It’s part of human nature to want to improve the quality of relationships. Consequently, we have thousands of self-help books promising to ensure favor in love and life. The books fail, of course, because they only deal with fixable flaws, like weak handshakes and mullets.
You might be anticipating me to transition here to a proposal on how to fix the unfixables. You would be wrong. Those things are unfixable. I would be willing to address the unfixables in my exhaustive book called “Why People Don’t Like You” if I thought anyone would publish it. Consider it another resource squelched by political correctness.
The best we can hope for is to not create anymore unfixables, like tattoos or online faux pas.
We have no choice, then, but to focus pessimistically yet fervently on the fixables. If you don’t know what your fixable habits are, just ask co-workers and family members. They’ve already thought it through. Be sure to limit them to observations on the fixables. Otherwise, you’ll have more emotional unfixables. If no one will tell you what your annoying habits are, then one of your annoying habits is not taking criticism well.
If you really want to know why some people might find you annoying, let’s see if you have committed any of these social crimes.
Do you routinely start sentences with the word “actually”? Do you believe that driving 71 mph in the left lane on the interstate is acceptable? Do you try harder than everyone else? Do you ever talk about your pets? Is there any reason a producer for Dr. Phil might call?
Are you too organized? Do you have strong opinions about brands of water? Have you ever impersonated Arnold Schwarzenegger? Do you fish for compliments with your Facebook statuses? Do you ever lip sync while wearing headphones? Would a friend call you if he or she had questions about pop music or reality TV?
If so, this may be why people don’t like you.
If you survived those but still feel unsatisfied with the lackluster attention you get from others, it could be that you are attractive and also talented. We tolerate a person having one gift, but two is offensive. If this is you, even though being talented may be partly genetic, act as if you are not talented. Otherwise, when bad things happen to you, even your friends will snicker inside, and no one will have pity — an essential backup tool in case success doesn’t come.
I guess it could also work to hide the attractive gift instead. This is why Natalie Portman shaved her head and Marlon Brando ate Jabba the Hutt. But stick to the talent because the talents are probably not going to be as hard to cover as you think.
Now, danger! Being double-gifted is very rare. There is a good chance that you may think you are both attractive and talented when, indeed, you are not. People are often exalted for appearance under the guise of being exalted for ability. Consider Scarlett Johansson, Keanu Reeves, Sarah Palin, Vin Diesel, Keira Knightley and David Beckham — who is talented but not enough to warrant selling $70 jerseys in Hong Kong, which I have seen with my own eyes. Even Russell Crowe, who seems reasonable enough when he's not winging telephones at people's heads, believes that his band is genuinely Leno-worthy.
Conversely, people can be perceived as attractive when in fact they are just talented. Consider Mick Jagger, who recently made a heartthrob comeback in a Ke$ha song, and Jay-Z, who has Beyonce hostage through what must be Stockholm Syndrome.
So, just because you passed the first annoyance test and aren’t double-gifted, that doesn’t mean you are home free. But don’t take it too hard. It may not be you at all. You may be a victim of circumstance. When others look at you, maybe you look like a close talker, and every American, third generation or more, despises close talkers.
The U.S. Constitution provides each citizen with the inalienable right to a personal bubble. When in Rome, whatever, but here, back off. We Americans are serious about this, so don’t trifle with it. To my knowledge, this is the only country that offers restraining orders free of charge. Whether it’s seat choice in restaurants, protocol in urinal usage, etiquette in parking, whatever — we Americans hate being intruded upon.
We came to a whole new continent to get away from others; then we immediately divided into denominations and settlements until crowded again, and then we spread west until the whole country was crowded and partitioned into states. For anyone to pass on Missouri and settle in Kansas while going west — you know there is a serious cultural group anxiety disorder.
Finally then, our cities became so crowded, and people became so anxious that nuclear fission actually occurred, and each metropolitan area exploded into waves and waves of suburbs with privacy fences and Rottweilers. (Look at a map if you don’t believe me.) So, Americans are not likely to change anytime soon. I’m sorry to say, if you even look like you could be a close talker, you are going to need to address this. Could it be an unfixable? Yes, but don’t go down without a fight.
Overall, you will just have to find a way to be confident as yourself. I’m not using the cliché, “Just be yourself.” That’s the whole problem. But be a better version of yourself. What I am suggesting is that you should fake confidence. It’s not dishonesty. Think of it as deodorant for your face — it shrinks other people’s bubbles long enough for you to get in and let them actually get to know the mostly real you.
If none of this works, use lots of compliments. You’ll get it. You’re awesome.
Brad Clemons lives in Columbia and doesn’t understand why people find e-mail forwards annoying. Send this to at least five friends in the next 30 minutes, or you don’t love them.