Familiarity vs. Formality

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Once in a while, I’ll encounter someone who is really enthusiastic about me and my work.  Actually, usually pretty much everyone is enthusiastic about me, so that’s not the issue.  The issue is that, for some, their enthusiasm translates into seeking familiarity with me.  Sometimes this happens in counseling sessions, and sometimes at sell-out seminars.

So, what’s the problem with treating Dr. Matt like your good ol’ pal from junior high, or your ex-lover who you are again on good terms with, on the off chance that your current relationship will fail and you’ll need a backup?  The problem is that I’m not those people.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not offended by this behavior.  I’m just letting you know that this behavior is off-putting and stupid.

And, perhaps you’re not aware of it, but if you’re responding to me this way, then you’re probably jarring quite a few people around you when you treat them with familiarity (not that you have any other celebrities in your life).

Sure, the impulse is understandable.  If you lack intimacy in your life, then you desire to get close to people.  It seems like one way is to pretend that you already are close, to treat them with familiarity in hopes that they will accept the reality you project.

When I interact with fans on the Internets, I always address them with an English honorific: Mr. or Ms.  I do this to set up a relationship of honor and respect, which I feel is absolutely essential before I tell someone what to do.  Now, while you may feel silly addressing your friends or colleagues in this way, I little formality goes a long way.

A tone of formality tells people that you respect their boundaries, and that you honor them as a person.  Once a month, Midgie and I formally ask each other how we feel the relationship is going and if there are any changes that we would like to make.  Sure, we could ask this question offhand when it comes to mind while we’re eating popcorn on the couch watching Midgie’s favorite adult movies, but we feel it wouldn’t treat the question with the respect it deserves.  The tone of formality sets the context for the importance of the content.

So, next time you see Dr. Matt at a book signing, don’t be the obsessed familiar fan who thinks we’re old friends because you’re read everything I’ve written, and listened to everything I’ve said.  Instead, be the obsessed formal fan, who’s done all the same reading and writing, but doesn’t creep me out about it.

Just My Thoughts,
Dr. Matt*

* Dr. Matt is not a real doctor.

Dr. Matt

Dr. Matt* gives advice on relationships, life, death, half-life, pet ownership, sexuality, asexuality, proto-sexuality, and mustache growing. * Dr. Matt is not a real doctor.

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