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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Why every teenager should have a job

So many people disagree on this topic, but I feel like it’s one that needs to be brought up – then again, the best conversations to have are often the ones that many people disagree about.

I got my first job at the age of seventeen by applying online, working as a hostess at Wembley stadium. My second came in the same year during dinner out with my parents and overhearing the landlady of a pub complain about how they needed extra help, so I offered to work for a couple of days a week. I stopped working at the pub after school finished and I stopped working at Wembley last year after becoming a bookseller at my third, and current, job.

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There are a few things I want to say about the topic of teenagers having jobs, and by teenagers I mean from the age of sixteen up. It’s at this time where you actually learn about the ‘real world’ and the true meaning for working for something. I mean, sure, you can argue that working for grades at school is the same thing, but let’s be honest – nothing quite hits home like getting your first paycheck after working your arse off at a job you may or may not like. You learn about people from all walks of life, far more than at school (at least, that’s how it was for me), and, maybe more importantly, you learn how to tolerate these people. There’s nothing worse than having to serve or work with an utter arsehole, but you have to learn to keep you calm and just get on with it. You learn to appreciate people more – no longer are you going to be that awful person strutting into a store only to bark out orders to employees there like you own them, because you know from experience of being that employee that those people are the worst people.

Maybe I just want everyone to work in retail for a week so I won’t have to deal with those people. Oh well, a girl can dream.

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The main argument I hear is about how teenagers in school need to focus on their studies, not worry about having a job and earning money. In many cases, some teenagers are lucky enough – and I was one of them – to have parents  who are able to support you. Having a job was not a necessity for me, but for some it was an absolute necessity. There are so many children and teenagers and, hell, anyone, who studies for school or a degree or any kind of exam, and does bloody fantastically, as well as having a job. It can be done. In fact, having a job on top of everything else means that you’re forced to sort your life out and prioritise getting work done. Last year, before I started working every weekend all weekend, I did absolutely nothing with my weekends unless I had a shift at Wembley. Saturdays I would sleep as long as possible, shuffle to the kitchen to rummage around for food and a cuppa, go back to bed and read, maybe take a nap, then repeat. This year, however, I’m having to sort out my schedule to make sure I have time to get all of my university and journalism work done in time. No more kicking back after uni if I finish late, I need to read all of these articles and take notes and read these books (not for pleasure) and get these essays planned and written and god knows what else.

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It’s interesting, really, talking to teenagers in school who have jobs and who don’t have jobs. It’s all well and good if your child is poet laureate or if they’re the star of their school play, but after applying for university that normally means absolutely nothing to everyone else. So what? You don’t really know about proper work. Great if your parents can buy you cars for your 17th and flats for your 21st, but do you know what it’s like to work a nine-hour shift pulling pints for rowdy blokes making crass innuendoes about how to ‘give a good beer head’? (Spoiler: it’s crap) But that’s the sort of thing you have to learn to deal with. You need to work and bust a gut doing work for awful money. You need to see that nobody cares what your mummy or daddy earns or who they are. You need to try and do something for yourself and earn your own money for yourself.

One comment I get is how I’ve been ‘so lucky’ with my jobs, as if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, standing around with my arms wide open ready to catch something falling from the sky. Many people get jobs, again, because of their parents, and they’re not jobs involving pulling pints in a grotty pub I’ll tell you that. I worked hard to get my jobs. For the hostessing, I researched online and applied for loads of different jobs. When my profile was given the thumbs up, I kept my details updated, emailed incessantly about when I was free until they gave me some work. With the pub, I put myself out there and offered to help. The temptation to just not say anything was right there, but instead I marched up, unapologetic for eavesdropping, and offered myself up like a lamb for slaughter. (Honestly, it felt like that after working there a while). I left my details, took their number, called when I didn’t hear anything. Finally, with my current job, I applied online as well as going in store to hand in my application, managed to do well in my interview and get the job. It’s going the extra mile, not sitting back like the world owes you something, waiting for that job to fall out of the sky straight into your lap.

