This has nothing to do with Halloween, or playing “chicken” on the highway. I’ve been waiting patiently for the last week for something I wanted to write, and then something popped up. An online survey by a friend was investigating the complaint by some women, 55 and older, that younger women just don’t seem to “see” them anymore. And this is what started me thinking about being scary. Obvious connection, right?
I can remember being younger. I can remember being in the middle. I am older now and I will tell you that everyone suffers a bit from feeling that others don’t “see” them. We are all overtaken at times with the feeling that we are invisible,that others are rushing past us to talk to someone else. I think I’ve figured out why it happens. It’s because conversation, talking to people, is hard work. It not only takes a degree of self-awareness, it takes being interested in and curious about others.
Age difference is an element (here’s the part where I scare people.) Once when I was the mother of teen girls, a boy came to the door of my house wanting to see one of my daughters. I think I asked him some pretty relevant questions, like “who are you?” and “tell me a little about yourself”. The fact that I was direct and wanted a minute of conversation was frightening to him. He told my daughter she had a scary mom. He told me also, later, after we knew each other better.
I do find age differences and status differences intimidating. I remember thinking older women were more experienced at their jobs, or their child rearing, or homemaking. They were doing things so much more important than I was. Now I find myself thinking that younger people are so much smarter, quicker and tech savvy. They’ve been writing computer programs since first grade probably. I’m afraid everybody else is too busy to engage. I’m worried about looking and sounding stupid or boring. And although I’m sorry to admit it I’m often more comfortable with my “devices” than I am with the people I’m supposedly connecting with. Uh oh.
However, I do have strategies, because I do LOVE TO CONNECT with others, younger or older. Sometimes I crave the company of my young friends and love that they come over unannounced and interrupt me. I want to tell them that they are more important than anything else I’m doing. And that’s my strategy – I tell them. And if it’s you I’m talking about and you haven’t been over for a while, please don’t be afraid to show up.
Other things that work well are telling people they are doing something really cool (if they are), or that they look really good (if they do). Do this to strangers that you find interesting and they will most likely be glad to talk about themselves. This is hard for me when I don’t feel like I’m interesting to others, but often this feeling of being uninteresting is just a feeling, and a false one at that. I can make myself get over it (almost all the time).
One more strategy, and it’s one I’m still working at remembering. This one is what I should use with people I know well when we have deeper conversations that involve stronger emotions (think mother/daughter, wife/husband) . It is always good not to look scary. Sometimes I look scary and I don’t even know it, or my body language is intimidating or disrespectful. Fortunately, those who love me, tell me. Hey, get your intense face on and go look in the mirror. Would you find that an invitation to connect?
My main point is that we all have valuable things to say to each other. We need to find out why we don’t always say those things and why we don’t always foster helpful, supportive relationships – and then it would be good if we did something to turn that around. What turn around strategies do you have?