Meeting new people: I feel like some (women) see me as a child
February 28, 2012 2:31 PM   Subscribe

Meeting a new person; why do I get so frustrated

So, my dad just found himself a new girlfriend, and we're out eating everyone (my girlfriend as well) together. I liked her, she seemed nice. But I sometimes just felt that she didn't like me or she thought I was a bit weird. I had that feeling four times or so during the evening, and she mostly avoided speaking to me, speaking mostly to my gf or dad. I noticed this thing initially when we met, and I was smiling and perhaps a tiny bit nervous, but to me, I just acted normal in the circumstances - I noticed she gave me this glance I recognized, and I felt like she saw me as a child; or I'm thinking she thinks that "ah he's very childish he's like an insecure or frightened child", as if she would know or say. As if she recognized something like that in me instantly; that's how I saw that look.

And I've tried that before, mostly with women actually. I feel like they give me this look, like they suddenly see I'm a sensitive or perhaps a bit nervous guy (though I don't really act that nervous); or it's like they become afraid of how I am, or as if they see something about me that makes them a bit awkward. And I'm just being myself, me! I've asked friends about this, but they don't really know what I mean.

What can this be? Can it just be something I'm projecting on others? I feel like I can be seen through totally when I get that glance or look, as if I'm sending out a nervousness or insecurity fragrance or something.

I don't know what it is that I'm doing, perhaps I'm not doing anything at all and it was just because she was a bit unsure of me. But I get this feel a lot. And she didn't speak to me much during the evening. A bit, but mostly not to me. It's also like people notice this in me when I'm in situations where I feel insecure or a bit nervous - it's like even though I act normal and make jokes or conversation and relax, I'm forced into this role. As if there's something I do that triggers it - and every single time I feel like I've lost something afterwards - as if I've been "figured out" or as if I'm back to step one. It can destroy days for me afterwards and I've tried periods where I felt more and more like this with everyone, triggered from one or two situations. As if I'm definately different or weird compared to most others, and I can't find back to the place where I feel like I'm on the same social level as others. It's so weird....

Anyone have any idea?
posted by Lotsofcoffee to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
... I think you need to unpack this with a therapist.
posted by Blisterlips at 2:34 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I noticed she gave me this glance I recognized, and I felt like she saw me as a child; or I'm thinking she thinks that "ah he's very childish he's like an insecure or frightened child"

This, and similar thoughts, are entirely in your head. You are not a mind reader. She's probably nervous too, she's thinking things, she's looking around, but that thought? That is something you made up, not something she did to you. Same when other people do it. This sounds like a serious self-esteem issue and it might be good to see a therapist.
posted by brainmouse at 2:36 PM on February 28, 2012 [14 favorites]

I'm almost positive that your perception that others are peering into your secret self and criticizing your insecurities is not accurate. It's just that most people don't think that deeply about the inner lives of near strangers. If people treat you strangely, it's much more likely that you are making them uncomfortable somehow.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:38 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a particularly insidious form of social anxiety. Thirding a therapist.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I strongly sympathize with this kind of feeling, but dude, it is just bugs in your code. You are probably miles off from reading the other person's reactions accurately; instead you're projecting your own particular worst-case scenario.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:46 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

And even if she did see you "as a child" that isn't significant or inappropriate of her, seeing as she's your dad's partner (and presumably of an age to have children your age).
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:47 PM on February 28, 2012

Response by poster: But I just don't see how I could make her uncomfortable. This might sound intense, but seriously, if you were there you wouldn't know that I thought these things. So it's not like I don't function or anything. How could I make strangers uncomfortable? I look in eyes when I greet, I smile, I talk, I act quite normal IMO, without being too selfconscious; and surely there must be some space for a bit of nervousness anyhow, since we don't know each other.

There must be some problem in how I engage strangers; something about how I act psysically perhaps, where I look, what I say, that make then uncomfortable, but I don't know what it is. It's either that, or the so-called "glance" I'm speaking about doesn't exist.

