I was talking with a friend a while back—one who became a friend after a couple of dates and still occasionally gets a “benefit” or two when I’m in the mood, but who doesn’t want to date me any longer. (Which is fine, because I don’t want to date him now either.) But I asked him what it is that made him certain he didn’t want to date me, and his response was that we didn’t “click”, or that he wasn’t “feeling it”.
Yesterday I had a lovely lunch with a cousin. He is the cousin I hold most close and have more than a familial pseudo-connection with in the great web of cousins that spreads out across the country (even though we only see one another once every 8 to 10 years). We talked about how his punch to my shoulder in our childhood, and my calling him out on doing so and not letting him bully me, was somehow the starting point and the bonding moment that glued us together and kept us loving one another throughout the many years since.
It got me thinking about the ways we judge people. It got me thinking about first impressions.
I have a friend, whom I love, that I had negative impressions of when we first met. She was often late to class, and she was always behind on assignments. She often sat alone in a corner and seemed distant and in her own world. And later I discovered the reasons she was alone and fighting to keep up with things. She was suffering one of the deepest and most challenging losses one can suffer, and suffering it without the love and care and attention she deserved at that time. Had I let my first impression be the thing that defined her, and not replaced that with something more or deeper, I would have missed out on a wonderful friendship with a beautiful woman.
I had a co-worker that was convinced I was having an affair of some sort with another co-worker. She was certain that the treatment I received from him was different from that which others received. She was right that I had connected with that co-worker in ways that others had not, but her first impression—the one that said him liking me better than some others was akin to romantic interest—was completely unfounded. We just got along well, because we were both honest and supportive, and we had mutual concern for those whom we served at work. We were a lot alike, and we developed a lasting friendship. Now I often claim that I wouldn’t be making it through life without him, but we still have no romantic interest in one another.
One day a friend of an ex-lover was over visiting me. She mentioned something about being jealous of him and his interactions with me. I said she ought not have been jealous, because I would have enjoyed a similar relationship with her. This led to a lovely evening of eating and drinking and laughing and kissing and spending wonderful moments together. Had her first impression not been corrected, we might have missed out on that fun night. That one night was the extent of our flirtation, but it broke down the false impression of me that she had held for years. She finally discovered the queer side of me.
So, today, I remain fascinated by the ways we frame things, and we create identities and scenarios based solely on first impressions. Our cognitive biases cause us to connect or disconnect based on one moment or characteristic or idea. And I can’t help but think that this often causes more harm than good.
I don’t want to be known as who I am in only one moment.
We are more complex than can be demonstrated in one moment, or one interaction, or one day. The whole of our identity and the depth of our own scenarios cannot even be grasped by the self without careful consideration, so we shouldn’t conceive identities for others based on a glance or a short and impersonal first interaction.
I dare bet all that I have that each of us has moments that we are not proud of. I would also dare bet that the moments we would like to have everyone see as the “real” us are not complete representations of who we are. I think that none of us wants to be considered only from the point of a first impression. None of us is wholly what we are in one moment.
I had a good friend who saw me at one of my worst moments. I rarely break in such a deep fissure sort of way in front of people. I try to hold those moments in until I am alone with a pillow over my face to muffle the sobs and screams. But once in a while they slip out while in the company of others. And this particular time that I broke in front of someone, that relationship was immediately and irreparably harmed. That moment began to color all the other moments—the “better”, clearer, more comfortable moments. We still wish one another hellos and happy birthdays and the occasional missing yous, but we aren’t close like we once were. That brokenness became who I was, and that became too much to deal with. It is a common occurrence, and I never lay any blame on the other person, because I know my pain is too deep and strong and heavy a burden to bear. I know that I don’t want it on my own shoulders, so I won’t think less of anyone who doesn’t want it placed upon their shoulders. But I sometimes miss those people. I sometimes wish I hadn’t broken into pieces then and there. I wish I hadn’t let that impression be.
But I am all of me.
The false impressions are crap. Stop making people one thing from one moment. It isn’t helping any of us. Let people be complex and diverse and dichotomous and incongruent and broken and good and loving and deep and broad and beautiful. Let them be all that they are.
Let me be all that I am.
I am the same woman when I connect well with someone as I am when I don’t click with another. I am the same woman when I break as I am when I look like it is all together. I am the same woman kissing my male ex-lover as I am making out with his female friend. I am the same woman when I display strength and wisdom as I am when I fall to my knees and break down in desperate sobs and self-loathing. I’m not one of those moments, but a compilation of all of those moments. And there are even more parts of me that I have yet to discover and to share. There will be many more new impressions to make. And I will continue to become. I will be more. Let me be so.
The greatest mistake that we make, when we frame our lives and our interactions, is to believe that a moment makes a lifetime, or that a year makes a decade, or that a decade makes a millennium. We are not a moment. And the way we frame things needs to include the opportunity for continual reframing. We must not take a single impression and make it the definitive truth about a person or a situation. We need to leave room for complexity and deeper understanding and change and discovery. We need to let people have this space to be all and become more.
So, my musings of this morning leave me in a space where I am working to be open to more and more moments, and to reserve judgment, and to not give my initial impression and interpretation more power or weight than it deserves. My goal is to be and let be. My goal is to become and let become.
I want to be known for all of my parts and moments and impressions and connections, and I want to know others in that same way. And that is difficult, because we are so accustomed to framing things in one way, and we are not accustomed to being open and honest, and we are very accustomed to presenting an image that is pleasing to the rest of society rather than letting the whole of who we are show. So, being known for all my parts and moments means being exceptionally vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is very difficult, but it is a requirement if I want to be known for all that I am.
I said to my cousin yesterday that I have never “come out” as something because I don’t really have a definitive way of expressing what it is I am coming out as. But today I realize that I need to come out as proudly broken and queer and brilliant and challenged and disabled and strong and beautiful and angry and calm and loud and insufficient and overflowing and amazing and growing and awakened and stubborn and addicted and stressed and fighting and accepting and loving and good. I need to proudly wear the banner of all of the things I am. And doing so is a vulnerable act, but one that I am willing to perform. Because it is worth claiming and calling out these things if the result is being known in all my complexity.
Be all you can be. (Not necessarily in the army, but just in general.) And let others be all that they are. That is a beautiful thing. That is a way of connecting to one another that allows us all to grow and have more interactions and more beautiful interactions and more truth and more love in our lives. And who doesn’t want all of that?
I want all of that … and more.