When I was in seventh grade, I clearly remember standing outside the doors of Clair E. Gale Jr. High before the first bell, telling a girl I went to school with that I didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. When she looked at me – totally confused – and asked “Why?”, I was blunt.
“I don’t like you.”
Before I go any further, I am going to do a favor for those who know me and unravel the thought that just sprang to your minds: this was a rare blunt moment at the tender age of 12. Normally, I was afraid to say anything. But on this day, I was so compelled, so strong in my convictions to convey my feelings to this person, I blurted it out. There wasn’t anything wrong with her. To quote “Love, Actually,” it was “a weird personality thing” – which we all know usually means, “you’re too much like me and I don’t know that I can stand that close to that mirror all the time.”
My confused (and now former) friend blinked a few times, turned, and found her way into the building. I exhaled a victorious sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that I would never have to suffer another awkward conversation with her. And I never – ever – did. Not once for the remainder of our high school days. I’ve not seen her since.
For me, the awkwardness stemmed from things that are usually awkward for seventh graders – i.e. life in general, boys, breathing – amplified by the critic living in my head that had a tendency to shout out (at me alone), “MAKE A DECISION! SAY SOMETHING REAL! BE NICE! STOP BEING STUPID YOU STUPID HEAD!”
It was uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable.
That said, the last few months, that old discomfort has resurfaced, and I’ve been having serious and intense conversations with my 12-year old self. Lately, she’s been sitting in the corner of my psyche as I’m going through my days. Whether I’m skimming posts on Facebook and cringing at what some people are posting or dodging people in the various locations that I happen to run into them, I’m finding more and more that there are people whom I just don’t like. And, truth be told, I’d really rather just never speak to them again.
In the opposite corner of the ring sits my psyche’s Nigel (of “The Devil Wears Prada,”) totally composed, glass of wine in one hand, eying me up and down. “Have you TRIED with these various and assorted few people in your social sphere, you judgmental troll?” After which he then rolls his eyes and looks at the 12-year old with derision.
Yes. I’ve tried. I’ve had strained “let’s get together!” dinners under the brainwashed guise of thinking I need to get out more. I ultimately leave knowing (a) I never want to do that again for any contrived reason, and (b) I should’ve paid more attention to those after school specials about peer pressure, since that is pretty much the only reason I leave my house to “get out more.”
To my credit, I’ve learned to adult my way through these situations, but it’s backfiring. I now have a small contingent of people who actually think I’m their friend when I really, honestly, truthfully just do not like them. And it’s uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable again. Except I’m not trying to tell someone who is ultimately just like me that I can’t suffer one more conversation with her. Rather, I’m listening to my gut – and for the first time perhaps acknowledging that I just don’t want strained, fake relationships anymore. I’m over wanting to be liked – pretty much unilaterally.
I want to be able to sink into a conversation – coffee, tea, wine, or water in hand – and only by the sun going down know that time is passing. I want the topics to be real — how something made us feel or why we think the way we think – not just regurgitations of whatever the latest news is that’s trending on their Facebook feed. The books we’ve read and our opinions on them or the challenges we’re facing in this grand scheme we’re calling “living” right now. I want to laugh until whatever I’m drinking accidentally shoots out my nose or cry those tears that friends share in the most soul-baring moments. I want to learn things about them and myself in genuine, vulnerable ways that deepen relationships and strengthen my tribe – authentically.
And frankly, if I don’t leave feeling that way after polite, adult conversations, I sincerely, and in the best interest of all involved, simply want to say, “I’m sorry. I appreciate your taking this time, but this just isn’t working. I hope you can understand that I’m just not connecting with you, and it’s all me. I just don’t like you.”