I should perhaps consider therapy...
posted by Lotsofcoffee at 2:48 PM on February 28, 2012

There are LOTS of reasons why someone might not speak to you much. Maybe she is pretty intuitive and could just sense that you were really uncomfortable. Maybe your own discomfort read as hostility? It could be anything, really. Assuming the worst creates a self-fulfilling prophecy for you, in which you get more and more uncomfortable about how what people think of you, triggering reactions from them that only reinforce your (erroneous, probably) perceptions.
posted by hermitosis at 2:52 PM on February 28, 2012

the so-called "glance" I'm speaking about doesn't exist

Bingo. Also, are you ever nervous in social situations? Guess what, so are other people. I mean, in this case, she was probably desperately nervous about making a good impression on her boyfriend's kid. Your existence probably made her uncomfortable, and even if you had been the warmest, nicest guy in the world she would have felt uncomfortable and nervous. The same is true on almost every date, or when meeting new people, or in several other contexts. If all you're doing is correctly sensing is "this person is nervous", then you're already incredibly astute, but I suggest that different looks mean different things for different people, and you are completely misinterpreting the situation, not that you're magically inferring people's thoughts from a glance.
posted by brainmouse at 2:52 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

You sound like you are psyching yourself out.

Maybe less coffee? :-)

The thing is, you were probably the one facing less social pressure in this situation. As your dad's gf, she might have been wary of being judged by his kids, as it sometimes happens.

Maybe she took your awkwardness or nervousness as hesitation or disapproval about her. A lot of times people mistake shyness or silence as aloofness or judgementalism or a sense of superiority.

Here is the thing...many, if not most of us are awkward and do awkward things, but we learn not to obsess over goofs and just keep trudging forwards and keep trying, without going into weeklong downward spirals. You are allowing tiny interactions to become your focus.

It sounds like you need more social practice. You also sound kinda young, so you should feel less insecure over time.

I would say try to laugh about it, learn to let it go. I think learning basic meditation will help you with the anxiety and obsessiveness.

You sound like you are doing okay socially (you ask your friends for advice) but this website has some good tips to improve:
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can tell you what I do that stops me thinking these kinds of thoughts.

When I meet new people I assume _they_ are probably a little insecure around a new person, and I make an effort to seem welcoming, to try and find a common interest and start a conversation with them.

Usually what happens is that we have a nice chat, maybe we learn something about each other, maybe they correct any initial misperceptions they may have had about me. Maybe I can correct some misperceptions I have about them!

Sometimes what happens is that I completely fail to drag any kind of conversation out of this person, or we really don't click. At that point I decide that either they lack social skills, or they are not interested in conversation, probably for reasons unconnected to me, e.g.

- they ate something they shouldn't and are worried they may throw up
- they are distracted by something major going on in their life right now
- they are just generally very nervous in new situations
- they are kind of spaced out and have not really registered my existence on this planet
- who knows?

I'm assuming here that you have the basics covered, e.g. you have reasonable personal hygiene and your clothes fit.
posted by emilyw at 2:56 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Were you thinking about all of what you wrote in this question while the interaction was happening? If you're trying to engage with people at the same time you are thinking through everything you have written above I can see how they might pick up on something being amiss with you and that causing some awkwardness.

In that way, you would have, in effect, made this a self-fulfilling prophecy by thinking you picked up on some awkwardness that might have only been in your head but then actually created awkwardness by over-analyzing things while the interaction was happening.
posted by andoatnp at 2:58 PM on February 28, 2012

like they suddenly see I'm a sensitive or perhaps a bit nervous guy (though I don't really act that nervous).

But I just don't see how I could make her uncomfortable. This might sound intense, but seriously, if you were there you wouldn't know that I thought these things.

With all due respect, I suspect that you might have been acting kind of nervous yourself, if only because even your writing here, even, reads nervous. Your nervousness may have made her (more) nervous (as the girlfriend, meeting the children of your boyfriend is a very nerve-wracking act, already). But, no, this "glance" DOESN'T exist, because while I am sure she looked at you, you have NO IDEA what she was thinking. And I'm sure she was not thinking, "what a frightened child!" She was probably thinking, "I hope this goes well." Sometimes when people look at you, they're not even thinking about you. She might have been thinking, "Oh shit, the shirt he's wearing just reminded me I left my polos in the dryer overnight." Not every interaction at which you are present is all about you -- and I say that not to be mean, but hopefully to give you some peace of mind. Everyone is starring in their own movie. For example, last summer, I felt I had made a faux pas with a friend at a party, and I was OBSESSED with it. Until she mentioned to me that she had spent the whole party obsessed with the fact that she's gotten someone else's name wrong. She never even noticed the thing I was so worried about.

