I know you now, I won't know you later.
October 22, 2008 7:38 AM   Subscribe

I make amazing first impressions! Then everything goes downhill.

When I meet someone for the first time, I'm really outgoing, confident, and I approach them and introduce myself, etc. Later hearing from mutual friends or co-workers that I really charmed the person I met.

Seeing them later on, well that's where the trouble starts. I say hi, but for some weird reason, tend to not want to approach them. If I'm close to them, I'll say hi but if I'm walking toward an area where I see a person that I've recently met, I'll tend to 'take a shortcut'.

I also have this problem with people I've taken classes with. I may have sat next to them for an entire semester and got to know them on a superficial level (never hanging out outside of class) but once the semester's done and class is finished and I see them walking on the street, I have a tendency to avoid them.

I WANT THIS TO STOP. I like people and want to keep these connections. What's wrong with me and how can I fix it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm. Perhaps we need to know more. What kind of relatuionships do you have? Do you have strong ties to your family and lots of good, close friends already? Maybe you just don't feel you have more time to invest in new relationships. Conversely, maybe you don't have people you're close to and you have some issues with emotional intimacy.
posted by orange swan at 7:46 AM on October 22, 2008

When it comes to the weird avoidance thing on running into people on the street, I've found it useful to switch my default response to a better one. Just plan it and do it.

I've had a bad habit of not knowing whether to make eye contact, foostering about, gasping "hi!" if they say hello at the last minute, and you know, it looks strange and awkward.

The new, improved version is walking up deliberately with a big, confident "hi, how's it going?" with a smile - totally faking it 'til I make it, but it works. At worst, you look very friendly, or you make them look strange and awkward. The faking passes away if it goes into conversation, 'cause that bit's fine.

(This was a really useful thing to figure out right before moving to a small town where everyone says hello on the street. About six months into the experiment, I can say that I definitely prefer this to the previous, am enjoy the conversations that it leads to, and I think everyone else likes it better too.
posted by carbide at 8:02 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

What's wrong with me and how can I fix it?

I don't know what's wrong with you, but as for fixing the immediate situation, stop doing that! Seriously, you're acting like you have no control over the "tendency" to avoid people. It could be shyness or some sort of social phobia, but the best way to get over these social phobias is to force yourself out of your shell and actually talk to people. As a formerly obviously shy person (still shy, only it's now not obvious), I often have to push myself to come out of my shell. I am, however, all too aware of the fact that it's my choice--and my fault if I act like a complete hermit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I swear English is my first language, even when I'm at work. "am enjoying", "prefer this to the previous approach", etc, and there was a big old silent ')' at the end.
posted by carbide at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2008

I do this and I think its fairly common. When meeting new people my mind goes into a "get to know you" mode, but that wears off. After that I just nod or make some basic small talk.

I think some people just arent so social that their "get to know you mode" lasts longer than a couple of days. What helps is to pick one or two people you thought you clicked with and then try to get to know them better. Focus on those people. Ask them more followups. Tell them some jokes, take them to lunch, etc.

You really cannot be everyone's friend, but you can be friends with a couple of new people.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:06 AM on October 22, 2008

I have a tendency to avoid them.

Just because you didnt befriend them doesnt mean youre some kind of enemy with them. Relax. If you see an old acquaintance and you recognize him or her, just smile and say "Hey" or "whats up." That's all the social obligation you need to take care of.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:08 AM on October 22, 2008

My first impression? Sounds like its easy to be you when you can be noncommittal about it. Maybe the social obligation after introduction equates to pressure. Not a whole lot you can do about that, but maybe recognizing it will help. And knowing that you are still required to be awesome and keep people's interest even after they've professed their 'love' for you.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:31 AM on October 22, 2008

Fear of intimacy. Don't wanna get hurt. Again. Or ever. And no one can see the real you, or touch you, or get too close - because it always hurts?

Does that ring a remote bell?

This guy knows his stuff.
posted by watercarrier at 8:43 AM on October 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Befriend me! I'm terrible at making correct first impressions of others: I trust those I shouldn't, and distrust those who eventually become my closest friends.


