When I was little—I don't remember the exact age, but probably 6 or 7—there was a long period where I went around asking, "I'm sorry, do you still like me?" I could've done something wrong, or not; the first part of the sentence mattered far less than the latter. I wanted everyone to like me, and would do pretty much anything to make that happen. Flash forward about thirty years and I haven't changed all that much. That wanting people to like me is what stops me from, I'd estimate, finishing at least 50% of the pieces I start writing. What if someone thinks I'm ____, where ______ could be an endless array of epithets?
I am so often so willing to bend over backwards, so afraid of bad things happening, I ignore the fact that sometimes it's better to have someone dislike you for who you are than like you for who you're not. Sometimes this dynamic gets played out in heightened ways, and I got a huge reminder of that yesterday. I answered an email that, in hindsight, I should've waited to reply to, but I'm kindof like Pavlov's dog with this person, and decided to rush off with the first thing that popped into my head. That's what I always used to do—I had no filter whatsoever—and I found that the first thing that popped into my head was this heightened deference built on that very same fear. I was more spineless than Anastasia Steele, because I was so sure that one misstep and I'd be banished. It's laughable and ludicrous and I can't get into all the details here but suffice it to say, the idea of worrying about whether that person likes me is so beyond the point, because there's nothing I can do at this point to control that outcome, and even if they did "like me," on a practical level, I don't think it would look that different from its opposite.
But more than that, it epitomized the way in certain relationships, for me, power pervades that connection so deeply that I start serving any scrap of mine up on a platter. I'm the one who wants to take it away, to be someone so consumed with agreeing with anything they might suggest that I will go out of my way to suggest those shortcuts to powerlessness first. I'm not going to lie—for a long time, that was sexy to me. It was part of a give and take. I wanted to be that girl because there were rewards attached to being her. But that's ancient history. The me I am now, or am trying to be, isn't looking to be friends with anyone who only likes me because I'm that girl constantly looking for an approval fix.
It amazed me that I could so easily fall back into that routine; it was so ingrained that even a year later, there it was, waiting for me. It was such a marked contrast to the relationship I'm in now, where we have our moments, and I certainly have my times where I'm not on my best behavior, but I never feel that rock bottom sense of If I'm not good enough, this will all slip away. I do say I'm sorry, but it's never followed by that keening, childish neediness, because I know he likes me, loves me, and I know that's not going away. I know it so deep inside that it wouldn't ever occur to me, consciously or subconsciously, to try to second guess what might make me look cooler or better.
Frankly, that impulse scared me; it made me wonder what other hoops I might randomly make up and try to jump through, to no end. I'm not chasing the high of whatever pot of gold at the end of the rainbow I thought was there anymore, at least, not actively. I would hope I'm not chasing it at all because I know myself, and I know I would fail at it. And yet, clearly, there was a part of me that even for two seconds thought, Go for that pot of gold. Score some points. Ignore all the things vastly wrong with this situation so that you can look so selfless and calm.
That's great, if you're a robot. If you have no feelings. If you don't care about someone who seems to have everything they could possibly want in this world assuming they can control you too. That's a story for another time, but it's funny because I tried to tell myself that just by nature of being me, I was wrong and they were right. I tried to tell myself that of course that person should get what they want. Yet it started to eat at me, to sink under my skin and settle in, this sense that I'm weak and oh so willing to scrap carefully laid out plans, in this case not even to get someone to like me, but because I spent such a long time assuming that by simply being who they are, which is instantly, always and forever, better and more worthy than me, they automatically get what they want.
If there's anything that instantly presses all my buttons it's being told what to write or do or how to think. It's the idea that we don't get to decide for ourselves. I fully admit that there are times when I don't want to have to make decisions for myself, but I guess the difference is that if I'm going to give up any part of that decision-making power, I want it to be because I chose it, not because someone else stamped their foot and threw a hissy fit and decided for me. It reminded me, too, that as much as I don't want to be who I was in that moment of instant kowtowing, I certainly don't want to be on the other side of that equation. I'll leave that to those who enjoy it. Instead, I want to work on purging that small but clearly potent part of me that remembers in her bones, "I'm sorry, do you still like me?" The part that's so sure nobody will like her unless she asks that she devalues herself before anyone else can even try.