The First Impression Syndrome

Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

I think it’s safe to say that there’s a little bit of OCD in all of us. We want everything to be perfect on the first try without having to change anything. As a result, the human race runs on impressive first impressions—or as I like to call it, the First Impression Syndrome. The best illustration for this is what women use for them: Makeup. Most girls like to wear various levels of cosmetics whenever they walk out the door. I myself prefer to dab on a little foundation, mascara, and blush before going out in public. And it’s a common mistake for anyone using it for the first time to cake it on, hiding any flaws they might not like. While makeup can certainly do that, it also has another purpose that we don’t learn until we get older: highlighting the good parts. Once we learn it, we take advantage of it. Now, putting on makeup for most women is as natural as getting hungry or sleepy every few hours.

And the proof of First Impression Syndrome doesn’t stop there. We don’t ask people out unless we find them attractive or interesting upon meeting them. We don’t hire a potential employee unless everything about him screams “perfect person for the job!” We don’t recommend a restaurant unless the service and food are phenomenal in the first visit. And many of us won’t walk out the front door of our homes if we can’t deem ourselves worthy of a perfect first impression. When I graduated from college and started looking for jobs and polishing my résumé, I started wondering what our fetish is with the first impression. Why are we obsessed with looking perfect? Why do we want others to look perfect to us? Is the First Impression Syndrome a good rule of thumb to live by?

Well, to answer the first two questions, one must ask why we rely on the First Impression Syndrome. To put it simply, we want security. When we hire employees for different positions, we want to be sure that they can handle the job and improve the company for the better. When we approach people to flirt and talk to, we want to feel comfortable conversing with them. And in a weird way, having the ability to make a good first impression gives us a confidence boost. We want to be admired. And no one is a stronger judge of you than how you think people see you.

Which brings me to the third question I ask on the subject: Is the First Impression Syndrome a good rule of thumb to live by? Not always. Sometimes, it can even be dangerous, for two reasons.

One, first impressions aren’t always reliable. Our perception of and experiences with things can—and often do—change as we grow older. As Lemony Snicket explains in The Bad Beginning, first impressions are often incorrect. Tea, for example, is an acquired taste. You might not like it the first time you try it, and then a year later it might be your favorite drink. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we have a habit of finding psychopaths charming and friendly the first time we meet them. But the more time we spend with them, the more we realize that they may not be quite so nice on the inside.

Secondly, this social norm gives us the ability to fool others with the first impressions we make. And even if that doesn’t put our sense of right and wrong at risk, it endangers something else that’s just as important (if not more so): The Lasting Impression. A lot of us spend so much time focusing on how we want to look when we meet people that we forget about who we want to be when they start getting to know us. Should we strive to be good at making friends, or keeping them? Which would you rather have for a companion: someone who’s friendly at first and repulsive on the inside, or someone who’s repulsive at first and friendly on the inside? Which of those two would you rather be?

Just a little food for thought.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “So long.”

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