In a conversation I was having with a friend named Katherine, she mentioned that, during a recent trip to the Starbucks on 21st, she had spotted Hayden Panettiere, star of the new ABC hit TV show “Nashville.” In talking more about the young actress, Katherine stated that Hayden is your typical “guy’s girl” after which I offered an agreeing nod.
Yes, Panettiere’s one-of-a-kind fusion between being both adorable and a downright smokeshow definitely makes her popular among guys.
But what really does it for me is looking at her as Beth Cooper — her rough, rugged, individualistic character from the movie, “I Love You, Beth Cooper.” Throughout the movie, she gets to know king-of-all-nerds Denis after he confesses his love to her in his high school valedictorian graduation speech. At the end, they are finally able to connect on a deep level, as Beth sees through his awkwardness and realizes that he is the only guy she knows who truly appreciates her for who she is. They kiss, and the movie ends by foreshadowing a relationship between the two.
What makes Beth Cooper special for us average guys is that she satisfies our deep-seated insecurities of being intimidated by a holistically attractive girl who’s out of our league. She presents a case of the perfect girl who falls for the loser guy, helping us all believe that we have a fighting chance with an equivalent girl in our lives.
I don’t need to be a sociologist to tell you that this type of Beth-Denis outcome just doesn’t happen in real life, at least not before adulthood. People will tend to stay in their own social niches, as expected of them by society.
Fortunately, meeting Beth Cooper in a dream isn’t the only way to break these social schemas. In my Understanding Organizations class, Professor Sandra Barnes emphasizes the influence of one’s “social construction of reality.” This is the theory that we build our own ideas of how people should function and interact, and we behave according to our expectations and assumptions. So, your social construction of reality shapes how you might choose to interact with different people. When you see your best friend, you will be comfortable and act like yourself. When you see a homeless man on the street, you might choose to act closed off to avoid confrontation. When you see an attractive girl or guy, you might tend to put your guard up and act cool.
So how is it that we go about changing a social construct of reality? It comes down to individuals to modify it themselves. We all interpret the world in our own ways, as determined by how our minds respond to the outside world. This idea is expressed in the bestselling nonfiction work "Blink" by Malcom Gladwell. Gladwell stresses the omnipresence of “thin-slicing,” which is our mind’s biological tendency to make snap-judgments about our surroundings. These snap-judgments influence our social constructions of reality, so if a “nobody” sees a pretty girl, he will instantly shape his behavior, including any attempts of communication, according to what he thinks will impress her.
However, there’s something fundamentally wrong with thin-slicing when it comes to connecting with people. Yes, these brain-wired short cuts are constantly guiding our behavior. But in doing so, we lose the potential to connect with people in ways we never would given the snap-judgments made by our minds. In thin-slicing, we judge books by their covers, which is no way to get to know the inside.
In order to break the stigma associated with how society dictates how to interact with others, you need to fight your natural tendency to thin-slice. Try not to let your instant first impressions control how you behave toward people. You should respond to a pretty girl, a frat star and a bum on the street in the same fashion that you would respond to your best friend. Try to resist thin-slicing, and see everyone as humans with equal souls, acting as such. In doing so, you’ll find that it’s a great way to build confidence and comfort in your own skin while also modifying your social construct of reality to fit the way you naturally prefer to interact with people.
You can never really tell who you are going to end up getting close to or sharing a unique bond with. If I look at my best friends from back home, I would have never guessed I would end up growing so close to them after the impressions they made on me when I first met them. After a while of resisting thin-slicing, you might surprise yourself with whom you grow close. After all, Beth Cooper only ended up truly liking Denis after he started acted like himself and treating her like an average person, just like him.