I expect to like the people I meet, and I am always surprised when they do or say something that makes me re-evaluate. Last night, however, I met a man who took an instant dislike to me for no obvious reason.
He was at least a decade older than me, and overweight. Loneliness rolled off him in waves, and most of his conversation was self-centered and querulous. We were the first of a party of half a dozen to arrive at a restaurant, so while our table was readied, I sat down beside him near the entrance, ready to make conversation.
I didn’t exactly get grunts in reply, but I might as well have. The conversation, as P. G. Wodehouse once wrote, flowed like cement. After I made several efforts at conversation, he started talking about how our table would never be ready in time, because all the large tables in the restaurant had just had people seated at them. I could have pointed out that diners were just leaving one, but instead I shrugged and said we still had some time.
From his reaction, you might have thought I had sworn at him.
Giving up, I stood and went outside, preferring the sub-zero temperature to the chilly reception I was getting from him. When our party arrived, he started complaining about the prices on the menu, although all except one were modest by local standards. Thinking to help, I pointed several of the cheaper items, and he glared at me as though I had just vomited on his shoes.
After these preliminaries, I made sure to sit as far away from him as possible. Fortunately, the group was large enough that there were usually several conversations going on at once. However, he interrupted everyone to complain about the prices again, and to tell a long, rambling story to explain the difference between winter tires and snow tires.
That story segued into how he had got his tires installed for free. If his luck gave him any pleasure, it never showed on his face. Later, while everyone was exclaiming over the food, he complained that his burger was dry and the rest of the mean was inadequate while the rest of us were exclaiming in delight.
To increase my already low standing with the man, I had to interrupt several of his stories so the overworked waitress could give us some advice, and later take our orders. At each interruption, I was treated to a glare hot enough to melt wax.
Despite my puppy-dog assumptions, I am old enough to know that I can’t please everyone, and usually I don’t worry too much if someone takes exception to me. Yet in this case, his reaction puzzles me. We had never met or talked, and, so far as I was concerned, nothing was at stake that was more important than fine dining and getting to know new acquaintances.
Did he resent that I was relatively younger and – to a casual glance – in better health than he is? That I was playing the extrovert that evening, joking and trying to draw people out? Could I possibly remind him of someone – perhaps someone who had deep-fried and eaten his cat when he was a boy?
I doubt I will ever have answers to these questions, and no great loss if I don’t. Still, I felt like he had cast me in a play without bothering to offer me a script – and projections like that make me distinctly uneasy.
I don’t mind if people dislike me, but I do prefer to know why. Usually, people don’t take such a dislike to me unless I have set out deliberately to insult them.
When I’m instantly disliked
November 29, 2015 by Bruce Byfield