Humans are inherently social beings. Even the most introverted among us crave some level of interaction and even physical touch. However, in my life, and I am beginning to find increasingly in others’ as well, relationships have been one of the most harrowing and challenging areas of life to navigate scratch-free.
Among many of us, there is a common desire to fit in. To be accepted, valued, included when, say, our peers make weekend plans. Sometimes, in our hunger for this, we might compromise some pieces of who we are in order to guarantee that we are “liked.” You like reggae? Oh cool, me too! Probably. Yeah, I hate beer—only wine for me too! Small things, but sometimes bigger things as well. Funny enough, this tactic, more often than not, winds up biting us in the butt.
My own story is very much that which I have described above. For as long as I can remember I have hungered for acceptance and friendships, simultaneously fearing judgement and dismissal. At some point in my life (high school? before)? I began to automatically agree with others, even if in my heart I held a different opinion. My own values became less important than that someone—anyone—liked me. As a Type-A Perfectionist (recovering now, I hope)! I felt that I wasn’t good enough unless everyone appeared to consider me…what exactly? Good enough? The best?! …And I do mean everyone: friends, teachers, strangers, mean girls, even people with whom I had zero in common, and, had I paused to consider, quite probably did not even like. Who was I to be choosy about my friends? It was others who had the power (or so I felt) to like, or not like me. The possibility of the latter could easily keep me awake at night.
Fast-forward a couple decades to a meeting with my therapist. In this particular session, she fires off a real “stumper” at me: “Who are you? What do YOU like?”
Silence…More silence. “I don’t know,” I answer, feeling a shock as I recognize the truth of those words. Inside, a familiar voice whispers: “What do you WANT me to like?”
… (Does any of this sound familiar to you)?
All of those years of habitually sacrificing my own beliefs, opinions, preferences, and wants in favour of others’, culminated, ultimately, in my losing myself. At 23 years of age, I was left without any sense of even which activities I truly liked to do…did I like running, or did I like how it made me look to others? Was I truly in love with hiking, or was I enamoured more with the epic photos it allowed me to post on Instagram that made me seem “cool” and “adventurous?” When I think about this now, I am reminded of that scene in Runaway Bride where we discover that Julia Robert’s character always eats her eggs in whichever style her boyfriend prefers: sunny-side-up, over-easy, poached. In my past, I would find myself listening to my boyfriends’ preferred genre of music. I would really get into it, claiming it as my own favourite from the get-go, in my quest to homogenize myself with others. (God forbid I stand out and risk standing out for “bad” reasons)!
…Enough about me. What can we do to reclaim our identities? How can we avoid perpetuating these mistakes, from entering into false friendship after false friendship? In my life, these relationships never provided the satisfaction I craved because they were not founded in truth – because even if I was “liked,” I was not permitting my honest self to be seen. Ultimately, this led me to feel constantly that I was not liked as well as others…and there I would go again, re-entering that cycle of “not good enough.” It is possible too that, at some level, our peers see through us – they sense that something, although we desperately do everything we can to be fun/nice/endearing/cool, is false.
What we can do is to make a self-promise: to commit wholeheartedly to being true to our authentic self. Ask yourself: What do I value? What do I want? In our past, in our desire to flee loneliness, we sought friendship of any quality, at any cost. Now, let’s do ourselves a favour, one that will save us from so much pain and confusion down the road: stop settling. We are worth more than that.
Acknowledge your fears. Ask: what am I afraid of? Being alone? Being found wanting? Stop everything. Right now. Pause…for just a minute. Remind yourself that you are enough. You are awesome. The relationship that we have with ourselves is the greatest and most critical. Do not disregard it. Be gentle with yourself. Recognize your worth, your gifts, your unique wonderfulness. And then hold out for friendships that nourish you, that encourage you to follow your values.
Lastly, recognize that this might entail a little bit of space, perhaps a lonely night or two as we sift through the masses for those that make us feel special and safe – those with whom we “click” when we are being our authentic selves. Remember that we are strong…and recall how lonely we have been our entire lives, even surrounded by these somehow unfulfilling friendships. This lull, this pause, as we find and form our supporting, nurturing tribe, might even be a wonderful gift: the perfect opportunity to fuel and nourish our relationship with ourselves.
Nearly a year ago I began to practice yoga, to calm my mind and fill some empty hours – and it has become a true passion. In the evenings, I have a nightly journaling practice…and if there is something that I want to do, but no one to do it with? I grab a backpack and go anyway – be it exploring Mount Doug, Finnerty Gardens, a farmers’ market or bouldering at CARSA. Perhaps we can view this as a chance to practice self-love, self-forgiveness, self-patience…and a touch of grace. We are enough. We are precious—just as we are. And we deserve true friendship, true love and real happiness.
The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.