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It’s obvious that I wasn’t too fond of my first two jobs – honestly, there aren’t many people who were fond of their first few jobs. I dealt with having my bum pinched, having crude comments flung my way, smelling like grease after work, having to massage my feet after wearing heels for nine hours, learning to not burst into tears when someone insulted me.

When you’re a teenager, you need these things – you may think you don’t need them, nor do you want them, but you do. You learn to tolerate people and, more than that, understand them. You learn what working for yourself is really like. You learn to follow rules not set by your parents and putting in the extra effort in the hopes of getting some praise and maybe a promotion.

(I’m not even joking, this gif is from a site called ‘I hate working in retail’ – COME ON NOW)

Hell, I’ve perfected my fake smile and laugh, which have come in handy many times. My favourite thing about my jobs though? The people I’ve met. The same people who will listen when you tell them about this customer who told you ‘stop being silly’ or that one customer who said ‘I bet daddy pays for everything, doesn’t he?’ (Yes, because that’s why I’m here, working, serving your pretentious arse), only for them to reply with awful customer stories of their own, of how someone snapped their fingers at them or those blokes who took a selfie with their bums.

Those people? Yeah, they’re the ones worth knowing.

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I wish I was pretty. 

That was something that I used to think every day – when I looked in the mirror in the morning, if I caught my reflection in a window, when I looked at other people, and pretty much any second in between. I wish I was pretty. I wish, I wish, I wish.

Every teenager feels insecure, but a lot of them don’t have much reason to be. I was one of the unlucky ones. Puberty hit, and whilst it seemed like every other girl was moving on from training bras to ‘proper’ bras, I got acne. I wrote about this in another post, but to catch you up: I’ve had acne since I was ten, and although now my skin is a lot better, it used to be awful. I would get really big spots on my chin and my nose, thousands of tiny spots across my forehead and big globs of spots over my cheekbones. It sucked. Big time. I still remember the first time some spot treatment actually worked and my Mum ran her hand over my forehead and said ‘Oooh, smooooth’. I tried every skin cream and pill that the doctor would prescribe, but nothing really worked. My skin only really improved in my last year or so of school and now, after a year of university, I only ever get blackheads and a couple spots every now and then. Still, I can’t help but think about how I used to feel completely insecure every day, hating how I looked.

I wish I was pretty. I wish I had different skin. I wish I wasn’t ugly. 

I suppose there’s a lot that can be said about the media at this point and how it wrongly portrays teenagers – I mean, come on, the amount of films and TV shows I used to watch where everyone had model looks didn’t help. But it isn’t just the media that’s to blame.

I remember going to the cinema with a couple of friends and we were chatting before the film started. One of them had a spot on her chin – just one single spot on an otherwise unblemished face – and she was almost in tears. She went on and on about how awful she looked, and kept saying ‘Just look at it! It’s so disgusting!’. In my head I was rolling my eyes, so I finally plucked up the courage and in a completely self-deprecating/joking manner said ‘Hey, at least you don’t look like me!’. They both looked to me, and singly-spot-on-her-chin girl said ‘yeah, I guess you’re right’ and then they went on to standard girl chatter.

That was probably one of the first times that I realised that other people looked at me to reassure themselves. I mean, sure, I’d always think that I looked awful and thought everyone was judging my appearance, but it hadn’t really ever been confirmed before then. I was pretty miserable for the rest of the outing and more than likely for the rest of the month – again, I was a hormonal teenager. It really doesn’t matter when people tell you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, because all you can think about it what’s on the outside. I wanted someone to tell me that there was a new treatment where I could get new skin or a different face or something, just anything to make me feel even just a little bit prettier. I’m also pretty sure that I believed with every inch of my being that if I was prettier, it would solve all my problems. People might like me more, I’d probably do better in school, maybe I’d get a job – all the important things for a teenager, clearly.

I’m not entirely sure where I planned to go with this blog – I suppose in typical blog fashion, I didn’t have a plan other than to vent about my problems and hope that maybe someone can relate. It would be nice, though, if looks weren’t as important as they are – although we all pretend they’re not.