OK, maybe that wasn't helpful. Go with the "fear of intimacy" advice above. We could all use more intimacy in our lives.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:56 AM on October 22, 2008

I do this too. I feel like I have a U-shaped social-skills curve. I'm great with total strangers and people that I know really well, but acquaintances are tougher to deal with until they become friends. The technique that usually works for me is to just pretend that acquaintances are already friends of mine (note: it's still important to avoid being overly familiar). Sometimes it's a little awkward, but usually it works out.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 9:29 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Fear of rejection. Second-guessing that good first impression you made. Maybe you think that the great first impression was somehow not deserved, or that you've used all your best material, or that if these people really knew you they'd know that you're not all that and a bag of chips, or that they've forgotten meeting you?

Look, this is a commonplace impulse, but you've gotten yourself into a self-fulfilling prophecy thing. Take the risk and say hi. Think of it as doing a good deed, because most people are similarly nervous about how to navigate the early steps of an acquaintance.
posted by desuetude at 11:00 AM on October 22, 2008

Yeah, I have the same issue. I'm introverted but charming.

I don't want a lot of friends, but I do charm a lot of people. Whether or not someone likes me doesn't seem to have anything at all to do with whether I like them. So I do end up with acquaintances who think I'm just great, but whom I'm not really interested in. I get a lot more invitations to parties than I send out.

Why do I crack jokes, gossip with people, listen to their stories, etc.? I guess I just like socializing on a superficial level. Platonic flirting, if you will.

I've had someone suggest that I have a fear of intimacy, because she tried to befriend me and I just wasn't interested. I have satisfying, intimate relationships. There are people whom I keep in touch with, would hug on the street, and really love. But most people just don't do it for me.

I used to feel bad about this, like I was sabotaging myself from forming relationships that I secretly wanted. Then I examined it a little more and realized that if I really wanted the relationships, my actions would reflect that.

She's Just Not That Into (Being Friends With) You, I guess.

It's also irritating to hang out with people when they're like OH SHE'S SO FUNNY and then they sit and stare at me and expect me to perform. Talk about dull.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:34 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

My first impression? Sounds like its easy to be you when you can be noncommittal about it. Maybe the social obligation after introduction equates to pressure. Not a whole lot you can do about that, but maybe recognizing it will help. And knowing that you are still required to be awesome and keep people's interest even after they've professed their 'love' for you.
posted by iamkimiam

For the most part, I have to agree. I am probably even more outgoing than the OP. I make contact with at least 10 people every day I did not know the day before and in my current and previous jobs my ability to intelligently connect with people made all the difference in the kind of work I ended up doing.

I think a big thing to consider is exactly what you want to get out of the relationship you make in a classroom versus a bar or a ball-field or an office suite. I work in a graduate school now and in talking to an alumna on Monday who attended a weekend cohort for her doctorate I saw how she described the make-and-break relationships students have with their peers. IN a classroom setting, people make friends to solve problems that arise because of classwork rather than outside forces. When classes end and the 'class problems' like homework and presentations end, it is rare that people will stay friends with anyone in the study groups they worked to organize.
posted by parmanparman at 12:53 PM on October 22, 2008

I have close to the same problem. Do the kind of people you tend to avoid ever end up approaching you out of the blue? It's a two-way street, but I know it can feel like the burden's always on you to initiate or sustain friendships.

Are the people you've befriended over the years people you've met under much different circumstances? When you do form close bonds, does it last or does it invariably end up dying out slowly or suddenly? As I like to put it, I don't ever burn bridges, but it sure feels like the bridges often end up crumbling once I've crossed it. I've found myself slowly falling out of contact with both old and new friends, and it really doesn't help one's self-esteem much. So the idea of getting to really know new acquaintances all over again can be scary, if perhaps only on a subconscious level.

Until you can tackle the problem, maybe you could consider getting a cat or dog. If the apartment let me, I know I would right about now. And they do say dogwalking is a good way to meet strangers. Of course, there's always the risk that they'll say "Can't you see I'm busy walking my dog?" Sigh.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 3:11 AM on October 23, 2008

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