Everyone you meet, everyone you have met, and everyone you know first starts out as an idea of what you want them to be or who you think they might be.
From the moment you first see someone, no matter how hard you try not to, you’re mentally taking notes on everything about them, their clothes, their voice, the way they carry themselves, how firm their handshake is, their smile, their hair, the way they make or lack eye contact. Before someone even has a chance to say hello you’ve formed an opinion of them. They’re wearing too much make up, their teeth are too large for their mouth, their hair is too long or their beard isn’t trimmed, their suit is too small, their shirt has a stain on it.
The first conversation you have with them can alter this initial opinion, or it can support it. They might be friendlier than they look, they might have a voice that sounds like nails on a chalkboard to your ears, they might be extremely well-spoken but dressed like a complete bum. Sometimes a first conversation can be shocking, leaving you confused and re-evaluating your opinion on someone’s outer shell.
Our brains gather all of this information and try to form something out of it, even though there’s no point. We try to come to conclusions after spending a few minutes with someone, and those conclusions are probably almost always wrong. Society teaches us that attractive people are good, and unattractive people are bad. We all now know as adults that this is entirely untrue, that looks have almost nothing to do with a person’s morality, but innately our minds still tend to follow this rule of thumb.
Then our brains continue to think and process and begin to mold some sort of expectation for this new person. Maybe you expect them to be nice to you, or maybe you expect them to like you because you learned you had something in common, maybe you expect them to buy you a drink because you’re both standing at the bar, maybe you expect them to make a grand romantic gesture because you think you’re both equally attracted to each other and just found love at first sight and have the same favorite drink and both just got out of a bad breakup and are perfect for each other….
Anyways, I see this habit most in myself when it comes to dating, in case you didn’t already pick up what I was putting down. It seems like every guy I meet I immediately start imagining us as a future couple. Of course, all of these thoughts are positive, so my imagination takes me places I’ve never even known in a relationship; understanding, support, romance, communication, a real connection. I see potential, and then I can’t let it go. I’m sure we’ve all heard a friend say at some point, “he wasn’t in love with me, he was in love with the IDEA of me.”
I bet this is why 90% of relationships fail. We put all our energy into someone we barely know, with expectations we have no right to have in the first place. Years later we are wondering why that person isn’t who we thought they were, but it’s because they were never that person. Our brains just like to conjure up ideas of what we want out of that person or that relationship, and when that person doesn’t measure up, we blame them. In reality, it’s our own fault for having these expectations and ideas of who someone might turn out to be, and the likelihood of them successfully turning out to be an idea our own mind formed has to be one in a million.
No wonder we’re disappointed all the time (we = people in the dating world), when someone turns out to be exactly who they are and not who we wanted them to be. Is there a way to train our minds to accept people at face value (not literally)? Is this what people mean when they say to lower your expectations so that when someone actually treats you well it completely blows you away?
I think everyone has lost appreciation for the art of getting to know someone, like really getting to know them as a person, before throwing your insecurities and relationship standards on them. I used to be a firm believer in deal breakers, and I stand by some of them, but I think it’s time to re-assess the value of a friendship before it gets ruined with the pressure of romance.