Friday, October 3

Signal Failure

It's said that most people have some kind of tell - involuntary behaviour that only crops up when we're in the company of someone we fancy or are attracted to. This could be blatant and physical (the brushing of hair), or slightly more subtle and manifest itself in the reactions (the laughing at jokes) or language used. Along with the more deliberate actions like flirting or being explicit and direct, these all make up the mythical signals we're each supposed to both give out and pick up on.

The problem is that these signals are different for different people. It would be great if we each came with an instruction manual or list of things to look out for, but unfortunately we just don't. Further, these signals can often be so subtle and ambiguous that they might not actually appear to mean anything at all to a normal unaware person who doesn't know you that well. And in the ultimately worst case, it's even possible to give off the wrong signals altogether and push away those you're trying to get closer to.

But hey, let's pick a more concrete example here: namely me.

I like to think that I'm a relatively social and outgoing bloke. I mean I've had people tell me that they can't believe I have a career in computing (which I suppose can be seen as some kind of compliment). It doesn't matter to me if a crowd is male or female (although some will say it's obvious which I prefer), and I reckon that I can get along pretty well with both new and old friends.

I think that approachability in general comes from being carefree about what people think about you, and so being open and transparent about yourself. For me, this means being a bit of a self-deprecating clown, being able to talk about anything (and I mean anything) and in some extreme cases running around waving my hands around like a madman. Full of masti, sometimes I even manage to solicit a laugh or two. The point is I don't really care how I look in front of those whom I don't have the hots for (or are out of reach anyway) and so manage to act (somewhat) normal.

I'm also of the (probably minority) opinion that being social with and having fun with someone doesn't necessarily mean anything more than that. Whether that's right or wrong, a consequence of thinking in this way is that you may become insensitive to the real signals people are giving off, since you'd automatically assume that such advances and attention are innocent, just like yours happen to be; and that's regardless of whether you actually want them to be real signals or not.

This attitude has resulted in accusations of me being a bit too free with regards to those I may not have any interest in over friendship, even cumulating in me being accused of being a bit of a tease; something compounded by the fact that I'm not even aware of my behaviour when I'm doing it. I think that since I don't often like someone in "that way", those around me rarely witness my behaviour during such rare occasions and so misinterpret my actions when I'm just being friendly.

For the record I'd still deny anything of the sort, but if third parties are seeing this then the second parties may too and so it's something that I've attempted to address. I will say that if you think I like someone just because I'm getting on with her and it seems that we're having fun together, then you're probably wrong as it's the lack of real care that you're probably detecting instead.

Ironically it's when I do find someone I might (kinda, maybe, perhaps, possibly) like that the guard and barriers go up - the last thing I want to do is make a fool of myself by doing or saying the wrong thing and as someone[1] once said it's better to keep quiet than remove all doubt of ones idiocy. I clam up quite tightly as a result, making sure I keep as much distance as possible between the two of us: "oh hey, I got something I need to do over, uh, there".

Invariably when I do pluck up the courage to open my mouth it's an absolute shambles, a disaster of immense proportions. Words come out the wrong way and my existing mumbling issue becomes chronic, resulting in stupid (or worse still: neutrally boring) things being said about the weather or current affairs. Jokes which are funny in my head fall (oh so) flat when said out loud, and in some cases I become tightly wound, defensive and even irritable. And that's not even considering the physical implications; let's just say I suddenly become embarrassingly clumsy and shouldn't even attempt to stand during such situations.

That's right folks. Call it a lack of confidence, social skills or even general misanthropy, but the truth is that I'm a just cliched teenage geek when it comes to being in the presence someone I actually like.

But there's more irony to be had here. Once I've totally ruined my chances (or at least convinced myself that there's no chance) I suddenly relax and become myself again. Of course it's too late by now since even if this is a better Shak, I've moved on in my head anyway.

The whole problem comes from the fact that I don't often find someone I actually really like in that way, and so really don't know how to behave. It's easy for onlookers to advise to just "be yourself", but in practice this doesn't quite happen - it's kinda like when a young guy struggles with his new vocal chords as he breaks into his new voice. It's all new and strange you just don't know how to handle it.

It's obviously an issue I have to deal with since it's unreasonable to expect people who don't know me to appreciate how I'm acting and why. More importantly it's something I should address myself if I want a girl to actually figure out that I have a genuine interest since acting like a dufus probably isn't doing it for her much.

But hey, even if no one else manages to figure it out, at least I know what's going on eh? Now if only it was all written down for others to read too...

[1] I actually thought that this was one of Groucho Marx's sayings, but apparently no one really knows where it came from. In fact it's also been attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and a host of others - see here for more.