I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between shyness and self-consciousness. Because I do think they're different things. One can certainly fuel the other, so it's not like they're mutually exclusive -- but it's been my experience that there are lots of outgoing people who use their personalities to hide their insecurities, just as much as there are quiet types who actually prefer to be in the background of the pictures that other people would normally primp and pose for.
What's that old saying -- actions speak louder than words?
I don't know -- maybe I'm trying to make things too black and white here. The fact is that I know a lot of people who talk out of their ass all the time, but never really seem to do anything. I also know a lot of people who I can always count on to get things done whom I really don't know all that much about outside of the things we collaborate on.

It doesn't make them any less capable in my eyes. But it does leave the picture I have of them somewhat incomplete -- which means that any conclusions I try to draw about them as people can only really come from the fragments that I'm offered, which is dangerous ground to walk on, because all you can do at that point is make assumptions. Generalize.
Can first impressions be trusted?
I guess it depends a lot on your personality. The sociologists always break it down to questions like "Are you the type of person who is more comfortable in large crowds of strangers, or with small groups of close friends?" But I think a lot of times life takes us beyond that model – which makes me wonder how many answers we’re missing by not examining what happens when you mix those streams.

For example -- if you are with a group of friends, are you then more likely to be social with strangers? Or are you the kind of person who hangs with friends, but then separates from that group if you want to introduce yourself to someone new?

Are you different in private than you are in public? Do your friends bring out the worst in you?
Does the reality of who you are disappoint people when
it’s different than what they thought you were going to be?
Classic wingman theory tells us that if you want to talk to someone that's attached to some sort of group, it's in your best interest to try to get them alone if you want to really make an impression on them -- which leads to all the silly moves you see when you're sitting at the bar on a busy Saturday night.

When you think about things that way it suggests that connections between people can only really happen one-on-one.
But how often do you actually see people out by themselves?
And even when you do, what’s the first thing that comes to
mind when you realize they haven’t got anyone to hang out with?
You always hear women talking about how it sucks to go to bars alone, because once it's clear they're single it's like there's a target on their backs that draws every dude in the place like a magnet to try their lines and run their game. Beyond that there are a lot of cases where it's just unsafe for a girl to go to a club (or perhaps more specifically try to walk out of a club back to her car) on her own. Not that I think women shouldn't go to places by themselves -- but that a lot of times doing so comes with a lot of extra baggage that you wouldn't encounter if you were part of a group.

On the other side of that coin though are the guys who are free to go to places like that by themselves without worry of such hassles, even if that’s sort of the reason they went out in the first place. It reminds me of a short comment discussion I was having with so@24 a while back where we were talking about how it seems like a guy at a bar by himself probably sends up more red flags to the other people in the room than the group of a-holes in the corner who won't stop high-fiving each other every time an attractive woman comes out of the bathroom.

And it's not just bars either. Whenever I go to restaurants by myself (which I like to do) I've generally accepted the fact that the cute girl behind the hostess podium is always going to look at me like I'm a leper when I tell her that I only need a table for one. It's the same look I get sometimes when I go to movies by myself, except when I go to the movies I get to choose my own seat, while the girl at the restaurant gets the extra privilege of using her little grease pencil to cross a line through the crappiest table in the place.
Because what does he care? He's just one guy. It's not like he
needs a view, or extra chairs. It's not like he's expecting anyone.
Just give him a stool in front of that little shelf by the bathroom.
Here's your free bread, loser.
And no doubt, places like that would be a lot more fun with friends along -- but it's not like I'm gonna get on the phone and say "Hey Joe, I'm going out for Italian tonight, wanna split an entree?"

At the same time, sometimes I do like being by myself. Sometimes I don't want other people hassling me when I'm trying to watch a movie. Sometimes I just don't want to cook. Sometimes I just don't want to sit at home by myself anymore.
Sometimes I’m just.. lonely.
But then when I decide to exercise that freedom of choice go somewhere -- all too often it's like other people find ways to remind me that I'm alone. A lot of times it's unintentional -- like a waiter removing extra silverware from the table or asking you if he can borrow the other chair for a group that just came in, but a lot of times it's in the eyes. You can just see that sorta change in the weather behind people's smiles.
And it sucks.
I mean I get it. It's an ugly world. If you don't know me from Adam and I'm sitting at a bar alone brooding over a drink, there are statistical odds and tons of Hollywood movie plots that suggest that the 30-35 year old white male loner is the one more likely to be the freaky serial killer than the 5 frat guys next to him.
Except that I’m not.
The answer I suppose would be to turn the tables. Take the initiative. Turn to the person next to me and say something like "I know I look the type, but there really aren't jars full of cut up body parts in my freezer. How 'bout them Yankees?"

I guess what it comes down to is that sometimes it really bothers me how bad I seem to be when it comes to meeting new people. I mean -- I'm a friendly, interesting person, but I know that occasionally I project "keep away" vibes to other people with my body language or whatever. But that's probably because I've lived long enough in this world to know that a lot of the other people out there in this world are incredibly stupid, and that actually talking to them is sometimes more of a chore than just sitting nearby with my drink and imagining what they look like naked.
But have I really reached that point where I more or less expect other people’s personalities to be disappointing?
Or am I really just worried that anybody who tries to talk to me might end up feeling disappointed themselves?
I mean, I think we all have standards when it comes to other people -- yardsticks that we hold others up to. But I find it interesting how we go about making those determinations in different situations. I mean think about it -- there are a lot of people in your life (relatives, coworkers, classmates) that you simply can't avoid. If you work with someone, you have to see them everyday -- even if they don't really match up to your standards at all.

But to get your work done you play nice. Do what you have to accomplish your tasks, act civil, even cordial -- but avoid deep conversations. It's not like it's a social situation, or you're being graded on how nice you are, so if you don't always ask the guy who delivers the mail how his weekend was (or appear overwhelmingly interested when he decides to tell you anyways) it’s not like you're being patently evil in some way.

Did you ever know that one person in high school who seemed like a total jerk in 9th grade, but by junior year was the best friend you ever had? Did you know the girls who used to always have lunch together in elementary school, but then one got pretty and popular and more or less ended up forgetting that the other one actually existed?
Can first impressions be trusted?
The picture you put up on MySpace or Facebook is not who you are. But you put it there for a reason. And people click on it for a reason. The world is like that. It’s always been, but perhaps in this day and age it’s even more pronounced than ever. Even if we all know inside that the best part of making friends is discovering all the things that the people we meet have to offer, and how those connections grow over time – it’s still so much about what you look like from across the room. What song plays when you open the page. What you sound like when you blog.
When I look in the mirror, I know who the person staring back at me is.
But if I could see him through someone else’s eyes, would he still look the same?

[Listening to:  Lifer"Breathless" ]