They say that first impressions are everything. I say otherwise.
First impressions are everything only in job interviews and when I’m reading a dessert menu. But when it comes to building relationships, I think it’s important to not bring down the hammer of judgement after one interaction. First impressions should be taken with a grain of salt. Or an entire bucket of salt.
Listen, if the only people who still talked to me were the people who had good first impressions of me, I’d only have like, three friends, including my father. Even he probably didn’t have the best first impression, given that I was crying, purple, and looked remarkably like Chris Farley when I was born.
Seriously, if your first impression of me was in high school– which is like one long first impression for people who will know and/or vaguely remember you in adulthood– you probably didn’t get the greatest sense of who I am. Not that I don’t love wearing musical cast t-shirts or breaking out in dance with my friends, but I’m also way less competitive than I think I portrayed myself to be in high school.
Issues with how I behaved in high school have pretty much never been raised, so I think I have pent up insecurities that don’t actually reflect the reality of how people view(ed) me, but I still feel the need to defend my teenage self. It’s not like people threw tomatoes my direction, or that I dealt with more flak than the average adolescent, so I’m not sure why I’m convinced that I was so misunderstood. Perhaps it’s because, looking back, I probably would’ve thought I was a big pain back then. I’ll just say this:
To those of you who attended Frank W. Cox High School with me, please forgive me for finishing my tests first and practically running to place them on the teacher’s desk, or singing too loudly in chorus class. It’s not because I was competitive, it’s because I inherited a serious sense of urgency from my father, which means I tend to panic until a task is complete. The faster I finished a test, the faster the panic ended. This probably also explains my eating and driving habits. As far as singing too loud, well that was because I wanted the teacher to know that we nailed the music, so maybe she’d end rehearsal early and let us eat M&Ms and socialize for the last ten minutes of class. I’m not kidding– I’m, like, the least competitive person ever. It’s why I refuse to play Monopoly, and why I find zero appeal in watching or participating in organized sports.
Thanks for letting me defend my high school self. I guess I’ve been wanting to do that for years.
Anyway, first impressions are ridiculous. Teenage years behind me, I might have a bad day here and there as an adult, which doesn’t bode well for small talk upon meeting someone. Maybe I misplaced my keys. Maybe I hit one of my infamous walls, highly known and feared by my friends and family. Once I hit a wall (I can only socialize so long before this happens), there’s no pushing through it. I’m done. One second, I’ll be the life of the party, telling jokes and flitting from group to group. The next, I’m hiding in the bathroom, ferociously texting my husband death threats unless he agrees to go home with me in the next 30 seconds. If anyone ever met me during one of these episodes, it’s safe to say that my first impression wasn’t stellar.
Other times my first impressions are weak:
- When I’m hungry
- When I’m really full
- When I’m in the middle of something
- When I have to go to the bathroom
- When I can’t remember a word for something, and that’s all I can think about
Knowing that I often miss the mark in portraying myself to be the lovable, friendly person I like to think I am, I should be extremely lenient with the first impressions I get of other people, right? In a perfect world, yes. In reality, I tend to use first impressions to make indisputable claims about a person’s character. Harsh, especially when I think how horrible it would be for someone to do the same to me. But in the name of honesty, I’m confessing to this natural side of me that declares a complete understanding of a person– good or bad– after one, initial meeting.
Since I’ve learned, over the years, that I would pretty much live in exile if people didn’t show me some grace, I’ve started forcing myself to give people second chances. I wish I could say it’s gotten easier, but it hasn’t. Every time I don’t like someone’s first impression vibe, it takes everything in my power to greet them with a clean slate the second time we meet. But I do it. Because I’m so grateful for the people who’ve done it for me.
Whenever I decide to re-familiarize myself with someone who didn’t do so hot in their first round of presence in my life, I pretty much always find that person to be far more enjoyable and agreeable than I did during our initial meeting. Perhaps circumstances have changed. Perhaps they’re no longer having a bad day. Perhaps they’ve overcome something that made them dislike me in the beginning, which was why they treated me in a way that resulted in mutual feelings of disdain. Perhaps they’ve had more coffee. Whatever it may be, people who gave off a bad first impression are usually a lot kinder, funnier, smarter, etc. than they first let on.
Example: I remember being incredibly frustrated with a girl who dated my now-ex-boyfriend before me, because she had A) done some not-so-great things to him when they dated, and B) tried to cause waves in my relationship with him. I vented about her to my roommate, made fun of all the ridiculous antics she’d pull, and decided that she was just a horrible, desperate person that I’d never like. As you can see, my first impression of her was prettyyyy strong.
By the way, I should mention a first impression isn’t always just one interaction. It can also be the first, but ongoing interaction over a specific course of time. Like “my first impression of her was summer camp 2015” or “my first impression of him was freshman year of college.” In this case, my first impression of this girl was the course of time that I was dating her ex-boyfriend.
Well, long after I broke up with our shared ex, we ran into each other, and I approached our conversation with a deep breath and a fresh slate. I told myself I’d give her a chance to show me who she was now that the dust had settled with her feelings that were previously clouded by jealousy and pain. And mine had been clouded with annoyance and defensiveness. I was absolutely floored about how much fun I had chatting with her. She went from someone I couldn’t stand to someone I legitimately wanted to have a glass of wine with. I bet if I’d given her the chance to show me that side of her before this unplanned and therapeutic run-in, I would’ve spent a lot fewer months wasting energy disliking her. I also probably should’ve realized that my first impression of her wasn’t worth keeping, since it was tied up in an emotional situation.
I have countless stories like this one, including a pageant girl who went from arrogant and rude (in my head) to one of my favorite people alive, a woman who started off as an intimidating bully turned close friend and confidant, and a coworker who switched from cocky weirdo to deeply complex and lovable weirdo.
You’d think that with all of this positive experience giving second chances– or sometimes *technically* first chances for first-hand interaction, given that “first impressions” can sometimes be what I “know” about a person through word of mouth or social media– I’d be way better at brushing off a bad first go-around. Unfortunately, I’m still pretty bad at it. Although I’ve yet to totally shake the bad taste I have for a handful of people, I’m challenging myself to nibble on a palate cleanser. In some cases, I may never get the opportunity to renew the impression, but that doesn’t mean I can’t move towards giving them a clean, impartial slate in my heart.
There’s an entirely different side to this argument, which is that many first impressions are far shinier than what you actually find beneath the surface upon a second look, but I think there’s enough negativity in this world. Why not assume that people are better than you think, not the other way around? That outlook sure makes for a brighter world.
I hope you challenge yourself, just as I am, to give second chances and take bad first impressions with a
grain bucket of salt.