We were sitting on the patio, enjoying a perfect, pink-tinged New Mexico night, waiting for the grilled romaine to achieve those picturesque grill marks. I was regaling my friends with my latest supper club experience, laughing over the $19 bill for some terrible crab cocktail and a tiny bowl of au gratin potatoes that had clearly been topped with a square of microwaved American cheese.
My friend’s husband (who happens to be a chef and an absolute no-shit-taker) leveled his eyes at me and asked “Did you send it back?”
What? Can I do that?
I was checking into a half-decent hotel in Texas and as I unloaded my car, I felt the unmistakable sting of being stared at. I turned around and noticed two men on the second-floor walkway, drinking beer and leering at me – two doors down from my room. I dragged my suitcase and cooler up the stairs while they looked at me, ducked into my room, threw the deadbolt and closed the blinds.
When I told my husband, he said, “Did you ask to switch rooms?”
That’s a thing I can do?
Apparently, my quest to not annoy strangers runs so deep it literally doesn’t occur to me that I can complain. When I’m not backed up by a contract or rules – when my displeasure is personal or subjective – I’ll stay quiet because OH GOD WHAT IF I INCONVENIENCE SOMEONE AND THEN THEY DON’T LIKE ME.
In the greater scheme of things, I don’t think of myself as a pushover. I have fired multiple people. I’ve complained about shoddy car repairs and refused to pay. I’ve taken my gripes to HR, to the tenant advocacy board, to the better business bureau. Yet the desire to be seen as likable and pleasant is so deeply ingrained in me (in many of us) that apparently I’d rather overpay for terrible food or trap myself in my hotel room than put anyone out.
Within a few days of these two incidents, I happened up this article by my new personal hero, a woman who has taken to sitting on ‘manspreaders’ – men who take up 2-3 seats on crowded public transport. Then, to put the nail in the coffin of likable, I read this from our collective girlfriend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
“I think that what our society teaches young girls, and I think it’s also something that’s quite difficult for even older women and self-professed feminists to shrug off, is that idea that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world, that you’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable, that you’re supposed to hold back sometimes, pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy, because you have to be likable.
And I say that’s bullshit.”
What’s particularly spectacular about my own efforts at likeability is that they’re often subconscious and directed at people with whom I have no relationship. It is literally of no consequence if they like me. I will probably never see these people again, but it appears that I’m more concerned about inconveniencing them than I am about my own safety, finances, or discomfort.
Does it matter if the guy hogging three seats on the crowded light rail likes me? It does not.
Should I be concerned if the front desk clerk at the hotel likes me and believes me to be a cool, “low maintenance” guest? Nope.
Is it of utmost importance that the supper club chef think I enjoyed my terrible $9 au gratin potatoes? No.
It matters that my husband likes me and thinks I’m kind and capable. It matters that my clients like me and tell their peers about our work together. It matters that my BFF likes me and values my opinion. But outside of that? IT TOTALLY DOESN’T MATTER IF THE PIZZA DELIVERY GUY DOESN’T LIKE ME BECAUSE I COMPLAINED ABOUT THE COLD PIZZA WITH A HAIR IN IT.We can only be so likeable. Don't waste your likeable on people who don't need or deserve it. Click To Tweet
Of course, I don’t plan to use this as an excuse for unkind, unpolite behavior. I’ll still send thank-you notes, bring hostess gifts, and be the best friend I know how to be. I don’t want to become someone who’s mean to waitstaff or who always chooses confrontation over compromise. But more often, I can choose to say “I’d prefer not to” “I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you” and “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
When I feel uncomfortable, unhappy, or taken advantage of, I can make a conscious effort to ask myself if I feel that way because I’m trying to please someone.
I can take to heart the words of our lord and savior Amy Poehler “I don’t care if you like it.”
Do you struggle with trying to be likeable at the expense of your own comfort, safety, or integrity? If you’ve gotten past it – tell us how you did it!