To See and Be Seen


When given the opportunity to spend long stretches of time with someone, we have the opportunity to get to know that person better, learn more about that person’s life, and see aspects of that person’s character that perhaps are only revealed with hours of “togetherness.” For the most part, when those with an established affinity for one another take these opportunities to be with one another, a deeper intimacy evolves and a greater capacity for understanding is the result.

But of course, there is the risk of disappointment. What if learning so much about the other person and seeing his/her more tender sides creates that contempt famously borne of familiarity?

Recently, I had the chance to spend a long period of time, one one one, with someone whom I like, respect, and find worthwhile. In those many hours, I came to see personal behaviors, trends, and peculiarities. While most fell into a deeper appreciation for who this person is to me, some fell outside the “lines” of expectation.

And that’s OK. But it got me to thinking: What if my experience was shared tacitly by my companion? What if over those countless hours, I was observing just as much as I was being observed? What if this person was taking note of my behaviors, trends, and peculiarities? What if what was seen and heard fell outside the lines that were expected of me? And most concerning, what if I was a disappointment?

Whenever we, as social animals, are in situations where we are voluntarily social, we are taking a risk. Given, some events–say your spouse’s holiday work party–are lower “risk.” (It’s unlikely that anyone would expose too much of one’s self at one of these gatherings unless of course there’s an open bar). But what about other events? The more intimate ones? The ones where you have already established relationships, and by default, already established expectations?

What’s a social animal to do?

I think the best course of behavior* is to just be who you are. But be advised that even if you guard against being 100% “yourself”–by filtering some of your thoughts and reactions–you are still going to be revealing much of yourself. And if your observers don’t like what they see, they might go looking for others with whom to be social. Their “abandonment” of you will make room for new observers, many of whom might like you just the way you are.**

Ultimately, our observations of others might be accurate. But if we are willing to believe in the “accuracy” of our own perceptions, be warned. Others think their perceptions are just as truth revealing.

It’s a dance. If you “see,” you are contemporaneously “being seen.” It’s a risk, and one that I think is worth taking.


*Caveat: You don’t always have to be who you think you are. Example: If people expect that you often come up with reasonable solutions to problems, try keeping your mouth shut to see if your silence will foster others to the space to brainstorm resolutions.

**Unless you take the advice in the aforementioned “caveat” ^^^ and keep them guessing about the “real you.”

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