Halfway through my senior year of high school, a group of my friends decided they didn’t like me anymore. It felt at the time like the entire class had turned against me, but it was probably about five people. Nonetheless, they were five people I spent a lot of my time with, and they were fairly well-liked, so other people who had once thought I was cool now found me loathsome. I devolved from “somewhat cool to hang out near” to “What? No.” It was…difficult.
It was never clear to me what started it; over a period of weeks and months I was just frozen out. People who had once laughed at my jokes were now rolling their eyes. Then walking away. And when I asked them what I had done, they said, God, you don't understand anything. I’d call and their moms would say they were busy and their moms would sound embarrassed. Like that. If I had to dig through my memory I’m positive I'd find I wasn’t blameless, but luckily no one’s making me dig through my memory. (It’s messy in there.)
So that’s hard to remember, but what’s even worse were my attempts to change their minds. Because I did not say, “Well, screw you” and concentrate on the few good friends who stuck by me. Oh no I did not. Instead I engaged in desperate and frantic bids to get their friendships back. Showing up at get-togethers that I wasn’t specifically not invited to. Breakin’ the rules and gettin’ suspended to show that I was a real bad-ass. (And apparently dropping my g’s.) Worst of all, I made up gossip, literally made up dirt on people, to show that I was somehow in the know and worth hanging out with. You can imagine how well that turned out.
In my spare time I was learning what "panic attacks" were and breaking out into epic rashes (the family dermatologist was fascinated by me that year), and when I was at school I playacted at being an asshole. Somehow I thought that if they didn’t like me, maybe they’d like this frantic, aggressive version of me.
This strategy, not surprisingly, backfired, in that not only did they dislike me even more, the few people who were still brave enough to be my friends were beginning to see their point. Is it a coincidence that the one friend who was kind enough to sit me down and tell me what a dick I was being, and then forgive me when I acknowledged said dickness, is now a priest? It is not. She is a goddamn saint.
The whole situation was pretty excruciating, and the only thing that saved me was graduation.
This particular story was a dramatic example but not an exception to how I like to focus on someone who doesn’t like me and try and make them like me. I’ve homed in on the one person in my life who doesn’t think I’m all that charming and used all my charm to change their minds. And do you know what? This has always failed! Sometimes spectacularly!
If someone doesn’t like you, it’s probably got more to do with them than you, but either way, I've learned, there’s not too much you can do about it. Unless you’ve actively been a terrible person, in which case you should quit doing that, for everyone’s sake.
I’ve been thinking of this period in my life recently, because I found myself recently trying to understand why I’ve struggled with blogging over the past few years. Since I started it in 2004, Finslippy has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life. I gave it my random thoughts and it gave me friends, positive feedback, a book deal, television appearances, a stream of writing gigs, crazy speaking engagements and video projects, and more than one job. I owe my blog so much.
It also provided me with the weird sensation of reading about how much some people weren’t into me. Of course, right? Once your audience extends beyond your friends and family, it’s inevitable that someone’s not going to think you’re particularly interesting. I always knew that. I just didn’t know people would find me so not-that-great that they’d be compelled to write about it. And that so many people would agree with them.
I am not a special case. This is in no way unusual. It happens to everyone who's put anything out there in the world. It’s the byproduct of creative output. If anything, I’ve gotten off easy. I’ve gotten off easy, though, because I’ve pulled back. And I’ve pulled back because the negative feedback was too painful.
And it’s not like I was being attacked on the regular, by any means. All I got were a few comments on a forum here and there. A discussion thread or two about how non-exemplary I was. A couple of Google alerts let me know that I wasn’t nearly as great as I (apparently) believed. A couple of emails informing me that I’m a garbage dump of a person. That kind of stuff.
In realizing that I wasn't alone with this phenomenon, I also read scathing attacks on my blogging peers and my friends. I sort of...obsessed over these attacks. I saw people I understand on a cellular level being ridiculed and dismissed. No one was making me read those sites. But somewhere in the weird little frightened squirrel part of my brain, I was taking notes, trying to figure out what these people who hated everything would like, how I could be that cool girl who’d get a pass.
It didn’t take long for me to really get these people's voices in my head. I became increasingly careful with what I wrote. I edited and re-edited. I second-guessed and didn't hit publish. I became increasingly self-conscious and reactive and every post just felt harder and harder. And then I gave up. It wasn’t fun anymore.
But who made it un-fun? I did. I denied myself the joy of writing shit that I wanted to write. How stupid is that? Who was this benefiting? A few people who probably weren’t paying any attention? Would these people spontaneously contact me and say, “You know, I used to think you were boring and unfunny, but now that you’re not writing at all, you’ve really grabbed my attention. Want to get drinks?” And then we’d get drinks and we’d be best friends and everyone would like me again and I’d be voted Most Misunderstood But Secretly Great?
This is silly. It’s so silly. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t think you’re great. Don’t read it. Don’t read negative shit in general, actually: it’s poison.
And if someone doesn’t like you enough to fire off an angry missive about how you're the worst, just rest easy in the knowledge that that person is a miserable chafe of a human being who doesn’t deserve your time and energy.
Then reply, “For the last time, I’m not going to have sex with you.”
This always freaks them out. Because secretly they wanted to have sex with you. They all do. Because you’re super hot.