Library books… musical groups … animal species… if we were playing “Ten Thousand Dollar Pyramid,” and you guessed “things that you categorize,” we would be headed to the winners circle! But we’re not, so I’ll explain why I’m talking about game shows: Things like books or music are easily categorized, and they make for simple distributions into neat, though occasionally disputed (is Pink Floyd classic rock or progressive rock?) groups. Note, however, that human beings are not on this list of things we categorize. Because, despite the fact that many of us share an incessant need to categorize one another, no human being is exactly like another.
So often we see someone online and think “Oh, he/she is just like every other XYZ. They’re all the same.” (Insert your favorite stereotype here – New York JAP, arrogant lawyer, nerdy accountant, whatever.) Or before meeting a new person, you dubiously assume he will be just like every other similar person you have already met. Well, okay, maybe there is a tiny kernel of truth to some of these thoughts. And I admit that I myself am super guilty of categorizing people – it’s human nature. But it can also be really, really detrimental to meeting your match.
When we put people into a box (figuratively is bad enough – please don’t do this literally), we are stripping away their chance to show us who they truly are, thereby diminishing the potential for a successful date. For example, maybe you find yourself sitting across from Sarah, who works in marketing and went to OSU, and you know think “OHH, she’s one of THOSE,” whatever “those” means to you. Sarah might be nothing like the OSU clique you might be envisioning, but it’s too late – you have categorized her as such, and decided she’s not for you. This is unfair.
I am not a cognitive scientist, but as a lover of pop psychology and as an armchair psychologist of sorts, I think that we categorize people for some logical reasons. Some people see the world in terms of black or white, while other prefer shades of grey (not even touching that joke). For black and white thinkers, categorizing comes naturally as a way to quickly assess and make a decision on something, or in this case, someone. Similarly, from an evolutionary standpoint, learning to categorize is helpful in effectively organizing large amounts of information. It’s just a logical way for the brain to process things, like book genres, animals, tools, etc.
But the difference between our friend Sarah and an object is that you can’t truly know or understand Sarah by looking at her. Sure, she might give you a basic impression based on her appearance. But humans are dynamic, teachable, complicated, deep, and interesting (well, except for accountants… TOTALLY KIDDING!) , making them virtually impossible to classify properly.
By making a snap judgment about a profile or a date, you are preventing that person’s humanity and uniqueness from shining through. So please, categorize away when at your job or when shelving library books or something. But when it comes to romance, be more open to those shades of grey!