Let’s say a random someone approaches you at a party. A good-looking random someone, so you feel sort of inclined to give him some of your precious time. Good-looking random someone smiles and leans towards you (Good-looking random someone is tall, broad-shouldered, has dark wavy hair, a dimple on his left cheek and looks as if he would look good in a kilt. Or without it).
Flattered almost out of your shoes, you flutter your lashes (or that might be a nervous reaction; after all, good-looking random someones don’t exactly grow on trees) and smile back, but remember halfway through stretching your lips wide that you’ve just had one of those canapees with spinach and goat’s cheese, and what if there’s a fleck of green on your teeth? So you smile without showing your teeth, which you knows makes you look like a constipated toad.
Fortunately, good-looking random someone doesn’t seem to care. He seems to be drowning in your somewhat small but very blue eyes – a rather novel experience in your life. Nice experience, mind you. So nice you smile without keeping your mouth closed. “There’s something on your teeth,” he says rather ungallantly. But he’s still smiling, so maybe he likes women with green stuff on their teeth.
“There is?” You use your tongue to dislodge the dratted fleck of spinach. He offers you a napkin. Not only is he good-looking and random, but he is also some sort of boy-scout, prepared for everything. Swoon. (Right: Before you get all carried away, let me point out this is a fictional description. In my experience, all the good-looking random someones already have significant others, or if they don’t, they never look at women like little me (us?). A good thing, as I also have a significant other, who, BTW, would look great in a kilt.)
Anyway; a quick maneouvre with the paper napkin and your teeth are guaranteed spinach free. You can relax. You study the napkin and consider whether to hand it back to him, but decide men that are tall, dark and in possession of eyes that crinkle quite endearingly at the corners when they smile do not want to be handed used napkins. You stuff it into your purse instead. (No purse? Improvise. Hide the dratted thing in a planter, or leave it on a nearby table – whatever. Let’s move on, okay?)
“So,” he says, leaning very much into your personal space, “what do you do when you’re not hanging out at parties?” And just like that, the magical moment of potential flirtation screeches to a halt. Poof! The little dream-bubble in which this attractive man swears you never-ending love bursts.Why? Because once you tell him what you do, it no longer matters who you are. Instead, his preconceived notions regarding your choice of profession will overshadow whatever impression you might have made so far. (“Umm…” says random drop-dead while dragging a hand through his beautiful, beautiful locks. “Impressions? I dunno… she’s a bit long in the tooth, isn’t she? Long enough for them to be green.” He laughs. You don’t.)
Anyway: let me exemplify what I mean regarding being judged by what you do rather than who you are. His question is still hanging in the air, “what do you do when you’re not hanging out at parties?” (Which, sadly, you do far too seldom these days)
“Me? Oh, I do this and that. Recently I came back from a long hike to the source of the Euphrates – fascinating!” If you’re lying, you had better be very clear on where the Euphrates has its source. It would be sort of embarrassing if he asks “where is that?” and you say “Iran somewhere,” whereupon he says “Iran? I thought it was Turkey.” No matter if you’re lying or not, the above comment will probably elicit interest. Tall, good-looking & random will raise his brows and view you in a different light – especially if you follow up with, “Tough going, the mountainous landscape of eastern Turkey, but so rewarding. A couple of scrapes with sheer cliff-faces, and then there were those two nasty wolves, but all in all, no major hiccups.” In his eyes you will see how you are reassessed from the somewhat plump middle-aged woman you are (WHY on earth did he come on to you to begin with??? I know, I know; a mystery. Some of us are guy magnets, right?) to a Lara Croft look-alike, a potential Amazon (Ha! I wish!). Need I say that this scenario ends whatever way you want it to end – he is like putty in your hands.
“Me? Well..” You launch yourself into a detailed description of your extremely rewarding career as an accountant. The only thing going for you is your passion, because even he will see how your eyes light up as you warm to the subject. (It takes all kinds…) But inch by inch, he will be moving away from you, and some minutes later you will be talking to empty air. And while your eyes light up, your cheeks grow rosy, his eyes glaze over, mouth twitching as he attempts to stop a patronising little smile from bursting forth. Not because he has anything against accountants, but because the woman he found potentially alluring when he first glimpsed her – spinach-covered teeth and all – now stands revealed as an enthusiastic but rather staid person – and rather too plump for his taste.
This works in reverse as well. Hunky dude tells you he’s a tax-inspector, and you might not be quite as taken as if he tells you he works as a professional diver investigating shipwrecks in the Caribbean sea.
So why is this? Well, obviously we attribute qualities to people depending on what they do. There are preconceived notions about accountants: somewhat boring, no adventurous streak in them, prone to keep people in line. The idea that the accountant can have an entire different side, an exciting second career where he/she climbs glaciers, or explores active volcanoes, doesn’t come natural. Without bothering to find out more, we’ve categorised this person as being a certain type, and if we’re in the mood for something wild and crazy, chances are we will give him/her a vague wave and move on, in search of something spicier. Ha! Being an accountant myself, let me tell you you have NO idea how much fun you’ve missed.
We live busy lives, people rush in and out of our lives, most of them never getting beyond the superficial acquaintance level. Our brains are bombarded with info, all sorts of information, and so as not to frazzle and die, our subconscious uses filters to sort the important stuff from the dross – which is why pregnant women see zillions of other pregnant women (it has suddenly become important information) or why some men know everything about the new car their wife drives, but has no idea as to the colour of her new coat.
Our brain uses the same discriminatory devices when screening all those people that surround us, and per definition such filters are simplistic, using whatever information is immediately available to reach a conclusion – after all, the intention is to save you, dear brain-owner, some precious time. Ergo, “Accountant” = dependable, intelligent, rule-enforcer, somewhat boring, while “Explorer” = brave, intrepid, physically fit, exciting.
This can only lead to one conclusion: The day tall, handsome, very random someone sort of leans over you, sinking eyes the colour of Baltic amber into you, LIE. Assuming that you’re an accountant (or something equally dependable and boring) of course. Assuming you want to go on flirting with him, hoping perhaps to see those hairy legs adorned by a kilt (or not).
Lie? I see a show of horrified eyes. Huh! As we haven’t all done some lying, now and then, right? And this is for a good cause – after all, you’re helping him overcome biases that might stop him from discovering just what a jewel in his crown you could be. Therefore, we could put this little lie down to an altruistic effort, to us being kind. Which, of course, is exactly the same reasoning he will use when he tells you in confidence that he’s a loaded business mogul, when in fact he is…. taa-daa…. an accountant!