“People don’t like me.”
I say it the way I might tell someone that I’m allergic to cats. Factual. A bit of a bummer, but what are you going to do?
While I’ve learned to appear confident and easygoing on a superficial level, I am still petrified of situations involving new people – a new job, meeting close friends of my husband – even a new daycare. Though I know I have learned somehow to come off a bit better when encountering new people, I also know it’s a carefully crafted facade. Not that I’m acting, or not enjoying myself. I’m just strictly editing. I know I’m only one boneheaded comment away from people giving subtle glances to one another – the ones that mean “weird girl.”
In truth, yes. I am a little weird. I love to knit and drink frightening amounts of coffee, and my sense of humor can vary from absurd to Saharan levels of dry. But I don’t know exactly what it is I do that sometimes puts people off.
It’s easy for others to write this off as just my being self-indulgent, or having social anxiety. But the thing is, it’s fairly rational. More times than not, when I’ve entered a group of people, I didn’t quite fit. Sometimes to the extent that people were just vaguely cool to me, or didn’t invite me to outings. Other times I’ve had people outright ask that I be fired. They couldn’t point out anything I said or did that was offensive. They just didn’t like me. Thankfully this is not a fireable offense, but it really doesn’t feel good.
I could rattle off incidents where this has been the case, but I’ll save that for my next fourth step. The truth is, it’s happened less and less over the years, and I think it’s something that has had a snowball effect. I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit that getting married helped a lot. This definitely would not have been the case had I married a different type of person. It’s not about having a man.
It’s just when you see all your peers pairing off, it feels like you are the kid in class that no one wanted to be partners with. No one wants to be that kid. Scratching one of my biggest insecurities – that people would get close but never quite want to marry me – off the list lifted enough weight off my shoulders that I was able to straighten up a bit. I could walk into a party and just not care as much, which is unfortunately, impossible to fake.
I’m sure it sounds overdramatic to those who don’t experience this, but more than I had realized, a lot of people live this way; thinking that they are unlovable. It’s usually left over from puberty or adolescence – The way an 11-year-old can look awkward and uncomfortable just standing there. Like their skin doesn’t fit right.
This sentiment comes up all the time in AA meetings. “I never felt right. I never fit in.” That tells me there is something incredibly pervasive about this feeling, and that it is severe enough to make people turn to self-destructive behaviors.
I have categorized us as “The Unlovables”. Not because it’s at all true, but because it can sure feel that way. I have a number of friends who have acknowledged that they feel the same. I look at them and can see that they are extraordinary. These are whip-smart, funny, kind, interesting women. For whatever reason, this is a combo that is not terribly well received in the world. Some people say that others are intimidated, but something about that doesn’t ring quite true with me. I think that some people’s hearts are just tuned to a slightly different frequency. For those who don’t get it, it just comes through as static.
One of the hardest things about feeling unlovable is that you tend to accept less than you’re worth. In your career, during salary negotiations, and of course in love. You feel grateful for scraps. Every woman I know who feels this way has been in at least one relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive. But it’s so hard to leave because the abuser reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with you, so you should appreciate what you can get. They act as a mirror to the way you feel about yourself. You think that if you leave, then you will be alone forever.
And then you do leave. Because something in you knows that this just isn’t right. And the shitty part is, you usually are alone for a while. It feels exactly like what you feared is coming true. Dating can be so incredibly soul-crushing and invalidating that it can make you miss the person who treated you badly. Because at least they knew who you were and loved you, even if it wasn’t great all the time.
People don’t stay in these relationships because they are awful all the time. There are inside jokes and shared histories. There are movies that you’ve seen together and holidays past. It’s just that the bad parts are SO bad. And get closer and closer together. But when you are staring down the barrel of another holiday season alone, it’s easy to regret leaving. If you try and talk to your friends about this, no one will listen when you say you want to go back because all they can see is the abuse. And they’re right, but it doesn’t feel that way yet. Sometimes your friends play the role of your sanity when it’s on a break. It’s good to have an understudy.
There is hope for us yet
I was talking to a woman in the midst of this the other day, and I felt like she was reading a book I’d already finished. “Oh oh! I know this part!” I wanted to shout. “Don’t worry. It gets better! There’s a plot twist in a couple of chapters that makes it all make sense.”
Because there is an upside to being one of us. It’s not that no one loves us, it’s just that we aren’t for everyone. But the people who do get us absolutely treasure us. We aren’t interchangeable with someone else. We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Every woman I have known who has gone through this has ended up with an absolute gem of a partner. The kind that was worth waiting for. Who helps you with the dishes and the kids, and doesn’t yell at you. And it feels really weird at first because it’s almost too easy.
And sex can seem strange. It’s not that you aren’t attracted to them because you very much are. But it’s more relaxed. You don’t have that sense of “I’m going to fuck your brains out so you realize what a great catch I am! Ta-da!” (Which doesn’t work particularly well anyway.) It’s not performance art, it’s for real, which is scary until it’s not. Because when you’re not busy twisting yourself into a pretzel to be impressive, you can actually focus on sensations and start having a good time yourself.
Friends Friends Friends
Of course, this isn’t just all about men. Though I don’t always click with people at a party, or in whatever mom’s group I dip my toe into, over the years I have managed to collect my own little island of misfits. A good number of my friends have been in my life for ten to twenty years and I could tell them anything, no matter how weird.
The thing that strikes me about all of them, and all the other self-professed unlovables I’ve met, is that they are unusually kind. They lack a killer instinct. This admittedly has its drawbacks, but it’s beautiful and it’s rare. These are the kind of people you can trust to hold a piece of your heart in their hand.
This world is full of so many different kinds of people. If you’ve found connection in the past – be it a friend, a lover, or even a dog, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that you will again.We aren't interchangeable with someone else. We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Click To Tweet