The most difficult lesson I’ve had to learn in life was that some people don’t like me. Sometimes, without taking the time to meet me or learn anything about me, many people have simply dismissed me.
Accepting myself for who I am, and not what I think people want me to be, has had a liberating effect.
I have always considered myself to be someone that people should want as a friend. I don’t mean to sound conceited – I am genuinely curious and want hear peoples’ stories. Discovering what makes a person tick and getting to know them helps us connect. My belief is that I can learn something from everyone.
As a child, I was eager to make new friends. A person that would keep their distance was a challenge to me: how can I win them over? I truly believed that, if they would only get to know me, we would surely become friends. Getting older, I find it harder to win people over.
It is my nature to be happy. I try to surround myself with happy people. When someone is unhappy, my default reaction has always been to try to cheer them up. Whether with a joke or by changing the subject, I try to lighten the mood.
When I was in High School, I was blind to the fact that my jokes are not always funny. It didn’t occur to me that my stories are not always interesting.
In my mid 20’s, I realized that making friends as an adult was not as easy as it was in high school. The older people get, it seems, the more closed off to new friends they become.
As I approached 30, I was a divorced father of 2 kids with no friends. The isolation during that time was crippling. I put myself out into the world and no one seemed interested. I stalked coffee shops by day and bars by night. My self-esteem spiraled downward as I tried desperately to engage with people.
After many months of wandering through lonely nights, I recognized that I was beginning to change. I was no longer the carefree jokester eager to talk about anything to anyone. I had become a watered down, milk toast version of my former self. I had subconsciously begun trying to play it safe in order to stop scaring off people with my boisterous, outspoken personality.
When I’ve muted my true personality in order to gain greater acceptance with a wider audience I have found an unfortunate result:
- No one of any value liked me because I was being disingenuous and boring
- All the friends I made are other fake people for whom I was always performing
The benefits of relationships formed when you are pretending to be someone you are not – just so you can “fit in” to someone else’s life – are short-lived.
Unlike the captive environment of high school, sustaining meaningful relationships with adults requires authentic, unvarnished interaction and exchange. As teenagers, we explore who we want to be – we are trying on new personalities like they were new clothes.
As adults, most people have settled into the type of person they are. Often they already have the friends that fit within that mold – either from high school, or college, or extracurricular activities. If you were not there when that transition took place, it is much more difficult to break in. You won’t get the inside jokes. You don’t have the shared history. But it’s possible. And it’s a worthy goal to strive for. If you don’t fit their mold, you may never be more than a neighbor, co-worker or passerby in their life. And maybe that’s ok too.