What You See Is What You Get. Except When It’s Not
First impressions can tell us a lot. In fact, in this country, we’re obsessed with them: We have too much hair. Or the hair we do have is the wrong color. Or our shoes don’t have red soles. Or we’re 5-packs short of a 6-pack!
We’re so obsessed with first impressions that we have designer bodies, hair, and shoes. And we drive sports cars that cost as much as small houses.
We don’t stop there. We give out non-physical cues, too. We want others to see us as compassionate or cold, friendly or “hard,” smart or funny. Or we want to be chic and sophisticated or the life of the party.
We care what people think of us, and we’re watching them pretty closely, too.
When it comes to relationships, we can fall into two traps: We can believe first impressions that are false, or we can ignore first impressions that are true. Let’s take a look at these two kinds of relationship pitfall.
Underneath the False First Impression
One sign that a person is insecure is that they spend a lot of time, money, or energy building a façade. They want others to believe things about them that are just not true. And sometimes we fall for those false first impressions.
There’s no magic wand to keep us from getting fooled by these first impressions, but when it comes to relationships, we have a few weapons.
One of the best weapons I know is the combination of time and distance. If you’re old enough, you may have heard a song by Percy Sledge called Take Time To Know Her. The message: slow down and make sure you have what you think you do.
You may have found a good thing. If you have, it will still be a good thing a month from now or six months from now. Don’t let anyone pressure you into moving so fast in the relationship that you turn off your instincts, your values, or your brain.
If he or she is a “counterfeit good thing,” there’s a good chance the mask will slip as time goes by. If you’re too caught up in the fantasy, though, you’ll fail to see what’s right before your eyes.
Blunt Advice for Women
You already know what I’m going to say. God has given us a built-in treasure. If you let the smooth talker with the false façade have yours, you open the door to disappointment and heartache. Your self-esteem will take a hit, and you’ll probably blame him for the way you feel.
A man who is fully committed to God will treat your heart with care and your body with respect. Give yourself enough time and distance to know which kind of man you’re dealing with. And as you wait and watch, refuse to compromise your high standards. Players are not likely to hang around long if you refuse to let them “play.”
Another weapon is the trusted advice of family and friends and your spiritual leaders. If you hesitate to introduce this new person to your parents, your best friends or your pastor, something is wrong. If you introduce this person and those folks are giving you the side-eye or questioning your sanity, something is wrong.
I’m not suggesting that your loved ones and spiritual leaders should control your decisions. I AM saying, though, that they may see more clearly than you do because their thinking hasn’t been eclipsed by a pretty face or a bulging bank account. So consider their words with an open mind.
Now to the next stumbling block…
True First Impressions from…You-Know-Where
Sometimes first impressions are true. And not so impressive. One example—in my book, anyway—is the foul-mouthed thug.
The best advice I can offer here, is this: When someone shows you that they are disrespectful, filled with rage, selfish, shallow, petty, or you-fill-in-the-blank, believe them. This is not the kind of stuff people usually try to fake.
You may think that point is so obvious I wasted a few seconds of my life writing it. But I’ll bet you’ve seen it too: The woman who buys red-soled shoes rather than pay her rent on time; the man who shouts at the top of his lungs whenever things don’t go his way; the woman who thinks her ideas are the only ones that count; and the man who uses his superior size to intimidate. These are just a few examples.
Right now, somewhere, somebody is dating somebody just like that. Or worse, planning a wedding! Maybe somebody YOU know.
Every day men and women ignore bad behavior and values that clash. They stay in relationships that make them unhappy, for who knows what reason, and sometimes they march blindly down the matrimonial aisle.
If that’s what you want, who am I to tell you it’s not good? But it’s not.
This is a tough one. It seems to me that people with solid self-esteem and a positive outlook on life tend to take one look at these bad behaviors and respond with a rapid about-face. They just don’t hang around long enough to get hurt by people who clash with their values. I don’t have a quick tip for building your self-esteem, because that’s a complex issue.
So the best weapon I can offer is self-awareness. If this is a problem for you, own it and then choose to stop falling into this trap. Make time for self-development. Find out what’s going on in your head and your heart that allows you to fall victim even when you see the train wreck coming—or what keeps you blind to that oncoming train wreck. Start with family, church, a therapist or a personal coach. Just don’t give up.
So Now You Know
When it comes to first impressions, what you see is what you get. Except, of course, when it’s not.
When you see things in people that warn of trouble ahead, believe them and act on what you know. When you meet someone and everything looks perfect, give it time and test out that first impression.
Whether you’re looking for friendship or romance, I hope these tips have given you a few practical ideas for avoiding first impression pitfalls.
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