A couple of years ago, someone I used to be friends with made it clear in a public way that he strongly disliked me. Truthfully, I didn't like him very much either, but I also didn't feel the need to share it explicitly. Because I didn't care to engage with him in what I perceived as a pretty inappropriate forum, I ignored his comments and that was pretty much the end of it.
While it was embarrassing to be the subject of someone's social media diatribe, I was surprised to find that I didn't especially mind that he had so much distaste for me. In fact, I kind of welcomed it. After all, it made sense that someone I wasn't a fan of wasn't a fan of me, and his loudness about it kind of broke the seal on the whole thing.
I have spent most of my life worrying about being liked. From mean girls on the elementary school playground, to cliques I felt rejected from in high school, to every guy who didn't want to date me, every job I didn't get, and every stranger who called me fat or ugly on the internet, I have taken it all as concrete proof that there was something wrong with me. But being lambasted by someone whose opinion didn't matter to me at all helped to highlight just how meaningless it is to be disliked by anyone other than the people I really care about. And once I wrapped my head around the fact that it was okay to not be liked by someone I myself didn't like, I started to think about how it's also okay to not be liked by a lot of other people too. I'm a complicated person with plenty of traits and habits that might not appeal to everyone. I don't like everyone -- why should everyone like me?
Having a kid provides daily reminders of the limits to my likability. My adorable eight-month-old attracts a lot of attention when we're out together, but strangers who try to touch her without asking (or honestly, even those who do ask first--why are you trying to touch a baby you don't know?) are met by a growling, protective mama bear I didn't know I had living inside of me. And those who offer unsolicited advice on how I should dress, carry, feed, or otherwise care for my baby are not responded to warmly. Sometimes my daughter cries in restaurants or on airplanes, and, while I always do my best to be a good member of society and calm her down or take her outside, sometimes it's not possible and those around me have to deal with the screams of an upset baby. The codependent like-junkie side of me wishes I could find some way to simultaneously prioritize my baby's needs and keep myself in the good graces of strangers, but generally, that is impossible, and her needs come first, so everyone else can eff off. And speaking of whom, my darling daughter is regularly displeased with me. Depending on her mood, my attempts to change her, remove her from the bathtub, or pry her tiny fist off of my foolishly chosen dangly earring might be met with shrieks of protest. But it doesn't matter because I am her mother and it is my job.
Getting comfortable with not always being liked is an ongoing practice, and not easy. From the time we are very young, society teaches women that being liked should be a major priority. Likewise, social media encourages us to derive real meaning from likes, retweets, and public compliments. It's hard to break the habit of constantly seeking approval, but I invite you to join me in trying. Because once you stop listening to the static of your anxiety about the opinions of other people, it becomes much easier to hear what's actually going on inside of you.