The Eternal Anxiety of Being Liked

I’ve always liked having friends, and for a long time I thought that my happy buzz when it seemed people enjoyed spending time with me was just that. It’s nice to be surrounded by other people who you like and who like you. It didn’t really hit me that I had this anxiety of being liked by everyone until my latter years of secondary school, even though I know that I am not alone in this feeling.

If I find out that someone doesn’t like me, or if I’m around someone and get the feeling that they don’t really like me, I obsess over it. For hours and days and maybe even weeks I’m thinking about what I did wrong, what it was that made me unlikeable, whether I should have acted differently – and it goes on. Of course you are never going to go through life being liked by everyone, and that’s something that I’ve come to terms with over the past few years, especially in university, but I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to avoid coming to this realisation.

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I think back to my first year in secondary school when I talk about this anxiety of mine. I think of how I didn’t really have a specific group of friends, and instead I flitted from one to another – which, for a while, I enjoyed. I liked having the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone, and the fact that at lunchtime it didn’t matter who was in the form room because I could just sit with whoever was there. I liked being friends with everyone, because in my head it meant everyone was friends with me. Then, one of my most embarrassing memories comes to mind – and this in particular really shows off that crippling anxiety of not being liked.

In my class, when I was about 11, we were given a seating arrangement for our form time, which was just at the beginning and end of the day for maybe 10 minutes. I was sat next to a girl who was incredibly popular, and she was one of those types who was good at everything; she was sporty and on the hockey team, musically inclined and could play the piano, was cast in all the school plays and musicals because she was a great actor with a great voice, was incredibly intelligent and aced every test, and, what was sometimes the most frustrating quality, she was also infuriatingly nice. Seriously, she was so nice you couldn’t get angry that she was brilliant at everything, and that just made you even angrier. Anyway, we were placed next to each other for the first term and we got on well – or, rather, we were both nice and friendly and acted that way with each other. We never really hung out that much outside the classroom, just did the usual of inviting each other to our birthday parties and things like that. But then, lo and behold, the following term we were told we could sit next to whoever. And what does 11 year old me do? She sits there and says something along the lines of “I wonder if anyone will want to sit with me. I think I’ll probably end up sitting on my own” and, although I don’t remember exactly, I’m pretty sure I even went on to say how much I liked sitting next to this girl and may have even dramatically sighed. So, this girl being the nice girl she is, plonks her arse back down and sits next to me for the following term.

Mortifyingis the only word that comes to mind when I think back on this. I’m pretty certain this girl doesn’t even remember this incident, but dear lord do I remember it. I knew what I was doing, sitting there acting all dramatic and sullen and ridiculous, hoping that she would sit next to me again. Yet, I also think how upsetting it is to think that, even though 11-year-old me knew she was manipulating a situation, 11-year-old me thought that that was her only good chance of sitting next to someone because there was a voice in her head saying “No one actually likes you. No one actually wants to sit next to you.” Of course this wasn’t helped when the popular pretty girl kept sitting next to me, because it meant that this voice told me she was only sitting there to be nice, that she didn’t actually like me but sat there because I acted like a drama queen.

Then I think of the following years, up until the age of about 16, and how I acted with my friends. Even though they chose to hang out with me and be around me, there was still a part of me that felt that I needed to prove myself, be that extra bit likeable. I would change depending on who I was around – with one I would talk about music I knew she liked, another I would talk about completely different music and claimed I only liked that music too, or with some friends I would just try to be the goofy one, the funny one, the one that everyone likes. It wasn’t until I was in sixth form and developed a very bad relationship with another girl who was one day a bully and one day a friend depending on what suited her, that I realised that there was no point. Why should I change depending on who I was with? Why did I crave being liked?

I’m only fully able to say with certainty that I don’t do this anymore. In my first year of university I definitely adapted with the different groups I was with, trying to fit in and act cool and be likeable. Now? I really don’t have the energy to be anything other than myself, and have found, to my great relief, that it didn’t really make much of a difference. It seems people like to surround themselves with people who they like for being themselves, which is a terrible way of trying to say that others don’t give a shit. If you don’t like their music, so what? It’s something to discuss and talk about. It ties in with having the confidence to be yourself and not be self-conscious about every little thing.

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I’ve always been a ‘worrier’, and this anxiety of being liked is one of the many things that have plagued my mind daily for years. I’ve talked previously on this blog about my anxiety over my weight, my skin, my looks, my talents – and it all boils down to having the self-confidence and self-worth to know that none of it matters. It comes to remembering to think of yourself, and not of other people, when you’re looking at your skin/face/clothes/body. If you’re happy with yourself, then why worry about anyone else? You shouldn’t have to change for someone else, from styling your hair a certain way to saying you like a certain kind of music. I obsessed over my acne because I thought it made me look ugly, and part of that was because I obsessed over what other people saw when they looked at me. She just looked at me, and I bet she saw my spot on my chin. I bet that when she smiled at me she was laughing at how awful I look. Etc, etc. I could go on.

So the reason I’m trying to get to amongst all these ramblings is that not everyone is going to like you, and that’s ok. What’s important is your own happiness, and that happiness will never come from making sure everyone else likes you. I learned the hard way that you just can’t keep up all the various personas you put on to please everyone else. Be yourself, be healthy, be happy, and try not to worry about everyone else, because they’re probably worrying about the same things.

