In a time when networking is synonymous with dating, we often overlook the difference between making a positive impression versus making a true impression. As young professionals navigating the social circles of our cities, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet people who are outside of “someone knows someone who knows someone else.” By sheer probability, even the guy you met randomly at Starbucks one afternoon shares a mutual Facebook friend or LinkedIn contact (and how much self-restraint does it take not to do a background check?!).
There are times when a reputation precedes you, and unfortunately it’s usually for the worse than the better. Instead of being talked about as a girl with incredible moral fiber, what makes the water cooler convo is the string of bad decisions so-and-so made (because, obviously, you know someone who knows someone who knows someone else). The worst is when someone contributes feedback of “Oh, I know that guy you just went on a date with for the first time! I heard he hooked up with Mel’s friend and never called her back.” That kind of data needs some major qualifiers, people! Maybe Mel’s friend is a loon and needs a restraining order, or maybe manwhore actually isn’t a manwhore and has legitimate interest in you. People do funny things under the inspiration of legitimate feeling.
Talk about a tough crowd, though. People are out there ready to give (potentially false/inaccurate) information for the sake of just conversing. When you’re not mindful of the repercussions of indulgent behaviour or the backlash from others, making a great first impression can suddenly be tougher than getting into an Ivy league. I’ve had situations where I’ve been “warned” or cautioned about new contacts, whether as dating prospects or female friends. Is it ever possible to overlook that unsolicited feedback about someone else and try to see them in their own light? To try to openly form your own opinion, because you’re paranoid they’re duping you?
I remember meeting one guy who has a horrible reputation as a man around town. I can’t help but wonder if people who are so pigeonholed into the images they’re expected to portray actually cease to attempt to present true impressions of who they are. If it’s almost easier to act the way everyone assumes you to be, even though it must certainly eat away at you. Everyone tries to present themselves in a flattering light in the early stages of meeting someone (think of the prestigious interview you landed at McKinsey and the perfectly pressed suit you wore to look your best). It’s the same sort of thing on an emotional level when people try to portray the best, socially acceptable traits (aka. politically correct, diplomatic) instead of the rougher edges they’re trying so hard to mask.
Then you end up in the conundrum of “how is it possible to actually get to know someone if they won’t drop their guard and be themselves?” A few months into the dating and relating experience, and you find yourself waking up beside a totally different person to the uber-restrained version you started to get to know. Imagine you find yourself falling in love for the fake version instead of the real, gritty person underneath. Like a salmon resisting the river, you’re fighting constantly against yourself.
So, even though you might have an unsavoury rep, or think you need to swear less in order to make a good impression, I hope that we all try to take the steps to be more authentic versions of ourselves. It saves so much time and energy to do it right the first time, instead of having to realize that the person before you is not at all what you thought. It’s like buyer’s remorse, in a way; you feel duped by the inauthentic portrayal another sells you. Or if you look in the mirror and see a truer person lingering beneath the surface of who you’re trying to be.