Some People Don’t Like You and That’s Okay
How to accept the fact that no one is universally likable
Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I moved to a waterfront lot in the middle of nowhere, Nova Scotia. At first, it seemed like an ideal snapshot of rural charm: We shared a lane with just one other family, a couple and their year-old baby. Shortly after we moved in, they gave us a welcome gift of produce they’d grown themselves.
Over the next several months, though, a series of mishaps pushed our relationship with the father of the family into increasingly bumpy territory. Workers we hired used their driveway, tearing up a small patch of grass. Our neighbor tried to get into our house while we were out, to fix a problem with a shared well, forcing an awkward conversation about boundaries. And then there was the wooden fence he started building — one with wide-spaced posts that clearly weren’t meant to contain his toddler daughter.
Perhaps it’s to keep cows out, I suggested, scanning the flat horizon for troublesome livestock.
“Sarah,” my boyfriend said gently, “the fence isn’t for the kid or some cows. It’s because he doesn’t like us.”
It should have been obvious, given our recent shared history — but still, in the moment, the news landed like a punch to the gut. Didn’t like us? I was not a huge fan of my neighbor, either, and yet I felt an immediate, overwhelming urge to fix the situation. I wanted him to like me.
Here’s the problem with likability: It’s something we’re supposed to possess, but not to nakedly strive for. Working to become the most appealing or most palatable version of yourself — it feels like a superficial goal, even a little bit of a sad one. Instead, we’re supposed to pursue integrity. We’re supposed to adhere to our principles, cultivate our character, and not devote too much brain space to worrying about whether other people enjoy the results.
That’s all great in theory. But when someone simply doesn’t like you, it’s hard to accept.
It’s understandably upsetting when someone you’re fond of fails to reciprocate those feelings. After all, any unrequited affection feels like a personal rejection. But being disliked by someone who you dislike right back can…