsa are usually more or less like Swedish men in the general public: a bit cold, distant, and yet for the most part egalitarian and respectful of women. Swedish men make good friends once you get to know them, but it's often a mystery how they ever work up the nerve to break the ice. Many Swedish relationships start only after months of friendship, and/or owe their start to the consumption of large quantities of alcohol.

The Latino men on the other hand are the exact opposite of their Swedish counterparts. Latino men are totally upfront, expressing their desires as soon as they feel them. Unfortunately, these men don't seem to know the difference between love and lust, and can therefore sometimes overdo it. I have heard many stories of Latino men expressing their undying love for a woman they just met on the dance floor. These guys are definitely not egalitarian, and are seldom interested in being friends with women. They tend to be macho bordering on misogynistic, and quite often don’t turn out to make good boyfriends to the Swedish women who fall for them.

It's fair to say that with my personality, I fit in somewhere between the serious Swedes and the lusty Latinos.

Realizing this, I decided some time ago to apply my friendly forthrightness not just to new acquaintances and friends, but also to women who caught my eye. If I found a woman attractive, I would be open about it: I’d break the ice and see what happened. If the feeling’s mutual, great; if not, then at least I tried. It’s better to express one’s feelings than to hold them inside. Once they’re out in the open, it’s easier to move on. Or at least that was my theory.

When my friend heard the rumors, she tried explaining to the women who related them to her that I was in fact a decent human being, and that they were mistaking my outgoing and friendly nature for desperation. Her attempt to defend my character was met with skepticism and doubt.

I must admit that even though I’m not truly surprised, I am very disappointed.

I had hoped that by being myself I would allow folks to know the real me. Instead, I’ve given the wrong impression to at least a few people.

Not five minutes after learning the news of my playboy reputation, I received a phone call from a new friend. She and I met a few weeks ago at the salsa congress in Göteborg and learned soon after meeting that we were both interested in photography. I think it's fair to say that we also share very similar world-views. We’d chatted on the phone before and I had enjoyed our conversation. After receiving such disappointing news, I was glad to hear a friendly voice. She and I talked for more than an hour and I shared my thoughts with her:

I face a dilemma. I could try to be more like Swedish men, aloof and distant. Or I could try to be even more like the Latino guys, forward and gregarious. Neither path takes me where I want to go, and each requires unacceptable compromises.

I had no epiphany, but I did reach an important conclusion: In striking a balance between these two paths, I seek to preserve the best qualities of both sides of my personality. I will not forfeit friendliness, playfulness, trust, or respect. These qualities make me the person I am.

Also, I cannot be all things to all people. Some people will always get the wrong idea, no matter what I do. I think I know who these people are, and I guess I’ll just have to back off for a while and keep them at arm’s length. There’s no point in continuing to extend the hand of friendship to someone who sees it as a threat. Maybe a little distance will help them to see me for who I am. If not, well, I can’t please everyone.

Speaking of pleasing everyone... the photos from Göteborg will have to wait another day at least. I needed to get this off my chest tonight.


Jill Douglass said...

Well, those suspicious gals are just missing out. The best answer I suppose is not to try to be one person or another, but just to be yourself. I guess though that figuring out who you/we are/is probably just as hard a being someone else....

Shmuel said...

If you ever need a character reference for who you were in grade school, let me know. I'll be happy to give your pre-adolescent self a recommendation.

Don't let the bastards get you down. Even if you were to go out dancing just to meet women, since when did that become a social error? Dancing to meet the opposite sex? Hardly scandalous.

Your friend who told you the rumors is solid if she had your back in the face of doubters.

Åsa said...

Hi there.. have been happy to see someone taking your approach. We need more of that in Stockholm. Keep it up and more will be inspired! :)

Jacob said...

det är märkligt hur svenskar överhuvudtaget lyckas träffas


Michael A. Lowry said...

For those of you who don't understand Swedish, Jacob writes "It's remarkable that Swedes ever manage to meet."

He links to an article in a Swedish newspaper entitled "The importance of appearing uninterested."

The author says it's a Stockholm thing.

Not appearing too eager is probably generally an attractive trait. But going out of your way to appear disinterested is pathological. In my opinion, this sort of dishonesty is poor way to start any relationship.