Don’t Treat Everyone the Same
Add Contrast to Your Personality to Strengthen Your Relationships
“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”
~ Trevor Noah
That quote has been sitting with me a lot lately.
One of the most fundamental lessons we’re taught as children is the “golden rule” — that we should treat others how we want to be treated. For the longest time, I thought that meant to treat everyone super well. Raised in a strict home that highly valued manners and politeness, my view of reciprocity was one of niceness, defined by how gentle and attentive people around me were. As I ventured out into the world, I chose to put that face on —always asking how other people were, always offering to help, always giving my time when it was needed.
Especially as I became more keenly aware of my privilege, I doubled down — the last thing I wanted was to be seen as a SELFISH straight, white male from money. I believed that unwavering, dutiful deference to those who knew better or who I thought needed me more than I did would get me the intimacy I wanted from them.
As I became that version of myself, I was surprised by how little of what I wanted actually happened. By the time I got to high school, I was soft and overly agreeable, walked over and pushed around way too much. Worse yet, I was all the while tricking myself into thinking that I was getting closer to the emotional intimacy I wanted, when in reality I was getting the false companionship of being used.
I thank God every day for my friends from Queens & the Bronx that pushed me around until I learned how to stand up for myself, whether by talking shit on the basketball court or roasting me endlessly at McDonald’s — they gave me the edge I needed. Ever since then, I’ve become more disagreeable, more feisty, more competitive — and found the closest friends I’ve ever had because of it.
Now I’m not saying everyone should go out of their way to be like that — those traits are part of my authentic personality, but not everyone’s. And obviously treat everyone with respect. But I will say though that the way we approach relationships is a bit misguided.
We say we want consistency in people, but we really don’t. We want selectivity. We want to be chosen.
And the necessary social differentiation that has to happen in order to be chosen by friends/lovers requires you to act differently around them than you do around someone else.
The technical term for this is “polarization” — inducing strong negative or positive emotion in someone to not only affect them in a way you want, but show how they affect you. It’s a form of vulnerability to care, and caring predates choosing.
Adding contrasts and layers to your personality makes it much easier to signal the value you place in another person to them. That’s not being overly happy or adulatory when you meet someone. Not being overly polite or agreeable either. Or overly selfless or subservient. Those are sides of yourself that have to be earned. I sometimes even think you should never be that way around anyone ever (I’d personally get bored of it).
Even if you’re naturally peppy & polite or naturally cold & brooding, I’m sure you’ll agree that you act differently around your closest friends or partners than you do around acquaintances or even newer friends. Having a static personality is a defense mechanism that on the surface makes you seem “real” and “consistent” but keeps people at a distance. The more I’ve tapped into the different sides of my personality, the more I’ve realized just how much my friends bring them out. With some I’m chummy and funny, with some I’m serious and pensive, with some I’m fragile and scattered.
So I leave with this — next time you’re with someone you want to get closer to, even someone you already know — dare to be bothered, to be flirty, to be angry, to be confrontational, to FEEL.
If it feels weird, it’s because you haven’t done it enough. If you haven’t done it enough, it’ll probably come as a surprise to whoever you’re talking to. However, I guarantee they’ll respect and appreciate you more because of it.