No one trusts people who try too hard to be liked because we all naturally assume they’re up to no good. Everyone is drawn to people who appear not to care about their acceptance for the same principals. I realized this in 8th grade when I literally wrote analysis down in a notebook one night trying to compare myself to the cool kids in my class and figure out why the hell despite my best efforts for the past 3 years I had completely failed to advance into that group. After realizing the difference between “I want people to like me” and “I’m not at all worried about whether or not people like me, I’ll just do me” I felt like I had wasted a significant portion of my life, but that is only because I was a dumb teenager. Many people continue to not realize and notice this into adulthood and actually *do* end up wasting precious years and missing out on experiences and relationships because of the lack of self awareness.
This aspect of human psychology is articulated well in an interview in the Washington Post with behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan about how scarcity and insecurity lead people to make more desperate decisions because… they are more desperate.
The title is “Being poor changes your thinking about everything” but that thesis seems too obvious to most people I think. Instead, I find his articulations about behavioral reactions in regards to scarcity to be more enlightening when applied to social interactions. Mainly that most lonely people don’t actually lack social skills, they just find themselves in lonely situations that activate survival instincts that make them offputting and weird because they’re trying so hard to make people like them. This traps them in isolation because their response to their loneliness is literally perpetuating their loneliness…
Another tragic example concerns lonely people. The lonely are interesting because it’s so tempting to say: “Oh, lonely people. Yeah, those are just losers, or whatever. Those are people who can’t make friends.” Actually, the data suggests that the vast majority of lonely people don’t lack any social skills at all. It’s just they found themselves in lonely situations.
You move to a new town and you don’t really know anybody. How do you meet people? It’s hard to meet people. The longer that persists, now the longer you’ve been lonely, and then ‑‑ this is the key part with the lonely and the busy and the money and the poor ‑‑ now that you’re in that state, your behavior changes, and the way your behavior changes seems to keep you in that state.
There are, I think, a few ways in which your behavior changes. Scarcity draws a lot of attention to itself. That’s the key finding that I think motivates everything. When you’re experiencing scarcity, your mind automatically focuses on that thing. That focus brings benefits, which we talk about. But it has some costs, too, which help create the scarcity trap.
One cost, for the lonely: If you want to be interesting, the one thing you shouldn’t do is really focus on the fact that “I want this person to like me.” That’s going to make you very uninteresting. But the lonely, they just can’t help but focus on that.
There’s this beautiful study in which subjects speak into a microphone and they either think that someone else listening to them, or they think they’re just talking. Among the non-lonely, there’s very little difference in how third parties would rate subjects’ responses. A third party rates subjects as equally interesting in both conditions. Yet lonely people become less interesting when they think someone is listening. It’s sort of a choking effect. That’s one kind of scarcity trap.
More people should learn this about themselves and others.