Wednesday 12 June 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #37: You'll Love Him

“Do you know Kevin? Kevin’s a great guy. You’d love him…”

The Chiffons - He's So Fine

There’s nothing more guaranteed to make me instantly predisposed to dislike someone than being told that I’ll love them. Why should this be?

Dave Travis - I Don't Like Him

I’m thinking back to when I worked in radio. When I moved into the advertising department, there was a guy already working in there who everybody liked. We’ll call him Kevin, because… no, I did that joke last week, didn’t I? He wasn’t called Kevin. But Kevin was the exact opposite of Bob, the guy everybody agrees is a dick. Kevin was wonderful. He was so witty and charming and talented and kind… seriously, you’d love him.

The Teddy Bears - To Know Him Is To Love Him 

The problem was, I didn’t take to Kevin at all. I just didn’t get what everybody else saw in him. I mean, he wasn’t a Bob-level dick, but out of everyone in the office, I found him by far the hardest to warm to, and definitely the least welcoming. He seemed a bit stand-offish, and I clearly got the impression he thought that he was better than me and that I didn’t deserve to be working in the same department as him. This was never overt, and you could well just put it down to my infamous paranoia, but I don’t think it was purely in my imagination.

Tom Petty - Don't Do Me Like That

Putting aside the (possibly paranoid) idea that Kevin treated me differently to everyone else he met, why else might I not like someone everyone else thought was great?

Billy Joel - Everybody Loves You Now

To try to answer this, I waded once more, neck-deep, into the sewers of the interweb, and the first link to come floating past was this one from Headspace: What happens in the brain when we dislike somebody?

Guess where the finger of blame gets pointed almost immediately? 

Yep, it’s our old friend the amygdala. When we decide we don’t like some, “’there is preferential activation of the amygdala’,” which means the brain region associated with fear and aggression flares up. This visceral, emotional reaction can spark a long-term pattern of dislike when it’s validated by action: if you perceive that someone has hurt you, your fear of them becomes rational.”

Morrissey - If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me

Essentially, we’re back to the storytelling brain creating neural pathways in reaction to negative stimuli – it’s why I learned to hate New Order all over again. But this isn’t really answering my central question – why I dislike Kevin, when everyone else thinks he’s Superman.

The Psychmechanics get closer to a direct response…

When you instantly dislike someone, you’ve made a snap decision that they’re threatening based on minimal information.

Ah ha – tell me more! 

And they do… with six different suggestions as to why I disliked Kevin…

1. He’s different.

Humans are wired to like and bond with their own tribe.

This one is the basis for all forms of prejudice, especially racism. It’s about instinctively not liking anything that looks or appears different to you. Many of us are able to overcome this in-built reaction because we teach ourselves (or someone older and wiser has taught us) that it’s bullshit.

Of course, using your conscious mind, you can overcome this bias. This is why education is so valuable.

That’s what I was trying to say. 

Anyway, I can’t really apply this to Kevin. He wasn’t particularly different from me – we had the same skin colour, hair colour, similar height and weight… he wasn’t even a particularly good-looking dude for me to feel inferior to. And he liked or was interested in many of the same things as me. We were definitely from the same tribe, so there was no reason to take against him on the surface.

This Many Boyfriends - I Don't Like You ('Cos You Don't Like The Pastels) 

2. He reminds you of something threatening.

When you get that bad ‘vibe’ from someone without knowing why, it could be that they reminded you of a previous negative experience.

Again, I’m not sure I can make this fit. I’d encountered a lot of unpleasant people by this point in my life, but Kevin didn’t really remind me of any of them. Apart from people I’d met previously who everyone else seemed to like… hmm. Could that be a clue?

Sandie Shaw - There's Always Something There To Remind Me

3. They’ve previously threatened you.

This one’s more about suppressed memories of someone you’ve met before. Like, say, you meet the school bully twenty years later in a completely new context and you don’t even recognise him, but your subconscious mind does, and it’s this which sets your amygdala screaming.

Which is fair enough, but I’d never met Kevin prior to starting in the department. I’d seen him round the building, but that was about it. 

