One of my professors hates me. Last week in class, I admitted that I’d never actually finished the One Book One Northwestern book, and in front of the whole class, she turned to me and said, “Oh, you didn’t read the book, Tracy? I bet you were too busy doodling.”
She also dismisses everything I say with a “humph,” repeatedly singles me out in discussions, and today she asked me if everything was okay, in an alarmed tone, while I was doing a silent writing exercise with the rest of my classmates. (I now make better use of class time by plotting what to write in this professor’s CTECs). In fact, I’ve pretty much given up on the class altogether. When people make it clear that they simply do not like you, it’s pretty much impossible to like them — or their class — back.
I hardly ever truly dislike people (I even sort of liked this teacher before she started picking on me), but on the rare occasion that I really don’t like somebody, it’s almost always because she gives off a strong impression of not really liking me. Whenever a friend tells me she doesn’t like someone, I ask why. She is usually less-than-articulate about why exactly she doesn’t like the person, but it typically comes down to the fact that she feels disliked or disregarded by this person. Dislike breeds dislike.
When I was younger, I was always overanxious about whether people liked me or not. Unless I had strong evidence to the contrary, I sort of assumed that people didn’t. But somewhere along that great process of maturation that creeps up on you during the college years, I’ve found that for the most part, people just aren’t that complicated. If you are friendly (read: not giving off that dislike vibe) and occasionally pick up on social cues, people are generally going to like you. Because we place such an overarching importance on social acceptance and rejection, we’ve mistakenly characterized it with an undue element of complexity.
So, we tend to stick to what’s most socially comfortable. I coordinate my meal times so I have friends to eat with and I try to make sure I’ll know enough people at a party before I go so there will be a safe ratio of friend-to-stranger conversations. But seriously? What are we so scared of?
We don’t have to go way back with someone or think he is attractive to strike up a meaningful conversation. For example, I was recently at a really strange party that I was obligated to attend, basically looking for an excuse to leave, when I started talking to a boy I’d never met before. I didn’t think he was particularly cute, we didn’t have mutual friends, and to this day I don’t talk to him other than the occasional hi-how-are-you on Sheridan. But the two hours we spent talking at this party were some of the best-spent and most illuminating hours of the year. We talked about everything, and I was walking on air the whole weekend, happy with the reassurance that there is a whole world of people to meet and know.
A SigEp from Long Island who really likes tea? A theater girl whose favorite movie is Garden State? An econ-philosophy major who votes Republican and listens to trance? It doesn’t matter. We prematurely judge whether we’ll like somebody based on all the wrong factors. Emphasizing all of those snappy sound bytes, a tendency perhaps fueled by the advent of Facebook, is entirely the wrong approach to getting to know people. Assuming you’ll like or dislike a person based on these shallow first-impression constructs reduces the spontaneity of interaction to something formulaic and inconsistent with reality, preventing the chance of an organic connection.
I think that sometimes we’re simply too caught up in looking toward the future instead of the here-and-now. It’s important and wonderful to have great friends who know your life story and who you can pretty much say and do whatever you want in front of, but that’s not the only thing you need. I wish it was more acceptable to strike up conversations with whoever we felt like, without the pretext of an interview or the catalyst of alcohol. There are a lot of fascinating people out there, and I’d like to know them better.
If you let go of that seventh grade habit of labeling every social interaction as somehow heinously awkward, you stumble upon something magical. Conversation is sometimes stilted and dotted with pauses or verbal slip ups — it’s natural. Aiming to avoid that entirely, and labeling everything that extends past your comfort zone as “awwwkward” is unrealistic and cheating yourself of all sorts of possibilities.
Though my professor is probably never going to like me, I bet she doesn’t actually hate me either, so whatever her deal is, perhaps I’ll give her a break. To be fair, I do kind of doodle a lot in that class. Whether or not this is the reason for her rudeness, I think it’s pretty clear that most of the time, our assumptions of whether we’ll like certain people and whether they’ll like us are formed for all the wrong reasons. Meeting and talking to people we might not have talked to otherwise is a pretty important factor of the coveted “college experience” we all lust after, anyhow, so go forth, and don’t be so shy.