I’m Wasting My Likeable On The Wrong People. Are you?

We can't please everyone or make everyone like us. It's exhausting and frequently demeaning. Let's stop. Here's how >> yesandyes.orgWe 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 likability 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?


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!

Photo by Sharon Garcia on Unsplash

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  1. Meghan

    I need more of this attitude in my life. I always feel like I need to make myself smaller and more acceptable, take up less space. I have as much right as anyone else. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      So glad you liked it, Meghan!

  2. Lizzie

    Oh hell yes. I never thought of pushing back against being taken advantage of or treated unfairly when I was younger. But then I met my (now-)husband, and he’s even more of a pushover than I was. (John Mulaney has a great sketch about being a pushover and having his GF rescue him from some bad situations–worth the watch!) So I started standing up for him, and that made me stand up for myself more. It’s made me kind of prickly, but the truth is, I’d rather be a cactus than a doormat.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oh, I love that!

  3. dustwindbun

    I definitely agree that a lot of it is socialization, and I know I cackled when I read the manspreader story, but: sometimes complaining puts you in a position where now people with the means to do unpleasant things to you have the motive too. The kitchen staff decides you’re a prissy bitch whose new food needs some, ah, extra sauce. The hotel desk clerk charges a bunch of porn you didn’t rent to your room. The manspreader gropes you, or begins screaming at you. A lot of it’s about likeable, but some of it’s about safety.
    That said, if you feel confident in your grasp of the situation, or your ability to complain likeably, then hell yes, do it! How else are they going to know? And if they don’t know, how can they even consider changing?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Good point! Safety first, always.

    • Kat

      Fair point. Consider the probability of a really negative/vindictive outcome occurring as the result of straightforward assertiveness though. If you’re calm, direct in asking for what you what, and not insulting to the person you are trying to persuade, I genuinely think it’s more likely that you’ll just get what you want rather than having that worst case scenario happen. And for the times it doesn’t—we don’t care anyway!

  4. Melissa

    Ugh, yes. Me. All the time. Always.

    This feels particularly pertinent right now, because the other day I found myself apologising to a guy who had helped me out in a threatening situation, by getting rid of another man who was harassing me – all because I didn’t want to seem inconvenient.

    I was not only apologising for inconveniencing the ‘hero’ of the story, but downplaying the behaviour of the man who had been harassing me, but saying things like “I’m sure he was harmless, but thank you. He wasn’t doing anything, and I’m over-reacting, but thank you, really.”

    Messed up. (I actually wrote about it here, because I was so mad about the whole thing: http://www.mamamia.com.au/lifestyle/street-harassment/ )

  5. Alli

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s definitely something I struggle with. I’m a chronic conflict-avoider. This has given me reason to pause and re-evaluate what it is exactly that I feel this strong need to avoid.

    • Jamie

      This may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written and that is saying a lot!! I especially love that you included references not just to discomfort but to actual safety issues (!!) which many of us – women especially – disregard in the interest of likeability. Thank you for writing this!

  6. Emily

    Another point – we waste so much energy on being likeable to the people who don’t matter, that we usually end up being grumpier to the people we actually love! Happens to me all the time. *foreheadslap*

  7. Moi

    Beautiful think piece as usual Sarah.
    I actually used this in a restaurant yesterday as we were served Ice Tea w/ ice eventhough my friend wanted it w/out and the server even asked how she liked it.

    My friend then was all, ah no it’s okay, i’ll just fish them out.
    And I was all, no girlfriend, I just read on the interwebz that you are supposed to speak up nicely for yourself.

    Looking forward to your next post, btw did I somehow miss June’s Network of Nice? Or did I delete your newsletter by accident ?

    XXX Moi

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Yes! So glad to hear it!

  8. Caroline


    My fiance is really good at knowing when to speak up and when to let things go. It’s made me reexamine the way I respond to people in public & customer service environments.

  9. Justina

    I notice myself trying to be more likable constantly and it has really started to bother me. I know I don’t need permission to not always be likeable, but I’m grateful for your permission anyway!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Permission granted! 😉

  10. Kamina

    This post is literally the reason I called in sick to work today. I’ve been awake since 3:30am because it’s hard to sleep when your whole body is a lake of burning FIRE but I wouldn’t want to inconvenience anybody. Or have make that awkward phone call and feel worried that my boss sounds annoyed because I have to go get medical attention instead of coming into work. Whaaat? I read this post and was like, I’m nice but I don’t have to be that nice. I’m going to take my paid sick day and go back to bed, thank you very much.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      YES. Your comment made my day, Kamina!

  11. Emerald

    Reading this years after you wrote it, but it’s still relevant. Luckily I’m not bothered in the slightest if people I don’t know dislike me. That said, like you I advocate good behaviour and politeness.

    I think I’m this way because of my mum who has always put other people’s needs first st the expense of her own. I’d say she married two unsuitable men because she didn’t want to be mean. And while I totally understand that there are plenty of times when you should think about others before yourself, my mum has finessed it to fine art where she stresses because she’s obliged herself to someone she doesn’t even know. A polite no works a treat.

  12. Gigi

    This resonates so hard. I’ve actually paid double for a haircut because I didn’t want to make a scene when they changed the price. Lord. Not necessary.

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