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Friendship Heartache

I’ve seen a couple of posts about this, but not many, so I thought I’d get to writing my own.

The amount of books, songs, films, shows etc we have that focus on heartbreak is astounding. If you turn on the radio, you probably can’t avoid hearing a song which is about breaking up with someone, or the mixed jumble of feelings you have for ex-partners. The amount of books I’ve read which have the premise, or even the climax, of the main character going through the stages of grief after breaking up with someone is just as high.

One thing that isn’t talked about nearly enough is that special kind of heartbreak you feel when you lose a friend. This can happen in so many ways – whether it’s just from not speaking to someone in a long time, or having a huge argument, or coming to realise that you no longer want to be friends. Many people would argue that losing a boyfriend/girlfriend is far similar, because more often than not they’re your best friends as well, but in my opinion the friendship heartache is something very different. Sure, heartbreak from a relationship can be crippling, but hopefully your friends are there to pick up the pieces and help you through. When it’s your friend that you lose, who’s there to help you through? How do you explain that that friend just got you in so many ways, and that without them you’re not entirely sure who you are? Who are you supposed to text or call when you overhear a nasty comment about you or when you find out that tesco is no longer selling those reduced chocolates that you’ve been gorging on for the past two months? What are you supposed to do when either you, or they, or both of you, realise that you’re not as close or even want to be as close as you used to be?

Let’s go to my own sob story. In primary school, I had a few people who I would call good friends – not that I’ve spoken to any of them in years – but more or less I was ‘friendly’ with everyone. The first year or two of secondary school was similar; I never really found a group that I thought ‘THESE ARE MY KIND OF PEOPLE’, so I sort of drifted from group to group. Towards the end of my second year (Year 8, when I was about 12/13 years old) I found a group of girls (not a surprise, seeing as I went to an all girls school) that I thought were my best of friends. One girl in particular I called my best friend. She seemed to know everything, and we just had so much fun together. We’d have sleepovers where we’d talk about the boys that weren’t in our lives and the celebrities we wish were in our lives. We’d talk about our families, and hopes, and dreams, and fears – you name it, we probably talked about it. Every now and then, we’d fall out for a few days after a petty comment or argument, but soon enough we were best friends again.

This girl, my best friend, had the power to absolutely destroy me. The amount of times I cried because of something she said to me or said about me to someone else (who then told me – thanks again to girl school gossip) was ridiculous. Over the next few years, I found other girls who I soon called best friends as well, but this first girl was still a fixture in my life. Honestly, she wasn’t a great person. She hurt a lot of people, but I was still friends with her. There was one instance I can remember clearly when I called her up because she was ill, telling her to not worry about anything and to get better soon. When she next came to school, she yelled at me for being such a bitch, calling her up to rub it in her face that she was ill and everyone else wasn’t. There was another time when she took me to ‘the bike sheds’ during one lunchtime and she again shouted at me. She had two other girls with her – and together they made up the original three girls I thought were my closest friends – but they didn’t say anything. It was clear though that they were there to support her. I was told that I was a horrible human being and that I was just jealous of her and hated her because she could wear skirts and make-up and I couldn’t. (I should probably mention here that I never wore make-up – mainly because I had no idea how to use it – and I always wore trousers – I really didn’t like my legs).

She knew exactly what to say to upset me, and she did know exactly what she was doing. The next day, she was back to pretending nothing had happened.

And so the years went on, and in my last two years of school I came to the realisation that I didn’t have to be her friend. I tolerated her, even to the point where I would sit next to her in one of my classes and chat, make jokes – all of that rubbish. I would chat to my true best friends, who would never ever say such awful things to me, and I would feel reassured that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like this girl. The amount of instances where she made me want to curl up in my bed and never leave it’s safety are too many to count. After our final exams – when we were eighteen years old – I felt like I was a young teen again when one of my friends told me that she told them that she deleted me on facebook and was ‘really smug about it’. That hurt. Despite not even liking this girl, the years that we were friends would flash through my mind. Where was the girl who told me that she thought I was pretty despite my acne? Where was the girl who could make me laugh until my stomach ached?

What did I do? Well, I blocked her, because I didn’t want to see anything about her any longer.

I still feel a huge mix of weird feelings when I think about her now. Weirdly enough, she goes to university in London and I heard something about her from a friend of a friend. Turns out she’s upset a lot of people already at university, and the relief I feel that I don’t have that in my life any more is incredible. It doesn’t do anything to stop that little twinge I feel, that pang of heartache when I think about the times we were friends.

What’s the cure? Well, I’m still working on it. Surrounding yourself with other friends helps, as does eating copious amounts of chocolate. Also writing a blog post seems to help – writing it all down and throwing it out into the world is pretty cathartic (I hope you’ve ‘enjoyed’ reading about all my very important feelings). For me, finding confidence was a big factor. Being strong enough to just think that it was better to have known her and learned something than not at all. I’m better for it, because now I’m not afraid to tell someone ‘no’. I’m not afraid to have opinions, because I know how to fight my corner. I know that I can be independent, and that those stupid teenage fights we had were just that – stupid teenage fights. I have no desire to see her again, but I’d like to think that if I do ever have to speak to her again, I can be the bigger person.

I’ve moved on. I hope she has too.