Student Writing Prompt – “Trying Too Hard”

Especially in social situations, you sometimes hear that someone was “trying too hard” to be liked. Isn’t trying hard a good thing? What makes it bad? Include examples from real life (your own or someone you know; no names necessary) as well as from the literature we’ve studied in class.
I think the concept of “trying too hard” to be liked relates to consent. When someone is pursuing a relationship — mostly we think of it in terms of a romantic relationship, but it could equally apply to a friendship or a professional partnership — and that person is given negative feedback, if they ignore that feedback, that’s what comes across as “trying too hard.”

Likewise, that’s what marks the difference between trying hard (which is fine) and trying too hard (which is annoying at best). It’s important to pay attention to social cues and to respect others’ “no” responses, even if they’re indirect. Respecting “no” is a way of showing others that their opinion and their well-being matters to us.

In “The Fan Club,” Laura acts friendly toward Rachel, even though she doesn’t particularly want to be friends with her. This, combined with Rachel’s interest in unusual topics and general awkwardness, creates a situation in which Rachel thinks that she and Laura are friends. As a result, when Laura joins the other students in mocking Rachel, it comes across as an even greater betrayal.

Something I’m still working on is paying attention to clues that indicate that “maybe” is actually a “gentle no,” as well as making sure that I am very clear about the difference between a request (such as asking a student to erase the board) and an expectation (assigning work).

As much as possible, I also try to give clear responses, in order to avoid “but I thought you meant…” or getting roped into commitments that I can’t keep. I don’t always get it right, of course, but I do make the attempt!

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