Written by Step Above Stigma's Vice President of Community Outreach, Solana Pasqual.
“Don’t apologize… Don’t perform likability… Performing likability makes women diminish themselves; it means that you’re often not able to reach your potential because you’re not letting yourself really be yourself.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Being a chronic people pleaser, I have spent my entire life trying to perfect the art of getting people to like me. And I know I’m not alone. Most of us are really good at glossing over the parts of ourselves that make us complicated. Being likeable makes us feel good. It makes us feel like we belong, that we are not alone because we have something inside us that resonates with everyone. It’s a wonderful thing to be liked.
But it’s not always the best thing.
In January, I went through a really tough time in my life mentally, and I could not muster the energy to like myself, let alone ask someone else to like me. It was a really lonely time of my life, and I felt like an outsider. I felt like a failure for not being able to pretend. I knew how… so why couldn’t I do it?
I don’t believe that every hard time in our lives needs to have a silver lining. Sometimes, things happen and they suck. January sucked. February sucked. March sucked. But because of all that disappointment and frustration, I was forced to be a less than likeable person. Not unlovable. Not unrespectable. Just… unlikeable.
I was forced to realize that I didn’t have to be likeable. I could be nuanced, and complicated, and irritating, and unfriendly if that was what I was feeling in that moment. I didn’t have to smile at strangers, or laugh at jokes I didn’t find funny, or stay in conversations that I didn’t want to be in. Being less than likeable made me lose out on potential friendships, it made people not like me, and it made me feel like I was doing something wrong. But it also made me stand up for myself, and for other women.
I now realize that what I demand from myself- a likeability personalized for everyone I meet- I also unconsciously demand from others, especially other womxn. When I allow myself to say no, to be inflexible, to be a party pooper, I begin to allow the same from other womxn instead of judging them.
And I want to add a little disclaimer to what I consider likeability. When I say likeability, I am not talking about the basic respect and consideration that I think we should all try and treat one another with. I’m talking about aspects of our personalities that we either suppress or enhance in order to get people to like us, to think we’re cool, to want to hang around us. Likeability for me means not asserting myself when I know I have something to offer just because I don’t want to seem braggadocios. For me, it means saying yes to plans that I don’t want to go to, and laughing when I’m uncomfortable.
We need to stop demanding likeability from ourselves and from every womxn we meet. If we express frustration and anger, there’s nothing wrong with us. If we’re having a bad day and don’t want to be friendly, there’s nothing wrong with us. If we make mistakes and say the wrong things, there’s nothing wrong with us.
Everyone, and especially womxn, have been trained to believe that if someone doesn’t like us, that means that there is something wrong within ourselves. We are taught, and we teach, that if we can fix ourselves, we should. We somehow think that we can become the perfect person, no matter whether than person can actually exist. And we unconsciously ask that of others as well.
I sometimes fine myself judging other womxn because I don’t like them. With their unlikeability, they are destroying what I think I am entitled to- friendliness, hospitality, softness. Why do I demand this from them, and why do I demand this from myself?
Partly, it’s because I think that if I can perform and be likeable even if I don’t feel like it, why can’t others perform for me? That entitlement dissipated when I lost the ability to be likeable for a moment. I realized that I could either hate myself for not pretending to be likeable, or I could forgive and embrace my humanity.
On some days, I choose the first option because it’s easier and it is what I am comfortable with. But on most days, I try and choose the second because I know that I don’t have to be likeable to be lovable, a good friend, and a badass.
When I stop being likeable, it feels like I am stopping something with potential. It feels like I am dropping a very exciting career of becoming a perfect person, and trading it for a hat labelled “unpleasant.” I’m sure I’m not alone in my feeling. Most people I meet have higher expectations of themselves than others because we do not grant ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We do not grant ourselves love. But I am here to say that we are all unlikeable in certain ways, and that unlikability allows us to stop pretending and wasting our time with people, things, and opportunities that are incompatible to our true selves.
When I stop sugar coating things, when I stop saying please after every sentence, and when I start standing up for myself, I become closer to the people around me. I feel like I have the freedom to be myself because, here I was being unlikeable, and yet, my people stick around. And they love me. And I love me.
So, if you find yourself trying to reach an impossible standard, ask yourself: do I love the people in my life because they are perfect?
If it’s a yes, get to know your people more. And if it’s a no, forgive yourself for falling short of your expectations.
And forgive others for doing the same.