I still remember the exact location we had the conversation in. It was a sunny Fall day and I was sitting on a large rock outside of one of the buildings on campus when he said it: “I met a girl who went to high school with you last night, __________ (insert girls name here). She said nobody at your school liked you.”
It was Freshman year of college and I was talking to one of my only friends and only same-aged peers at my new school. I had balked at living in a dorm room 5 hours from home and opted instead on saving some money and attending my first year of college at the university in the town I grew up in. As an 18-year-old, I was in the minority – it was rare I had a classmate within 10 years of my age. Most were non-traditional students with families and jobs and many years past high school. All of my high school friends were away at college. My boyfriend was out of state on an athletic scholarship. It was the loneliest I had been probably my whole life up to that point.
And that’s what came out of the mouth of one of my only friends. It was too late – he had found out my secret. He now knew – I was unlikeable. I’m still not entirely sure his motivation for sharing this decidedly horrible comment with me. I don’t remember what I said back. But I never forgot that comment, because it confirmed my worst fears with evidence – I was unlikeable.
High school was rough for me. There were some specific “events”, if you will, that made my high school years pretty rocky and I also had the usual teenage grab bag of yuck – from my parents divorcing to boyfriend drama to mean girls and friend-group shifting and basically being a teenage girl.
I’ve lost count of how many times I have met somebody new who has said to me, “Oh, I bet you were Prom Queen in high school, right?”
Ha. Ha. While this is validating to my inner teenager, it is also wrong. (And also? Not sure what it means. Is it my hair? Does it look like Prom Queen hair? I feel like it might look like Prom Queen hair). And I go right back to that sunny Fall day sitting on a rock and hearing those words “nobody liked you.”
No, I wasn’t Prom Queen, I was never nominated for any sort of royalty and I never won any class votes for anything popularity related. My senior year of high school my car was egged multiple times, my house toilet-papered, nasty notes were left for me, I was sneered at in the hallways. I always had friends and a boyfriend, I was never lonely, but by the end of high school it was clear I also had people who truly, deeply disliked me.
Throw in a divorce at age 22 that basically halved all of my newly made college friendships, and by my early twenties I graduated from the school of hard knocks of learning to LET PEOPLE WHO DISLIKE ME GO.
Looking back now I have some thoughts about all this. It wasn’t true that nobody liked me. It was true that some people didn’t. As to why this was – part of it was likely my fault and part of it was just the brutal nature of high school and growing up (and getting divorced – blehrg. Amiright?) But when I finally emerged from my teenage years and early twenties, I had one unlikely gift wrapped in that brutal, ugly wrapping paper: I didn’t need everyone to like me.
And this is truly a gift. I’ve learned to cut my losses and move on when someone has decided I’m not their cup of tea. I don’t spend nights awake trying to figure out how to win them back, how to MAKE THEM LOVE ME, DAMNIT. In personal and professional worlds, it has saved me an abundance of time, energy, and effort. I stopped caring when people un-friended me on Facebook (and eventually stopped noticing). I stopped trying to hide the things that made me TOO anything, I stopped caring if people had a problem with that. I stopped trying to gauge what people wanted from me and trying to make sure I could people-please my way to friendships. I started a blog filled with my experiences and opinions. If you are ever curious as to how many people both love and hate you, I highly suggest this process. It is not for the faint of heart. I can fall back on the truth – some people don’t like me. Because that’s how life goes – you just can’t please anyone. And this is the damn truth. If you are the most liked girl on the planet, someone out there is going to decide they don’t like you, for exactly that reason. AND THAT’S OK. More time and energy for the people who love me, who think I’m actually a damn good time, who aren’t interested in trying to make me into something different that works better for them.
I remember sitting around a table with my best friends the night after I met my future-ex-husband trying to craft the perfect text-message to him. One of my friends said, ‘”I think you should say ‘I had a really great time meeting you last night and can’t wait to see you again.’” My other friends and I looked at her with our mouths hanging open.
And I think we collectively screamed something like: “OH MY GOD STACY (name changed to protect the innocent)!! YOU CAN’T JUST SAY SOMETHING LIKE THAT!” with horror.
And I kind of want to go smack past-Ashley in the back of the head just hard enough to make her cell-phone fly out of her hands and say maybe you should shut up and listen to Stacy. Because why would we want to waste one second of our precious time trying to pretend we are something we aren’t just to make someone like us, when I PROMISE there is someone out there who LOVES exactly what you really are, someone who would LOVE to hear ‘I had a really great time meeting you last night and can’t wait to see you again.’ (**For the record, I ended up texting future ex-husband that I had his sweatshirt I was just going to drop it off at the party he was having instead of agreeing to come to the party he invited me to because I was just too cool for that. I showed up in my cutest “I’m not trying” pjs to his busy house party and dropped off the sweatshirt and left with a date for the following night and then less than a year later there was an engagement ring soooo I guess you can say I played my cards pretty well but on the other hand we all know how that story ends so maybe I actually played them pretty terribly).
I’m still far from TRULY giving zero f***s about what anyone thinks of me, but I’d say I’m lightyears ahead of where I would be had I not had ages 15-22 to thank. I still have a hard time wanting to please authority. I still want perfection when it comes to my work, my appearance. I’m as always, a work in progress in trying to let these things go from the strangle-hold of perfectionism. I’m getting a whole lot closer. I am not the girl grasping around to find people to like me. I am not the girl desperate for anyone to like me. And I really, really like not being that girl.
The truth will set you free, and all that jazz. Even if the truth is some people don’t like you. Because the other truth is, some people REALLY like the parts of you those others don’t. Those are your people. Hold on to your people.