Monday, May 11, 2009

Lessons for Girls 7: It's okay if not everyone likes you

Historiann and Dr. Crazy and others have started this meme, and it's a perfect meme to follow up on Mother's Day.

My lesson is about the striving to be liked that starts, I think, way too early. I spent this weekend going to a school fair and then to a soccer game, where I had the opportunity to watch my daughter (9) interact with her friends. Although she seems a bit unsure of herself at times, she seems to be trying to find her way in positive ways. She's not worried about being just like her friends in either looks or actions. I do my best to support her social explorations, trying to reinforce important lessons, making sure she knows she can stand up for herself when she's in a bad friendship. Things are going to get really, really tough in a couple of years, though, when she hits middle school.

I'm not sure where this came from, maybe my mother, but my father has also commented on the way, especially during my teen years, that I wanted to be liked by everyone. This meant that I did things that were not healthy, sometimes physically. I still have this impulse sometimes of not rocking the boat, of wanting to please everyone. In middle school, you're thrown in with a bunch of people you don't know, the hormones kick in, and suddenly, it seems like you have no friends. People change. You don't see your old elementary school friends anymore and you suddenly feel that you're in competition for new friends. Everyone thinks it's a zero-sum game. It becomes especially hard when the most popular person in school decides they don't like you or your former best friend tells you they can't be friends anymore. It's devastating. I've told my daughter stories about these kinds of situations and how painful they were. And I've told her that what I've come to realize is that it wasn't about me. I wanted to be liked and when I wasn't, in most cases as a result of doing something different, independent, I felt like I'd failed. But I hadn't. In fact, I'd succeeded by differentiating myself, by saying this is who I am and if you don't like it . . . . But I couldn't get to that point when I was 12 or even 16. Instead, I walked around depressed or I tried to reconform to win back those lost friends. And I abandoned some interesting people because they were too off the norm.

So, I will tell my daughter to find the friends who like you no matter what, who like you even if you want to write science fiction or collect rocks or wear weird clothes or be friends with the odd girl in the corner. I will tell her not to do things simply because a friend told her to because she's afraid of not being liked, of losing that friend. Friendships based on mutual support are longer lasting and healthier than those based on weird co-dependent feelings. I see too many of these among girls, many based on this need to be liked.

I think understanding that not everyone is going to like you leads to other positive actions along the lines of what the other bloggers have written about. One is able to opt out of bad situations and arguments (a la Dr. Crazy); one starts to trust your own instincts instead of someone else's; it means you don't have to feel sorry for someone and try to save them; it is a step toward independence; it means not apologizing for who you are; and it means, it's okay to get angry.

What are your lessons that you've learned or that you will pass on to your daughters?