There are people you just want to keep at arm’s length.

They’re not bad. They’re not at odds with you. In fact, they often seem just a little too aligned, and to say a little too much of the right thing.

You just don’t quite trust them. Sometimes there’s been no clear breach of trust, but you know with your knower that something is slightly amiss. And it is. Even if you can’t peg why.

I once broke the world into three types of people: ideas dominant, angles dominant, and hustle dominant. The arm’s length people are angles people.

Angling doesn’t mean doing something bad. You can work angles to do good or bad, just like you can hustle or pursue ideas for good or bad. But by its nature, angling is about orienting oneself in relation to other people. Which means angles people are always reading the room to discover what other people value and adapting themselves to it. You can’t trust this.

Of course some degree of reading the room and adapting to what pleases others is considered courtesy or social graces. If you have none, it’s a bit boorish, or the result of autism or similar. It’s not nice but it is honest.

The other extreme is not honest. When room-reading is placed above all other values you can never trust that person because they are not a person. They do not have a self. They are ghostly, unsolid. They are in a constant state of flux, perpetually morphing into whatever is reflected back to them in the positive responses of others. That means under the right circumstances, they could turn on you. You never really know them because there is no them.

It may sound selfless to be exceedingly sensitive to what pleases others, but it’s really a form of narcissism. Idolizing how others respond to you is to idolize your own reflection. You can’t discover and be who you are if you’re obsessed with how you appear to others. And you can’t be truly valuable and heroic for others if you don’t have a self.

People read the room and angle to varying degrees. But certain people do enough of it that you just always feel like, “Yeah he seems like a cool guy, but something is just slightly off”. Listen to your gut. You don’t need more justification to keep that person at arm’s length.