We have different social personas, different levels of being liked, and different levels of intimacy.
There are goals of getting to know others and earning about them and their interests. Goals of earning affection, admiration, and influence. Then there are goals of real connection. And it’s important to understand which level you want – which level of “you” it’s okay for this person to like – so that when people come away saying, “I like her,” that feels honest and okay.
Learning about people or winning affection and influence doesn’t mean that you’ve won rich mutual rapport, i.e., genuine friendship. But that’s okay, because there are a number of things that you might be seeking out of a social interaction – even a relationship – and it’s important to know which you are.
Building superficial rapport
Being liked in an easy, informal sense.
In improv, actors build scenes by using “yes, and…” statements.
First, “Yes” is about acknowledgement. It is, according to Jonathan Pitts, the Executive Director at Chicago Improv Festival Productions, “about being in agreement in the moment; being open to it.”
Then, “And…” is about adding to the moment – building on to it. And, sometimes, building rapport that extends beyond the moment itself.
When it comes to what you can follow that “and…” with, your options vary: a sales pitch, a compliment, a story about yourself, or, at the pinnacle, a question about the other person.
Dale Carnegie proposed that it’s easy to “make people like you” by “encouraging them to talk about themselves.” By asking them questions.
He talked about one man who, after meeting him, told a mutual friend that Carnegie was “most stimulating… a most interesting conversationalist.” “An interesting conversationalist?” Carnegie wrote, “Why, I had said hardly anything at all.” Carnegie had spent the entire evening asking the botanist questions about his field.
And what the botanist meant was interested, not interesting.
Carnegie knew this, of course. But he didn’t care. He took either one as a badge of honor, because his goal was never friendship – it was “making” the botanist like him.
He claimed that he was “making friends and influencing people,” and while his suggestions may earn you the latter, I’m not sure they really yield the former. (Or perhaps “being liked” is how he defined “friendship.”)
You should, of course, seek to be likable. And you should like people. You should ask questions from a place of genuine interest and compassion. And liking people will get you their affection in return. Which may yield influence over them.
But none of this on its own makes real friendships.
Because real relationships are mutual.
Building real connections
Because being “liked” doesn’t mean they really know you, and you want to feel that some people really do.
The downside of one-sidedness:
Consider Carnegie’s example: sharing very little with someone and having them come back with “I really like them! They’re so interesting!”
Some people, I think, get off on hearing this feedback after people meet them. Because their goal was simply to be liked on easy levels. This section isn’t for them. It’s for the rest of us, who are a bit distracted by the absurdity.
Because it is absurd. About as absurd as someone picking up a book, reading nothing but the title, and then declaring: “oh, I love this one!”
No, you don’t.
It’s even worse than that, though, because it’s more like that book is actually a journal, and they proceed to fill it in and then sit back and declare the work “interesting.” Of course it is. You wrote it.
All they really enjoy is themselves. They don’t like you. They like themselves. (Carnegie knew this, of course, and happily played into it.)
“And what’s the big deal?” He would ask. “You’re getting what you want!”
Some of us, maybe. But not all.
The problem isn’t narcissism – on their part or ours. The problem is validation and balance: You knowing them is not equivalent to them knowing you. Seeing “you” as little more than the mirror you’re holding up for them to shine into is a bit like liking “you” that’s a shell. Identifying “you” as someone much less than you are. And it can leave you hanging.
Connection is a funny thing. There are constructs. And the desire for real connection seems to be the privilege of the few.
Artists endure this as well. “Being liked” carries judgment for musicians who get big and isolate their original fans, who accuse them of “selling out” – trading in authenticity for popularity along the way. It’s also the decision many writers must make, when we too choose to write for mass consumption (and maybe making millions) or for the craft of writing authentically; beautifully (with potential for little more than literary peer acclaim and accolades.)
For the artists and others alike, going out into the real world and seeking rapport only to find that people “like” or “love” a version that’s merely a part can feel a bit empty.
Authenticity and intimacy: where, who, and when
People in my real life would counter this by reminding me that I’m actually closed off, even cold. This is true but also not true.
Some of us don’t offer the same level of sharing to all people, and the vast majority of people in our lives get a lot less than a select few. And these select few get much more than all the rest. “Nobody stays in character all the time,” writes Michael Cunningham in his novel Specimen Days. “This is intimacy.” Many of us don’t throw our intimacy around. We have it in reserve.
We want authentic connection with some people. But not all.
Intimacy isn’t intimate if it’s with everyone.
We want different things with different people.
It’s not that we want everyone to go poking around for more. (On the contrary. Pleasedonot. We shut down.) It’s more that we want them to know that it’s there – that there’s more to us – and that they just don’t know the details. (In the same sense that people of course know that we live somewhere even if we never talk about where.) We don’t want to be an open book. We just also don’t want to be seen as a shell – or a mirror, or an empty book to be written upon.
So in terms of reconciling these levels of connection (and self), it’s really about being honest about which version of “you” it’s okay for people to like. And then being okay with people liking you within the limitations of the “you” that you’ve shared.