Once in a while, I come across something that really resonates with me. Something worded so perfectly, it makes me stop and reconsider how I have been looking at something my entire life. When I saw writer Tara Wood had written a Facebook post about a conflict between her child and another child at school, I expected her to say the usual – just ignore them, if they don’t like you that’s their problem, try doing X to gain their friendship, etc. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“What do I do if there’s someone being rude to me at school?” asked Tara’s child. Tara asked her child if they were being bullied, and her child indicated the kid at school wasn’t bullying them, they just obviously didn’t like them.
Then came the response from Tara that stopped me in my tracks. “How is that any of your business?” She went on to explain to her child that who people do or do not like has nothing to do with them (her child). Instead, what we can control is how much importance we place on whether or not people like us. When asked if they should just not care, Tara asked her child which felt better, caring or not caring? Her child chose not caring. Tara suggested that is what they do then.
How is that any of your business? In all my years of agonizing over whether or not people like me, and learning not to care as intensely as I once did, never once did it occur to me that it wasn’t any of my business whether or not people liked me. But it’s true.
I have spoken ad nauseam about consent, and teaching our children to learn how to handle rejection of romantic advances. I teach my sons that if someone does not want their affection or a relationship with them, that they need to immediately stop pursuit. A no isn’t an invitation to try harder, it’s an indication they need to walk away, and that no one owes them an explanation for why they do not want to be involved with them romantically.
But the same is true for friendships, isn’t it? People are free to like or not like us as they please. I teach my children they don’t have to be friends with everyone, or engage in relationships that make them uncomfortable. I tell them that if someone doesn’t want to be their friend, that that’s okay, not everyone is meant to be our friend. But it has always been framed by the sentiment that it was the other person’s loss if they didn’t want to be friends with us, etc.
But it isn’t their loss, is it? It simply is about preference. When it isn’t in the context of prejudice or bullying, not liking us is not a commentary on us or them. I love olives passionately. I could eat a jar in a sitting and go back for more. My husband hates them with the heat of a thousand suns. So are olives good or bad? Neither, really. My love of them and my husband’s dislike of them simply reflects our tastes, not the value of olives as an entity. Isn’t that that same for people?
Think about some people who irritate you. Some people you avoid hanging out with if you can help it. Sure, in there are probably some jerks. This isn’t about people who treat you poorly, or who abruptly end a friendship without explanation, that is an entirely separate issue. But look at some of the others. I bet there are some people who drive you up a wall that objectively are perfectly lovely people. I can think of several people who are kind, and sweet, and very good people – that I would cross the street to avoid making eye contact with because for some reason they make my skin crawl. There is nothing wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with me. I just don’t have a taste for them. I treat them with kindness and respect, but I do not like them.
I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that some, probably many, others feel the same about me. I certainly was aware of it as a child. The advice I received when I came home despondent like Tara’s child was well-meaning, but not super effective. It was the same advice I’m guilty of giving my own children. “It’s their loss” or “Try X to try to gain their friendship” etc. I wish the concept of them not liking me being none of my business was around when I was a child. I wish I had internalized that at five instead of thirty-eight.
That isn’t to say it is easy to just shut off hurt feelings, or even that you should. I think it’s a natural, human reaction to care if someone doesn’t like you. Of course I validate those feelings with my children. Feelings are always okay. But the more we normalize the idea that who people like or dislike is their own business and has nothing to do with us any more than what movies, food, or hobbies people like or dislike, the easier it is for us to accept that it isn’t a reflection of our own value.
I hope my children take this message to heart. I hope it helps them put themselves out there more, knowing that rejection is normal and that relationships are about finding a good fit, not about our worth as a human being. And the next time I find myself wondering why someone dislikes me for seemingly no reason, I will remind myself that it’s none of my business.