I can’t stop thinking about charm — what it means, who has it and how I can acquire more of it. I’m not sure what inspired this fairly specific interest but I think it might be a side effect of the second adolescence I seem to be undergoing in the latter half of my twenties, one that demands I examine what kind of person I am, closely followed by what kind of person I want to be (an endeavor that so far seems to be equal parts bewildering and productive but hopefully heavier on the latter as time trips onward).
I want to be more charming. I want to be more charming because whenever I am the recipient of someone else’s charm, I have the distinct pleasure of feeling at peace with my whole human self, and I want to not only be the beneficiary of this kind of feeling, but also the genesis of it for others. The impetus to do so is in some measure selfish (honing an ability to make other people feel like they are seen, and that they are enough, is one rung on the ladder to being more “likable,” and I’m not immune to the appeal of that outcome), but it’s also rooted in something bigger: the desire to make a habit of stepping out of the minutia of my own mind and into the splendor of someone else’s.
My social anxiety manifests most acutely whenever I’m in the midst of a large social gathering that necessitates small talk — one where I’m still in the ooey, gooey thick of the “getting to know you” stage with everyone else in attendance. The moment I cross the threshold, literal or figurative, into this kind of situation, I feel like a balloon pricked with the tiniest of needles, deflating slowly over the next couple of hours until I’m all shriveled up. I can’t bear asking one more person how they are or what they’ve been up to because the only thing I can think about is how tired I am of making conversation — constructing it laboriously, sentence by sentence — and at that point everything I say starts to sound wrong. Therein lies the minutia: my concern over how I’m being perceived, my desire to connect, my awareness that small talk is small indeed — too small to effectively slice through the layers of self-consciousness that inevitably crust over the tender heart of me.
Me. This unwanted focus is precisely why I want to be more charming — because charm is a mechanical arm that would conceivably reverse the direction of my attention from inward to outward, lifting it off of me and onto other people (or at least, that’s how I interpret its particular power). The actual definition of charm is somewhat nebulous, so in order to narrow down what exactly I mean by it, I made a short list of all the specific instances in which I typically feel charmed:
+When someone I perceive as more important/established than I am (especially in a career sense) remembers my name
+When someone seems authentically interested in getting to know me purely for the sake of getting to know me
+When someone is uniquely witty at no one else’s expense
+When someone recognizes and calls attention to the things I like most about myself
+When someone goes out of their way to make me feel at ease
Since these actions are more innate to certain people (whoever comes to mind when you think of the word “charming” is probably one of them), I reached out my friend Thatcher (the person who comes to mind when I think of the word “charming”) to get his take on the subject — and to also glean just how much of his charm is innate versus deliberately cultivated.
To my surprise, he admitted to feeling somewhat uncomfortable when described as charming, given how easily it can be misconstrued as disingenuous (“I think charm has a bit of a con-man/B.S. connotation to it in our generation,” he told me. “Not to mention all the villainous men in Victorian-era masterpiece classics and novels are always the ‘charming’ one.”). Ultimately, though, he emphasized that charm, in its most ideal form, is coupled with empathy: “From an early age, I’ve always wanted people to a) feel comfortable but also b) know that I was not someone to feel awkward or shy around,” he said. “When people describe me as charming, all it means to me is that someone is comfortable around me. Given that we are living in a time when everything is driven by the self (ambition, ego, politics), I view that as the highest compliment.”
He also brought up an interesting counterpoint to the perks of being charming: “When one is inevitably not charming (on a date, with a friend, at work, etc), not only does it comes as a surprise to the person you are interacting with, but it also causes abnormal amounts of anxiety or worry. I hate being mean and I am conflict-averse (sometimes to my own detriment).”
I can see how being labeled as A Charming Person could be burdensome at times, especially if you’re in a bad mood or feeling anti-social (I guess as with almost everything, charm and its appeals are in the eye of the beholder), but walking through life with the intention of being someone that other people are comfortable around seems like a decent operating principle for navigating social interaction. It’s also an enlightening one, because whether or not it comes naturally to you, the nascence of charm begins with yourself — with digging down under your own crust and accepting the authenticity of whatever it is you happen to find there.
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.