Tuesday, February 19, 2013
I'm Not Popular
Simple, right? No so much.
Like so many other concepts - wealthy or good looking are examples - it is essentially impossible to be popular. Why? Because no matter what there is always someone wealthier, better looking or more popular than you.
I've been mulling over popularity recently, after a conversation with a friend about some cliquish, mean behavior she witnessed. She wasn't the target - just about everyone else not present in the room was - but it made her fearful because she realized that when she isn't in the room she's probably a target, too. She was fearful, hurt, and mulling over what makes a true friend.
I have many friends. I'm really blessed. I no longer think about popularity, ever, and it used to be something that was more important to me than I like to admit.
The irony is that when I thought about popularity a lot I had very few friends. Now that I don't think about it anymore I have many, many friends. And by friends I mean people who are so interwoven into my life they are like oxygen to me, not people I chat with in the supermarket aisle.
Before, I had a mission to be liked, not just by close friends but all the supermarket aisle people, too. And not just liked, but liked best.
When I was drinking, and in early sobriety (which I think of as my whole first year), being liked was the most important thing to me. I would shape-shift to become who you wanted me to be, virtually guarantying you would think I was great, because I would remind you of you.
I realized that what my friend was witnessing with the Mean Girls (and, yes, they are Mean Girls even though they are middle aged women) was the insatiable urge to be liked best. One way to be sure you're liked best is to make sure other people aren't liked as much as you. Putting others down to inflate your own ego is the cheap, easy way to perceived popularity.
It's not real popularity, because as I said above real popularity doesn't exist. Stepping on the heads of others to put your place a little higher is a fleeting thing, because you're surrounded by people who are just waiting for their turn to step on you.
As I look around my life today I'm surrounded by friends that not only wouldn't ever step on me, they would do anything to boost me up. I'm the same way with them.
This doesn't mean we don't disagree, or argue, or feel hurt. That happens, not often, but it does happen. The beauty is that we mend our rifts, soothe our wounds, and in the process strengthen our bond.
I knew I was finally growing out of my need to be popular when, a few years ago, I ran head-first into a wall of criticism.
There were people out there who didn't like me - me! - the person who had bent over backwards to never hurt a fly and to be kind and giving no matter what! OH, the righteous indignation, the burning hurt and shame. Were my critics right? Did I need to change what I say - who I am - to be liked?
Slowly, and with the help of dear friends in recovery, I learned the kind, gentle person I believed myself to be was a fraud. I was no better than the hurtful people, because I wasn't showing my true self to them. Or, as it turns out, to myself. I was unfailingly polite, friendly and kind, even as I grit my teeth in the face of horrible behavior.
I learned to be okay with people disagreeing with me, with what I stand for. I stopped taking not being liked personally. I realized people can not like me, and that my life goes on. My critics make me think. I listen to what they have to say, and try to remain teachable. As long as they aren't being insulting. I stop listening when insults start.
They can only step on me if I let them.
Being your true self in all matters is hard. Impossible, really. I get caught up in gossip, sometimes. I fall victim to the 'nobody-likes-me's'. When I'm with a bunch of people who are gossiping, I don't puff out my chest indignantly and tell them to stop, or cover my ears. Sometimes I'll walk away, but not always. Sometimes I even participate. I tell myself I'm not doing it in a hurtful way, but of course it's almost always hurtful.
I don't get a feeling of superiority from it. I don't do it to be popular, because I've ridden that roller coaster before and I know it leads nowhere. My goal is to avoid cliquish, gossipy behavior altogether.
There is no reason not to aim high.
It's funny how the Mean People have such pull, though, you know? How quickly we can be drawn in by their vitriol. How easily doing the Right Thing feels prudish, dorky, awkward.
Being in recovery has ruined my ability to be petty, though. Not that I never do it, but I can't do it with impunity anymore. I try to surround myself with people who are secure enough in themselves that they don't step on others to raise their own position. For the most part, I'm successful. But I live in the world, and Mean Happens.
All I can do is cultivate an awareness of my motives, and strive to be a better person in the future, even as I know I won't ever do it perfectly.