Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm Not Popular

Wikipedia defines popularity this way: a social phenomena that dictates who or what is best liked.

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.


  1. Great post Ellie. One of my Rabbi's recently said that gossip is akin to murder of the soul, because you are denying the true essence of another human being. I am guilty of gossip more often than I like, but I have become so much better about not doing it since I've become aware of the damage it can cause.

  2. I love this post! Some people just haven't been through enough to "ground" themselves, to realize true value of real relationships. When you have been through a lot as you have -everything changes...doing the "right thing" is the only thing that ever feels right.

  3. I will personally PUNCH any person who is mean to you. And, of course, you KNOW I want to be popular...molly

    1. You are popular in the best possible way, Molly - by being a shiny bright warm funny light in the world. No stepping on other people needed. And thank you for being my virtual body guard. I adore you.


  4. Wonderful post, Ellie!
    Probably the hardest thing to realize in my recovery is that not everyone is going to like me if I am to truly be me. The next hardest thing has been that not everyone is as thrilled as I am that I'm in recovery, that I'm learning to set boundaries, that I'm detaching myself from dysfunctional situations. Mean Happens all right. At the moment, I'm learning not to try and retaliate. That's tough. However, I take comfort in knowing that it does get better, that (as one of the 12 promises of CoDA says) "my new and renewed relationships are with equals, as I learn to trust those who are trustworthy."

  5. I'm one of those people who you either love or hate. It used to bug me when I was younger but now I'm ok with it because I figure if people hate me? It's like an automatic sorting system!

  6. I just love your blog! I also started listening to the bubble hour...both came to me at the time when I needed them most. I can so identify with your post. I find myself being gossipy with others as a way to be liked and accepted. I usually don't walk away when the meanies are on a roll. This really has made me step back and think about my behavior. And yes.... I wonder what they are saying about me the minute I turn my back. I'm pretty new in my sobriety and there is so much I would like to work on.....This being one of them! Thank you for your blog and podcast! They have been such wonderful gifts in my life.

    Hugs, Carolyn

  7. Funny you should post this, this week. My friend posted something similar, albeit in picture form: http://gryphonrhi.livejournal.com/567485.html

    Do go look, I think you'll enjoy the sentiment.

    1. LOL! Gillian! Love it! Thanks for sharing. -xo

  8. I am guility of being a people pleaser but of the worst kind.

    Exhibit A: low self esteem and therefore must increase self worth by pleasing everyone around me. But people pleasing is exhausting therefore must consume copious amounts of Chardonnay to deal with the stress of people pleasing and smiling my way through relationships with people who are really frankly getting on my nerves but have no idea how angry and mad I am with them. Drink self into oblivion because I am in way too deep to be honest with folks at this point so as I nurse hangover resentment comes to the surface and now I am the victim and it is everyone's fault that I am responsible for their happiness and people have no idea how I give and I give and I give and I give.

    Yeah, I know what you are talking about.

  9. and one more thing.....

    I am no longer in the business of popularity. Or drinking.

  10. One of my favorite quotes is this one by Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."