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REVELATIONS: Making the best of a bad first impression

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
May 13, 2011 at 12:13 a.m.


Have you ever reminisced about first impressions with close friends? I've done this often, and I'm always surprised to learn how utterly wrong my first impressions usually were. The people I'm initially wary of, or those I'm certain I'll have nothing in common with, typically turn out to be some of my dearest friends. And the one's I think I'll bond with immediately, well, on many occasions, I just don't.

And no matter how many times I hear it, I'm always shocked when friends unveil their true first impressions of me. Sometimes they tell me they thought I was silly; others tell me they thought I was stiff and professional. But most often, my girlfriends tell me they thought I was a bit scary at first sight.

"You scared me to do death when I first met you," one of my closest Texas friends recently told me, laughing hysterically. "Not in a bad way, I just thought you were a little intimidating."

"Not in a bad way? How is scary and intimidating not bad?" I asked her, laughing. "I don't want to scare people when I meet them."

"No, no, no, no, no, no. You're taking this wrong. I love you to death, but when I first met you, I thought you were going to be, you know, one of those mean girls. You just have this air about you, you know? You seem too confident and normal and put together," she said.

"Me? Put together? You know how neurotic I am," I said, laughing.

She apparently wasn't alone in her judgment. While at dinner with friends later in the week, at least two more of them confessed similar first impressions of me. I'm not even sure how the conversation came up, but they promised me they quickly moved past their "scary" first impressions of me and formed newer, more pleasant opinions.

All I could do was sit back quietly at the table and think, "Hmmmm. I wonder why?"

I guess I was a bit saddened by the girls' at-first-sight-analyses of me because those aren't the kind of first impressions I want to be giving off.

It's in my soul, a part of existence, to desire deep and meaningful relationships with just about everyone I meet: Male, female, black, white, gay, straight, English-speaking, non-English-speaking, young or old. If you're breathing, and sharing this planet with me, I want to know you. I want to learn from you. I want to be a good friend to you. I want to give you a reason to believe God is good, friends are genuine, and Christians aren't just about smiles and do-gooding on Sunday mornings.

And if that doesn't come through at first sight, I need to know why.

I couldn't help but over-analyze (as women often do) and figure out why I seem not to make the friendliest first impressions. It plagued me for days, and I felt consumed by this unreasonable need to apologize to everyone I've met in recent years for possibly not doing my best to emulate Christ's love upon first meeting (if they even noticed at all).

But then, it finally hit me. The words of a friend finally sunk in: I can't control what people think of me, especially not at first sight. No matter what, their impression of me will only be partially true at best, and my impression of them will only be partially true at best.

All I can do is love each person who enters my relationship circle one day at a time, and give them a reason to love and trust me - just like Jesus did. I'm certain that even in His day, most of the people He encountered likely raised a few eyebrows. Perhaps they made up stories about how odd He was, and laughed at Him for his unconventional friendship styles. But over time, through a genuine display of love and devotion, he built a family and changed the world - one day at a time.

So, however shaky my first impressions are, I take comfort knowing now, that I'll make up for it in the days following. I'll give my friends and family a reason to stick around; a reason to call me friend and a reason to believe God is good, friends are genuine, and smiles aren't limited to Sunday mornings.

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