It does sound like you have a lot of anxiety -- social or otherwise -- and it might do you some good to talk to someone about it, though. Anxiety can be managed, and it's really worth it to try.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think you're necessarily imagining it, though that is possible. But I also think you're over generalizing. It's completely possible that you and she are just not a good match personality-wise. It's also possible that this discomfort or disliking is a result of the unique and too often fucked up dynamic between step-parent ish figures and grown kids. Maybe she's even judging your dad by how you and he interact. The situation is already fraught. There's nothing you can do about it but relax and make a mental note to keep an eye on her reactions in the future. Don't internalize it.
posted by stockpuppet at 3:00 PM on February 28, 2012

I know that look. It says different things for different people. For me, it was "What are you doing here?" or "You're weird and we're gonna make fun of you when you leave the room" or just "Ugh, loser." Like they're stamping "reject" on you with their eyes. Like they can see straight through your face to your inadequate soul.

Here's the good news: The Look isn't real. They're not rejecting you, and your soul isn't inadequate, and they couldn't see it if they tried. It's not a thought coming from the people looking at you. It's the voice of social anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem talking. Imagine it like the hateful voice in the Adventures in Depression post from Hyperbole and a Half, just superimposed on other people to trick your brain into thinking it's authentic.

Once you make progress on the anxiety/depression/self-esteem/whatever's holding you back (and yes, therapy is key here, and sometimes medication or exercise or something else as recommended by a professional), The Look goes away. It's like magic! And sometimes you'll get nervous or awkward with someone, and for a split second you'll think, "are they giving me The Look?" but then you realize that they're just regular people like you and shrug it off.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:04 PM on February 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

But I just don't see how I could make her uncomfortable.

Dude, you're her boyfriend's son who she was meeting for the first time. Of course that could make her uncomfortable. It's an inherently uncomfortable situation.

As for the "women think I am childish" thing, well, two possibilities: one, you behave childishly around women in ways of which you are not aware, or two, you are anxious about the idea that women will find you childish an are projecting that onto them. Since we can't see you interact with women, we can't say which it is -- but given that your friends didn't know what you were talking about when you asked them, the more likely hypothesis is that it's all in your head.
posted by ook at 3:10 PM on February 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Meeting new people: I feel like some (women) see me as a child

Also, in all my years I've never heard or known of a woman, myself included, giving a "look" that means "you are such a child". A look of "geez you and your football fantasy obsession" or a look of "you are acting like a fuckhead" but never anything like "you are such a child".

I think most people never feel like "mature adults" in the first place, so I'm surprised there are people giving you this look.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 3:12 PM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This might help a little bit -- how old are you? Do you look young, or young for your age? What is the age difference between you and your dad's girlfriend?

I'm trying to decipher what a "you are such a child" look is. Some older people may naturally have a paternal/maternal attitude when dealing with people much younger than them, and it really doesn't reflect on you as much as it reflects on them.

Also, from your post, it seems that you are on the self-conscious side. This is not a bad place to be, on the contrary it is a healthy thing, but if it leads to insecurity, then the insecurity can show in your behavior in ways that you are not aware of.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:25 PM on February 28, 2012

It's either that, or the so-called "glance" I'm speaking about doesn't exist.

It's almost certainly the latter.

Or you're pathologizing something perfectly normal--someone whose partner is your parent may well think of you, in some way, as a child, because you are their partner's child. The significant thing here to me is why you think that that is a bad thing.

Also wondering how you think women of any age "should" think of you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:38 PM on February 28, 2012

Honestly, your question and the followup post come across as paranoid. Which is to say, nothing you've described seems likely to be happening, and you are presuming that other people's actions are meaningfully directed toward you. I think you should consider talking to a professional about this, especially as you have apparently already discussed this with friends who were unable to assuage your concerns.
posted by OmieWise at 3:49 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Self-fulfilling prophecy. You feel slightly weird, so you act a bit differently. The person you're meeting picks up on that and slightly avoids you. You pick up on that and feel slightly weirder. They pick up on it and avoid you a bit more. Ad naseum.

It's the ladder of negative thought. Maybe it occurs elsewhere?

1. You spill coffee on your pants on the way to work.
2. You look at yourself and think "what an idiot, I always do this"
3. You have anxiety because your boss is going to see it.
4. He's already been after you for a few other things.
5. This is going to indicate that you indeed are incompetent.
6. He's going to look at you more closely now, which is the last thing you need.
7. You were late with that report. Is that what this is about?
8. You think you're always a bit late on things, that's what your last girlfriend said.
9. Someone walks by on the street and glances at your pants.
10. An instant referendum on your own incomptence. You feel that everyone is looking now.
11. You don't even want to work. You think about calling in sick for the morning.
12. But then your boss will know something is up.
13. You are frozen in panicked fear, wondering why, today of all days, did the coffee spill.
14. You fumble and call the office, you tell them you're delayed. Some stupid reason.
15. You hang up, terrified they saw through your lie.
16. You go home, freaking out. You rushedly change
17. Everyone seems to be on the metro this morning, this is taking forever.
18. You walk into the office three hours late. No one will look at you.
19. You scurry to your desk and begin awkwardly checking your email.
20. Your coworker Gabe comes up, he asks if you're okay.
21. Your heart speeds up, your hands tense. Why don't I look okay?
22. Gabe shakes his head and walks off.
23. The boss comes in and asks if everything is okay.
24. You freak out and begin to sob. Nothing is right in the world, you say.
25. Your boss suggests you go home for the day. You can talk about it again tomorrow with HR.

