Someone I met recently shared some potentially deal-breaking information with me. The kind of information that makes you think you jumped in too fast. It was personal, but necessary, information. This made me realize how much I judge, shape an opinion, decide the worthiness of someone, and how much of it is based on appearances.
In this case: my opinion was very high because this man is always very well-dressed, mild-mannered, eloquent, and impossibly polite by today’s standards. It’s as if he just stepped down from a Victorian-era hansom with top hat and walking stick in hand. I mean this in the most complimentary way. He always appears to be the epitome of the true gentle man.
Then, because we are considering working on a project together, we began talking via e-mail. There came a turning point, when he had to bare a small part of his soul, something only those who need to know know, in order for me to gauge whether I could take on the project. I didn’t see it coming. I’ll admit I had to take a deep breath and process. I was thankful this happened virtually rather than face-to-face because my expression may have betrayed my feelings.
The man he is today is the result of a painful process involving grievous mistakes and inescapable consequences. There’s probably a lot more that I don’t know — but might if I sign on to this one. So, what now? Walk away? Proceed with caution but draw clear boundaries? Forge ahead without prejudice?
Would I have been less shocked if he was a slovenly, ill-mannered sort of person? Why did appearances play so heavily in this matter? How well do we know anyone in our lives?
This got me thinking about my life and how I seem to others. If you don’t know my back story, you could come up with any number of conclusions about me. I’ve heard them all. I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. I could go to the same store dressed two different ways and receive very different treatment. If I go in a skirt, makeup applied and hair styled, I get attention. If I go in paint-splattered pants, bare-faced, hair twisted in a clip, I’m ignored. I’m treated one way when I’m with my children at the park, quite another when I’m at a concert venue in high heels. Is this fair? Is this right? I don’t know but it’s the way of things.
Recently I gave up trying to be friends with someone. I thought we clicked, that we would be fast friends. At first I think we were, then something changed. I don’t know what I did; I can only assume I committed a deal breaker. Slowly it occurred to me that she was dumping me.
She started saying things like: I thought you hated (insert name of my favorite band/food/wine/restaurant.) so I didn’t ask/invite you. She started recalling details about me that were not my story: that I had carpal tunnel syndrome, that I was a homebody who never liked to go out, that I contradicted myself.
It hit me then: She didn’t know me at all and really didn’t want to. She just reached a hand into the junk drawer of her brain and pulled out scraps to form her idea of me. She had already made up her mind.