Sunday, November 3, 2013

They Don't All Have to Like You

A communication principle I learned years ago in a college class, one that I can't locate the name of now, at least in a five minute Google search, goes something like this: If you like a person - and I don't mean 'like' as have a romantic interest in, but simply like someone - you default to expecting that person to like you back. And vice versa: If you dislike someone, you tend to assume that person doesn't like you either. When you like someone, and you realize the sentiment is not reciprocated, this creates distress. The same when someone likes you and you dislike him; it's difficult to wrap your mind around. I know that sounds like simple common sense, but there's actually a name for that. 

Recently, I've had a couple of instances where I realized people who I held in high regard did not think the same of me in return, when I thought they had. In both cases, I found myself embarrassed. In one case, I still had to be around the individual for a period of time, and I wasn't sure how to conduct myself around the person. I had been friendly and chatty before; I ended up avoiding interaction with the person unless it was necessary. 


When I was in middle school, and a little into high school, I had a crush on a girl in my class who I won't name because honestly we're Facebook friends, and I don't think she reads my updates often, but some of her other friends might, and I don't want to make it awkward. Anyway, this girl was probably my first great adolescent crush (my first crush ever being on the young, pretty bank teller that always gave me a sucker and a balloon with the bank logo on it every time Mom and I went to deposit dad's paychecks when I was a toddler.) My first real heartbreak was in the 7th grade when I watched another guy in my class dancing with her, and then a while later, I overheard the news that she had agreed to "go out" with him. (I used to be Facebook friends with this guy, too, but he deleted me sometime back, probably because I'm a liberal, Obama-supporting, gay-loving kind of guy, and, well, one of the last posts I remember reading from him was an emphatic declaration that toleration for all the funny-looking brown-skinned people must cease.) 

A couple of years later, she ended up dating one of my best friends. He dragged me with them to the movies one night - Speed, starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. I had already taken my seat when they came into the theater, and my friend guided her down the aisle towards me, and she turned to him and said, with no attempt to hide the disgust in her voice, "I'm not sitting next to him." (I was probably the biggest dork in my class, or at least way up there in the running. If I was a girl, I wouldn't have sat next me either.)

It wasn't just that interaction, but a few others after as well that made me self-reflect and realize that I had never known this girl well at all, never had an honest idea of who she was.* I had just fallen for her based on her looks, and I made up a personality for her in my fantasies of what 'going out' with her would be like. I was a freshman in high school, and this was a huge revelation for me, that sometimes we want to like someone so much, we take what little we know about the person, and make up the rest from there.


Here's the thing about the couple of people who I recently realize didn't care much for me: I had not fully learned the lesson from so many years ago in high school. I don't really know either one of these people all that well. I based my opinion of them on a few interactions. Which is not to say they are not good people - as much as learning to the contrary may sting, liking me is not a criterion for whether I consider you a good person - but it is to say, I don't really know them at all, so why should I worry what they think of me?

And the other lesson attached to that is, I have plenty of people in my life who show me often the high regard they do hold me in, and I should focus much more on those people than the others. 

A well-needed lesson I sometimes still need to learn. 


*A final note about that crush from middle school. She's a very lovely person with a beautiful family, still living in my hometown area. The last time I saw her was at the fall festival some years back. We chatted for a while, and she was even kind enough to stick around and watch me compete in the singing competition. 

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