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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Skin Deep

In my moments of procrastination, I tend to watch TV that requires the least amount of concentration and, yesterday. I turned on the ‘Idiot Box’ (name courtesy of my Dad, despite the fact that he watches Wheeler Dealers so often it’s not true) yesterday and started watching some good ol’ Catfish.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, I do not mean this:

Instead, I mean this:

Now, ‘catfishing’ is known as pretending to be someone you’re not online in order to hook someone into an online relationship. This programme shows the truths and lies of online dating, started by the host Nev who had his own experience after his online girlfriend turned out to be not who she said she is. People involved in online relationships (who haven’t met their partner in real life) email Nev to to help them meet their love. Sometimes, the person they meet is exactly who they claimed to be, just with a few insecurities or something along those lines, but more than usual it’s someone completely different.

You may wonder at this point where I’m going with this.

This isn’t a TV review (although, if you want my opinion, Catfish:the TV show is entertaining to watch – which is all I’m looking for in between bursts of revision. In actual fact, I had a realisation in the programme which probably isn’t that life altering, but it made me feel like I’d just had an epiphany.

As I was watching, it was a typical episode where the guy goes to meet his girlfriend who claims she is a size 6 blonde bombshell, but is instead several sizes larger. I kept on thinking, ‘Why would someone take part in an online relationship and why would you pretend to be someone you’re not? Surely you know it’s never going to end well?’. Then as I kept watching, it started to sink in – ok, it’s pretty obvious anyway, but still – that the people faking their identity always happen to be a lot larger than they pretended to be.

Before any of you start sending me abuse about how you should judge someone’s personality and not their appearance, this isn’t exactly where I’m going with today’s rant. I’m the first person to jump into the argument that personality should always be favoured instead of appearance, as would most people, but what does this programme in particular tell us about our society? It shows us that, despite everyone’s claims that they favour personality, in actual fact people still favour appearances. Why else would we have so many people pretending to be someone they’re not? To hide their appearance, perhaps?

Nowadays, I’m a lot more confident in my appearance than I used to be thanks to a great family, some awesome friends, and those few wonderful individuals who drop a compliment to a stranger like it’s nothing, when in fact it means the world. Hell, even when a stranger smiles at me on the Tube (which, if you’re a frequenter of London, you’ll know that smiles hardly ever happen) it helps to brighten my day.

I had serious confidence issues and consequently I was always self-conscious of the way I looked thanks to an early hit of puberty. My lovely hormones caused a huge bout of acne which essentially crushed my confidence in days. It sounds melodramatic and tons of people will say, ‘Everyone gets spots, just deal with it’ and I don’t see myself as vain, but acne did ruin a part of life starting at the age of ten. In primary school, whilst everyone else around me had lovely skin I was there with spots and blackheads. Starting secondary school, it felt even worse because I didn’t know anyone and – in year 7 – not many others had acne like me.

I’m incredibly lucky that all I’ve had to deal with is acne because it could have been so much worse – there are people out there who have to deal with something much worse than that, but it still affected me. I tried every acne cream/soup/wash that I could find and so many different types of pills that would supposedly help that I’ve lost count, but they never worked.

^^This is me in year 7 (excuse the silly expression) and it’s the only picture that I can find on my facebook that I haven’t deleted which shows some acne. Before you ask – yes, I did spend hours going through all my photos to make sure there were none of me that showed any really bad acne because I couldn’t bear the thought that people would look at me and see the acne. There are many times where all I wanted was a different face and I couldn’t understand why I had to have the acne when other girls in my school had perfect skin. Seriously, some girls literally get nothing; their ‘puberty’ just involves getting bigger boobs. HOW IS THAT FAIR??

Anyway, so I had many teenage breakdowns over acne – as I’m sure many teenagers do – but luckily the acne has died down now after eight years of turmoil. I still have some, but it’s less noticeable and it doesn’t have such an awful affect on my confidence. In fact, I even tried to get into modelling at one point and, for all you out there who have confidence issues, the best way to get rid of them is through yourself in the deep end. Don’t go on whacky diets or operations, just go stand in front of a camera and smile. It sure helped me.

So, what the hell is this post all about? Is this just a chance to get my sob story out there? …Not exactly. Actually, I think I wanted to make a point about our society or something deep like that. It just hit me that the only reason we have programmes like Catfish out there is because there is still such a huge problem in our society about appearances. Be that if you have a lot of acne, a bit of extra weight which people put too much focus on or even if you have a misconception on the way you look. If you even look at people filming celebrities, the commentators will talk about their clothes, or how they look a big bigger then normal and therefore she must be pregnant, because surely she wouldn’t do something as awful as putting on weight! Heaven forbid! Celebrities just can’t be like us regular mortals where a bit of extra weight is practically mandatory.

It’s silly to say that we live in a society where everyone thinks that personality is the most important thing, because it clearly isn’t true. I wish it could be different, but I suppose time will tell.

Let me know what you think ~ Eleanor