Thursday, July 12, 2007

impressions

Obsessing over what others think of me is a recurring insecurity. I try to brush it off as not being important but I can't help but wonder whether I'm making a lasting imprint and, if so, whether it is positive or negative. I know there are people upon whom I leave deep, rutted tracks. The type where even after months or even years of inattention, with grass and wildflowers growing up in the center, I am still rememered - for good or for ill. We were both impacted, the impression is not in doubt. Upon others I see my impression as light - a leaf landing in mud that can either be trampled on, covered up and soon forgotten or petrified and later treasured for its delicacy and fortitude. But with so many people passing through our daily lives, how do we know if our overall impact is positive?

I began questioning this anew after viewing a friends photos. I recognized one particular person as having been in my ward several years ago. My friend filled in some details and I recalled a bit more of what I once knew of him. My friend then pointed out that this person's wife remembered me as well. The wife did not look familiar but I remembered that he married a girl from the ward and I assumed five years, a different hairstyle and large sunglasses obscured what I would have remembered about her. My friend launched into a "funny" story this woman told about being at a dinner with me and me demanding she pay . . . or something to that effect. When my friend realized this story was not entirely funny to me and actually quite confusing, he claimed to not remember the whole thing and refused to relay more. It was clear, her only view of me was quite negative and in my memory I can barely make out that we ever had dinner together and the idea of me demanding she pay seems out of character, especially since I avoid (at all costs) being the person to collect money at the end of a large group dinner. And even more specifically, I learned early on in residing in New York that a group of more than six Mormons in New York means always tossing in extra money because someone underpaid. I attribute this to a number of issues: people not accounting for tax, tip, shared appetizers, someone leaving early, the number of drinks they ordered, etc. My solution is never to point fingers at someone in blame. But why should it bother me that all these years later, a woman I barely even knew (I don't know if I ever even knew her name) seems to hold a grudge against me for something I sincerely doubt I did. I guess it bothers me because she retold the story, her version of the story, to a good friend of mine who I gathered did not defend me but seemed amused by it, or as he said the way she told the story.

It reminded me of something that happened a few years ago which I have termed "the muffin story." I was living in Salt Lake and, for better and sometimes worse, actively involved in my ward's social scene. I had not been in the ward for long and there was one particular girl who seemed to have a serious dislike for me. She was close with other girls I was friends with and one day I finally asked one of them why this girl walked away when I was talking or sneered at me and just seemed to intensely hate me. I expected an insincere "oh, you are just imagining things, she doesn't hate you" reassurance, instead I was told "that's because she does. Because you threw a muffin at her and laughed that one time." I was beyond baffled. When, where and why would I throw a muffin at her (or anyone) and laugh? As her side of the story unfolded (as relayed by the mutual friend), I was close enough in time to the event in question to understand the confusion.

My ward was attending a Utah Symphony concert at Deer Valley in late summer. I drove up with my brother and another friend. Throughout the drive up we were engrossed in a book called "The Hipster Handbook" a friend had loaned me. Quickly absorbing the new lingo into our dialogue we were in a rather ridiculous mood by the time we spread our blanket on the hillside and continued to entertain ourselves with our new source of comedy. As at any ward event, there was food spread out and people were passing licorice, cookies and yes, even muffins from blanket to blanket. Caught up in our hysteria I did not see the girl behind me tossing pieces of muffin at the girls a couple of blankets in front of us to gain their attention. I likewise missed the launching of the extra large muffin that hit my hater because I was trying to work in deck, fin, berries and frado into my new hipster lingo. I can honestly say, I was neither throwing muffins nor laughing at the hapless victims of misguided assault muffins. I was completely oblvious of the scene around me. But when she was hit, she very well could have turned around and seen me laughing and misinterpreted the scene.

I never cleared up the muffin misunderstanding, it felt too trivial and the impression appeared to be too deeply made. I couldn't imagine how the conversation would sound to try and correct the story, so I let it go. For better or worse, not everyone will like me. I realize this. I guess for me, I just like to know and understand why.

For this and so many other reasons, I am ever curious about what type of first impression I make on others. Feel free to share yours, if you remember.

3 comments:

tiff said...

I think the scary thing about impressions is that they seem to be clouded in the personal issues of the person forming the impression. The muffin story--clearly not your problem.

I often feel (especially since my move out to the newly developed west side of my valley) that I have been judged, categorized, whatever, before I've ever had a chance to open my mouth and talk to someone. That bothers me immensely.

As for my first impression of you, I believe it was at my house, when you came to the wbwg for the first time. I thought you were classy, smart, and way too funny to be an attorney. I also thought you were a great writer. See how dead-on my impressions are???

By the way, I can't imagine you demanding someone else pay for your food. Bah!

Ma said...

The muffin story is a great example of why we should not make hasty judgements of people from one experience or our first impression (there are a few exceptions). Sometimes those first impressions are dead-on, but sometimes we are totally wrong in our first impression.

I have been guilty many times of making a sarcastic or harsh comment around others when I was feeling frustrated. Some comments that I made still haunt me because I worry that others may not have realized that I was either frustrated, not thinking about how the words coming out of my mouth were being interpreted, or that I was in a very dark, angry week of my monthly pms cycle. It hurts me to think that someone might think of me as uncaring, unfriendly, bigoted or any other unflattering characteristic that one might think of me because of one thoughtless comment or action.

I think that we also have to realize that sometimes our first negative impressions of others may be correct at that moment in time, but people change and so should our opinion of that person.

My first impression of you was that you were beautiful and that you would change my life forever. My impressions were correct.

autumn said...

The Hipster Handbook! Wow, there was an entire summer that Mary and I read that book instead of listening to the speakers in sacrament.

As far as first impressions go, I have enemies and I have no idea why. I just know they hate me. It's weird what makes people do that. These specific cases, I remember trying my hardest to be nice and kind, but it didn't make any difference.

On the other hand, some of my very best friends have been made based off of first impressions. What I do know is that I wish My Haters would've given me a chance before basing their opinion on stereotypical judgements. Some of these girls I've never even spoken to. Makes no sense.

Anyway, my first impression of you was fantastic. You make great first impressions. I thought "finally, a girl with brains and style. I need to make her my friend."

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