One nice thing about chatting with Edmund is that he knows a lot of people.  While he was in my office today, doing some career-enhancement activities, we detoured through his MySpace friends list.  I recognized a goodly number of names/faces — most of whom were casual chat acquaintances from when I spent more time socializing in the online ecosystem. 

Well, there was the public version of these folks — and then there was the Edmund version.  Which mostly consisted of, “That person is a narcissistic $#&^@,” or, “That person’s photos look nothing like real life.”  (To be sure, there was a handful who got rave reviews.)

The irony is that some of those MySpace pages (and, of course, profiles on the more adult-oriented sites) promoting people who appeared to be the most desirable were, in fact, hiding people who are really rather ugly.  Sometimes, physically ugly, but more often, they’re ugly people on the inside. 

I have encountered this phenomenon myself, of course.  Having chatted with a few of the folks on Ed’s list, my experience corresponded well with his assessments.  There was one person in particular who had a public profile that looked great, but which includes photos that were true perhaps 50 pounds and much less airbrushing ago; I can recall getting rudely dismissed by him, but it turns out that I’m the one who ended up getting the better end of that deal.

OK, so … so what?  Well, our conversation flipped to social attractiveness.  Although a pretty face goes a long way, demonstrations of high social value contribute more strongly to the perception of attractiveness than simple appearance.  The life of the party might be more popular, despite being fairly average-looking, than the really good-looking person who sits in the corner and broods with a drink.  And what drives someone to be the life of the party?  A certain degree of social aggressiveness and a lot of self-confidence.

So, a theme developed — one that seems to cohere fairly strongly.  These “ugly” people have a thread in common:  They’re arrogant as hell.  They think highly of themselves; they demand the best, and don’t seem to care that they’re misrepresenting themselves as being better than they really are, since they believe that they’re great from the get-go.  Others are merely a means to an end for them.

But it’s a funny thing about the arrogant — no matter how wide the discrepancy between what they suggest and what they actually bring to the table, their approach to interpersonal relationships of all stripes is to demand that the other person justify why they’re worthy of the arrogant person’s time.

Edmund and I were, in fact, discussing a person of our mutual acquaintance today, and this behavioral pattern raised its unfortunate head.  The person we chatted about has a history of casually dishonest behavior.  He talks a very good game, but he presents photos that are old (and are from a time when he was much more attractive).  His life is not as put-together as he’d have others believe, and he is skilled in condemning the very sort of shallow materialism that so pervades his worldview.  In short, he’s not even close to the top of the social pecking order.  However, the public face he presents to others has been so shined up that others are initially charmed.  And having been charmed, we want to prove to him that we’re worth his time.  The system inverts, and decent people are kicked in the teeth by a not-so-great person, because we’re trapped into justifying ourselves to the mere appearance of high social value.  Even if such value is inflated.

I’ve seen first-hand the emotional devastation that can be wrought by chronic rejection.  I know a fellow who falls for the “prove yourself to me” trick every time it’s played on him — he falls, hard, for every cocky bastard who gives him a second look, which is unfortunate because he gets quite a few lustful stares.  But the nice guys don’t pursue him, thinking he’s out of their league, so he’s left to bounce from one egomaniac to another and despairing of ever finding happiness.

As a field study, I played a bit with the social-dominance meme at the bar last week.  I was sitting at a table with Andrew and an acquaintance of his, near the back of the bar.  I was dressed in some of the new clothes I had purchased the day before, and was feeling pretty good that night.  So, I stood — as Andrew and Steve remained seated and arrayed before me, facing me more than the crowd.  I smiled, I laughed loudly, I gesticulated with gusto — and I got checked out.  Several times.  Why?  Because I appeared to be holding court; others were voluntarily placing themselves in a position of relative submission in my presence.  And that dominance attracted.

People wear many masks.  It’s important to remember that the mask isn’t the reality, and that any time someone demands that you justify why they ought to pay you attention, the correct answer is to disengage politely and move to the next person.

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