As a child, I snuck into the kitchen when my parents had friends over. I’d cut bananas and apples, arrange them on a plate, and deliver it, saying “Would you like a fruit plate?” I was precocious and loved the attention. That continued for quite some time, and those impulses linger.
Last week, I left work and headed straight to my neighborhood grocery store. My blood sugar was low and my plan was to grab and go. I chose a pre-packaged meal and threw it in my basket. As I was mid-stride, a man asked what I’d chosen. The conversation that ensued was absurd. He chided me for choosing a raw vegan meal when I’m not a vegan. I humored him, joked that I could never give up dairybecause of my cheese addiction and moved toward the checkout. Soon, he was berating me for a lack of knowledge about veganism, offered resources, and asked to be Facebook friends. My face was a tight-lipped smile. I could have walked away at any moment, could have interrupted him and made an excuse to leave, but I didn’t. What’s the worst that would have happened? I stood there until he was satisfied that he wouldn’t be bedding me. The interaction ended when he clumsily asked if I had a boyfriend. Learning I did, he disappeared into the cereal aisle. I hated myself afterward. I let a stranger chastise me for the sake of being nice, of being pleasing.
I have an obsession with being liked. I’ve spent many hours on a therapist’s couch unpacking the pathology of it. Most are familiar with the “I’m in trouble” pit in one’s stomach. I feel that even if I think someone might be slightly annoyed with me. My desire to make everyone happy with me is dangerous and exhausting. It’s impossible.
I find myself asking permission for things that as a 31 year old woman, seem ridiculous. “Do you mind if use the restroom?” “Am I eating this sandwich too loudly? “Is it ok if I take this phone call?” It’s asking for approval in advance. It’s “please don’t be mad at me” or rather, “Please tell me constantly that everything I do pleases you.” It’s unfair to everyone around me, and more than a few friends have chided me for it.
One can’t create a universal brand. Someone somewhere doesn’t like pizza or Beyonce.
Last year, I lost two girlfriends. One was a budding friendship, the other had been a deep connection years in the making. Both women cut me off without explanation. I was dumbfounded, incredulous, and constantly wondered what I’d done. But it doesn’t really matter, does it? I have to sit in that discomfort, and their displeasure with me is none of my business.
I guess what I mean to say is that I’m scared of the consequences of telling the truth about myself. I’ve made a life of airing my dirty laundry in print, and yet am still terrified to speak publicly in support of my deepest beliefs. I’m sorry to those I’ve let down with my fear. Watching throngs of women march on Washington was the slap in the face I needed, and I hate that I needed it. I applaud those of you who eschew being liked in order to be yourselves and act on your own desires and beliefs. I’ll get there. I promise. Conflict is where we are, and I have to get over my own bullshit to join you right in the middle of it. I owe it to everyone I love who is in fear, including myself.
Last week, I began my work with a nonprofit devoted to young girls’ empowerment through literacy. Together, we read a book about a girl who struggles with acceptance among her classmates based on her favorite color. The cool girls like black. The heroine loves pink. After wavering, she owns it and defends her unpopular opinion. When prompted, my students parroted that we should all stand up for our respective beliefs without fear of reprimand or shunning, and that it doesn’t matter what people think of us. I didn’t think for a second that they believed it.
Anna Claire Hodge holds both a MFA and PhD in creative writing. A former journalist, her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, newspapers, and magazines. Follow her on instagram at @to.thine.own.self.be.trill for fashion and peeks into her life, and check out www.annaclairehodge.com for more of her published work.
Written by Anna Claire Hodge. Edited by Mara Strobel-Lanka.