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First Impressions (or, A Kindred Spirit?)

September 23, 2010

When I arrived home this afternoon, I was just checking on the plants around the front door when a man suddenly appeared (I’m pretty sure he didn’t just *pop* into existence in the driveway, but I wasn’t paying attention) behind me, brandishing a jar of homemade salsa.  He introduced himself as the occupant of the house next to our across-the-street neighbors, R&B (Bwah ha ha) so I introduced myself and told him DH would be glad to meet him as well.  This neighbor said that he and some of the other neighbors have talked about having a potluck, and by gosh we should just set a date, so we did.  He then mentioned that he and his wife were the Young Pups when they moved into the neighborhood 33 years ago, and now they are the old timers and they are never going to leave by golly and their 32 year old child was born in that house.


I like this person.  I told him I had a home birth as well, at our old house, and how when we have another, s/he will be born right here as well.  He admired LM (sitting patiently in her car seat on the front step like a bucket baby) and we parted ways.  I put the salsa in the fridge and then thought about the exchange, and how I instantly took a liking to the man because he and I have a fairly unusual life experience in common.  I came away with a really positive first impression because his 32 year old child was born at home.  I don’t know that child’s gender, name, and I’ve never met this neighbor’s wife and don’t know ANYTHING else about him, except that someone in his household cans homemade salsa, and he is friendly enough to want to have neighbors over for a potluck.  That is very little information to go on.

It is very interesting to me (I minored in psych, can you tell?) the conclusions that people will jump to in trying to organize their social structure.  Now, I am not saying that I expect to start disliking my neighbor, but what is my immediate affinity for him really based upon?  Maybe his wife really wanted the home birth and he was staunchly opposed to it.  Maybe it was an accident.  Maybe the guy drowns kittens and listens to Rush Limbaugh.  He could be a raging, salsa-making, neighbor-greeting douchebag and I don’t know, but I decided to like him immediately because he had a baby at home.

Psychologists and sociologists argue that making snap judgements about people serves some sort of evolutionary purpose, a sort of friend-or-foe assessment.  Maybe it’s true, who knows?  I just know it is almost impossible to meet a person and be completely neutral about them.  Even if you don’t even talk to a person, your brain notices things about him/her and cross-references those things with traits you consider positive or negative.  And they are usually wrong.  Fascinating.  I’ve actually told some people who have become my good friends what my initial (wrong) impressions of them were.  Once they got over the slight insult, they thought it was hilarious, because they’re always based on stupid things, like the kind of shirt they were wearing that day, etc.  I wish we could withhold all judgement on a person until we spoke to him/her face to face, for at least five minutes.

But that ain’t gonna happen.  Nice shirt, doofus.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Eliot permalink
    September 23, 2010 3:16 pm

    I agree with the friend-or-foe assessment theory. Although this instinct is certainly honed to a lethal point in some, I think it still serves the rest of us well in at least separating the dangerous from the harmless. The funny thing, as you’ve mentioned, is that we are so often wrong. Because of our ability to scrutinize others to such a degree, it’s only natural then that we would either consciously and/or subconsciously conceal some level of personal truth in ourselves in the all-out effort of tricking others into liking us. This, I would argue, is the best counter to the snap judgment during a first impression, as it leaves the judges to make their decision based on decidedly false information.
    We all know how important first impressions are when it comes to anything involving the approval of others. Developing a friendship or romantic partnership, interviewing for a job, talking to a police officer during a routine traffic stop; all hinge on one’s ability to seem normal if not utterly likeable. It’s somewhat sad to think how often we must suppress our natural instincts in favor of pretending to be normal, especially since I can’t think of anyone I’ve met who could pose for the “NORMAL” poster. Everyone lies a little to be liked and to fit into society without being punished, and everyone lies a little to justify the move. Is something wrong if EVERYONE does it? If a tree falls in the woods…

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