Except… when I had seen him around, I guess I’d seen him talking and laughing and getting on with other people… yet he’d never made any attempt to talk to me. Could it be that he’d taken an instant dislike to me? Did I remind him of something threatening? Was the problem with Kevin’s brain, not mine? I guess I’ll never know the answer to that one…

The Triffids - Bad News Always Remind Me Of You 

4. They’re competing with you.

OK, so, this is where it becomes murky. Because I was going to work in the advertising department with literally no previous experience. I had recently passed my English degree and was writing on a regular basis – I could easily evidence creativity, which is what got me the job… but I was new to the concept of using creativity to sell things. Kevin, on the other hand, was seen as the star writer in the department. He’d won awards!

Belinda Carlisle - (We Want) The Same Thing 

When you come across someone competing with you for what you want, you instinctively dislike them.

It could be:

·        A smarter coworker who could outsmart you and perform better

·        A hard-working coworker who could outwork you

·        A sycophantic coworker trying to win your boss’s favors

·        An attractive person courting your crush

Hang on a second, so you’re suggesting the reason I didn’t like Kevin is that I was jealous of him?

Gin Blossoms - Hey Jealousy

Jealousy is often a big reason for disliking someone for no apparent reason. Jealousy results from upward social comparison. You see someone who’s better than you or has what you want, and you feel jealous.

The Black Crowes - Jealous Again

That stings. That really stings. But I have to accept it as a possibility for why I didn’t like Kevin. Although it doesn’t really explain why he didn’t like me. Unless that was all in my imagination.

Or… prior to going for that job in advertising, I had made a (small) name for myself in the station on air. (This was prior to the arrival of my nemesis, the programme controller I referred to as “Tim Allen” during my long-running series about my days in commercial radio.) The show I co-presented featured quite a lot of creative content – comedy sketches and characters that went down well with the listeners, though I’m sure I’d cringe myself to death if I heard any of them again today. Anyway, I’d been on air doing all this “funny” stuff for a few years prior to my move into commercial production… and chances are Kevin had heard some of that. Maybe he’d formed an impression of me from that (“he’s just not funny”) or maybe – longshot, I know, but we need to cover all bases in answering this question – maybe he was a teensy bit jealous of me. Yeah, he’d been winning the awards, but only for writing ads. He hadn’t been doing the funny stuff just for funny’s sake. Maybe he was angry I’d had that opportunity and he (being clearly much more talented) hadn’t. Anything’s possible.

Ann Peebles - It Was Jealousy

5. You want to hide from yourself.

Say what now?

People tend to hide their flaws and ignore the qualities they need to develop. So, when they come across someone having the same flaws as them or having the qualities they want, they hide again.

For example:

You lack confidence, and confident people put you off.

Nail, thy head is hitteth, you might well be thinking.

And it’s perfectly feasible that this is the answer: Kevin was a confident guy and I hated his confidence. Although it’s equally possible that he was just as insecure as I was, but much better at hiding it and coming across as confident. Which would link back to my longshot from #4… but this is all supposition, there’s no science to it at all.

The Smirks - Angry With Myself

6. Their nonverbals are off.

When we meet people, we’re constantly making snap judgments about them. If they display welcoming and open body language, we feel good. If they show closed body language, we feel off.

Clearly, this is the case with Kevin – he actively went out of his way to get on with everybody else in the office, but stayed cool around me. And that’s still the case to this day when I bump into him in the book of faces. One of my (friendly) old colleagues will post a photo or a memory from our past and various people will leave a nostalgic comment… and there’s me and Kevin in the same (virtual) room all over again, talking to everybody else but ignoring each other. 

We’re quick to put people in the ‘friend’ or ‘foe’ category because, again, the mind doesn’t want to take any chances. It makes these critical decisions based on minimal information gleaned from body language, facial expressions, and voice tone.

The ironic thing is, Kevin left soon after I joined the department (was it me?) and went on to a successful career writing for TV comedy shows. Despite many attempts to follow in his footsteps, that never happened for me. Maybe that’s because he was more talented than me… or maybe it’s because he was more confident. It doesn’t really matter in the end: he won. And here I am, thirty years later, still fretting over this, while I doubt he's given me a second thought...

And yes, there's a reason I called him Kevin...


  1. Is Kevin any relation to Bob from last week?

    1. Ignore that, I see you have already answered the question. I should read more carefully.

  2. Equally, you could have called him David Watts. Great post.

  3. My frst thought was that Kevin perceived you as a threat. My last thought was also that Kevin perceived you as a threat. You know when you come across people who are so used to being the 'star' in their own environment, and know that people say "oh, you'll love him" about them, especially when it comes to humour, and they just can't handle it when someone else is remotely funny or talented...? Kevin.


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