What you didn't notice was that there was a man next to you. The coffee also spilled on him because the lids are shit. A man at a factory in China ran out of plastic supplies, so he reduced the amount per lid. As a consquence, the lids don't fit.

The man next to you saw the coffee spill on you, and then he did it himself.

1. What a fucking racket, this lid, he thought.
2. He sponges off the coffee with a napkin.
3. He goes to the office, and tells his coworker, also named Gabe, about the spill.
4. His Gabe commiserates. A bird crapped on my uncle at his daughter's wedding, he says.
5. The man checks his email and runs out to a store across the street for a new pair of pants.
6. An hour later, he is sitting at his desk when his boss walks in. How are you? he asks.
7. Yeah, I'm fine, the man says.

The difference? You freaked out and got self-conscious and were sent home for the day and have a meeting with HR tomorrow (what's that going to do to your afternoon?). He got on with it.

In many of these cases, it has to do with improper boundaries. Our poor frustrated chap thought it was his fault the coffee spilled on him. He will go buy coffee again at the place because he is so obsessed with his own shortcomings, it never dawns on him that something else could have been at fault.

The other chap will not buy coffee there again when he is going to work. The sales manager of the coffee bar will see a decline in sales, and tell corporate. They will run a research study and find out their lids are shit.

So perhaps you should ask what is going on between you and your pops that you readily climb the ladder of negative thinking?
posted by nickrussell at 3:52 PM on February 28, 2012 [28 favorites]

Of course we are all just armchair analysts here because we haven't interacted with you in person in order to discern whether:

a. there is really is something off about your behavior that leads women to have apprehension in your presence

b. there is nothing off in your behavior, this particular woman was just nervous at meeting her bf's son, or she's a bitch or she's weird herself.

c. there is nothing off in your behavior and this woman had no issue with you and its all in your head.

So my advice to you is to find someone - a woman of course- who can interact with you in person and give you honest feedback as to whether a is a possibility. You could also visit a therapist and seek feedback there. The rest of us can only offer conjecture.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:30 PM on February 28, 2012

But I just don't see how I could make her uncomfortable.

Has it occurred to you that she might be thinking the same thing about how you were reacting to her?

You were not the only person in the group who was meeting new people that night. Meeting new people is nerve-wracking for lots of us, especially if we have a vested interest in being liked by a new person because they're important to a person who is important to us. You know, like when you're dating a guy and you meet his children?

Therapy is a fantastic place to learn new skills for coping with your own anxiety. I highly recommend it for you... and if you need help finding a therapist, do an AskMe search for therapy + your city to see if anyone's made recommendations here before.
posted by palomar at 5:33 PM on February 28, 2012

Your girlfriend was there; what does she think?
posted by BibiRose at 9:39 PM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Speaking as a 39-year-old: meeting a partner's children can be just as intimidating as meeting the parents was when you were younger. If you don't get on with them, it can make life very complicated. If they feel possessive of their family, if they want to sabotage things, they have a lot of power to do so.

So, it's quite possible that your father's girlfriend was scared of you, worried about you, or intimidated by you. She might have been genuinely nervous of you, just because of your position, not because of anything you did.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:00 AM on February 29, 2012

This might be a sort of self fulfilling loop. You might be interpreting people's general nervousness with meeting new people as them being uncomfortable or nervous because of you in particular. Then you're nervous or confused. And, even if you're good at not showing it, they pick up on something and then they're nervous. They might even be thinking "why is lotsofcoffee nervous? Have I done something to make them nervous? I didn't think I did?" and then it's a feedback loop of both of you nervous that you're making the other uncomfortable.
posted by f_panda at 9:21 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's probably really simple:
Nervous people make nervous people more nervous.
People who are a bit insecure - and who wouldn't be, in your dad's girlfriend's position! - open up when you are (or pretend to be) relaxed and friendly yourself.

Otherwise it could be a whole range of things. Have you tried asking your gf why she thinks the woman got along with her better than with you?
posted by Omnomnom at 2:45 PM on February 29, 2012

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