What makes us feel comfortable around certain people and not others?

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What makes us uncomfortable?

1. If someone seems to have power over you. Like your boss. That’s a little anxiety producing.
2. If someone thinks they know more than you. Are better than you. More educated. More. More anything.
3. If someone has no sense of humor.
4. If it really matters that everything goes right. Like if you’re meeting your new love’s family. It would really be nice if they would like you.
5. If someone appears to be mean or belligerent.
6. If someone is in your face.
7. If someone stares at you coldly.
8. If the person you are interacting with has almost nothing to say. You have to do all the talking. They got nothing. They’re boring you. They got nothing.
9. If someone is talking about stuff you have no interest in. Brabantia in the Middle Ages. Who cares?
10. If someone just won’t stop talking about themselves. They keep putting their words in your face. Over and over. On and on. They keep telling you this and that about themselves. You just have to listen and listen and you want to be anywhere else on the planet, like maybe under a bridge outside Sydney, Australia. Oh wait, I think that’s what my son is doing.

What makes us cozy being around someone.

1. The trick isn’t that they are “nicer,” it’s that they, whoever they are, are more like you. We are comfortable with people who we have enough in common with.
2. People who listen.
3. People who really like you.
4. Respect you.
5. Think you’re funny.
6. Want to find out what else they have in common with you.
7. You like cheese, they like cheese. Not so important. You like art museums and walks in the park and trees and books and the way air tastes when it’s full of fennel and heat and so do they.
8. If you act weird, they’re okay, they just laugh and give you a break.
9. You can breathe.
10. You can relax. Nothing you say or do can or will be held against you.

Here is the thing. In your work life, in your public life, you can’t expect to only deal with people you are comfortable around. The likelihood of that happening is very slim. I suppose if you are very rich, you can manage to not be around people who make you uncomfortable, but for most of us, that just isn’t possible. In your life, there are going to be people who you are uncomfortable being around. To cope, we all put on armor, we find ways to behave properly, to keep it together, keep it together.

In an ideal world, these people who make you uncomfortable are people you don’t have to be around in your private life and certainly don’t have living with you. In America, we feel that we do get to choose who we live with. We don’t have to live with members of the tribe who we don’t get along with. People around whom we feel small and insignificant.

Around Mother’s Day and the holidays, you end up with the relatives who you get all tense around. Breathe my friend, that’s what I do. I breathe deeply. I say to myself. Yo, I got it going on. I’m going to be just fine.

The sun continues to rise. There are grilled onions and grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes. There are pomegranates and there is raw fish and Johnny Depp movies and hopefully your children love you. Because if they do, you can conquer the world.

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