Face to face / by Christina Rosalie

I joined a marathon training class last week, and on Tuesday I sat in a room with twenty other people (all but two of which were women) for the first class, where we got to meet each other, talk about our goals, and take a peak at the crazy running schedule we’ve all decided to partake of that will have us running 40 miles a week by early May.

It was funny sitting there, looking at each woman’s face. I imagine all of us were doing the same thing: looking at each other. Sizing each other up in one way or another—looking for inspiration or camaraderie or competition. Yet aside from our names (written on blue and white labels on our shirts) and our previous running experience, we shared very little with one another verbally; most of the information we gathered about each other was based on our visual impressions.

I think it is interesting that when we encounter another person face to face we immediately label them based on the visual information we gather in those few split seconds of meeting. First we label gender. Our minds get hung up on this. If it isn’t easy to discern, we keep looking for identifiers—long hair maybe, or breasts or an angular jaw. Then we look for similarities to ourselves: age, attire, and physical stature, all become a part of the equation we seem to use to decide if we have enough in common to take the risk of starting a conversation.

It takes so much to get past this visual labeling system, and because of it, it often takes a long time to get to know someone new. There are many delicate ‘first date’ conversations as we seek to align ourselves compatibly with one another. Information is conveyed through actions and looks just as much as it is conveyed through words. By comparison, the medium of the blog makes this visual labeling system take the back seat. Through a blog, it is easy to get right to the heart of things—to just out and say things, divulging our selves without the varnish we put on for first impressions.

Through blogging I have found many women who I am inspired by, and feel connected to because of our shared experiences, or insights, or humor, or art. Yet I wonder: would we have made these connections if we had initially met as strangers face to face? Sitting there in a room full of other women, each of us looking with wide eyes at the training schedule for all the remaining weeks between now and the end of May, I wanted for just a moment to not see them, and to have instead see the things that really matter to them.

I would know so much more about the woman sitting across from me if I could know that she likes dark plums, black tea, and writing with India ink, and that she just broken up with her boyfriend of four years. Instead all I could gather was that she was probably in her early thirties, has short hair and red shoes, and took a really long time to fill out the marathon registration page.

I can’t help but wonder: am I the only one who feels this way, or is it something innate in the way we interact? Is it easier to take risks with friendship when you don’t have to think about that coffee stain on your shirt or the way your breath smells. Is more at stake when we meet face to face than there is across the page?