How much of that has changed as you’ve gotten older? On the one hand, we become more mature as we get older, so we don’t hunger for being popular the same way as we did in school. On the other hand, feeling like an outcast or a subversive, or a cynic, or a contrarian are all internal feelings. Do those ever change for you?
I feel like over time, I’ve learned a little more of the social graces. I don’t respond sarcastically 100% of the time. I can be honest and a little vulnerable. I even feel like I can make new friends. But when I read your post, it raised questions.
It’s strange how old habit patterns can still pop up. A little too angry a response here. A misunderstood signal, followed by a slightly inappropriate comment there. An innocent comment that is completely misinterpreted.
Regardless of how precisely I try to write, hoping that all my self-editing will smooth out the rough edges, if I come back an hour later, or a day later, I might be horrified that a single word choice or sentence slips through those filters to completely change the tone of my message.
In the same way, the way people treat you is likely the way they will always treat you. And that’s because their reaction to you has just as much to do with who you are as it does with who they are.
When my son was twelve, he got in trouble with his teacher because he wouldn’t follow directions in class. He came back home saying she was mean to him and making fun of him in class. So we had a meeting with the teacher, who explained the situation. Eventually, he started to follow directions and their relationship was fine. Then he had another teacher and the same situation happened. So we had another meeting. The bottom line was, he still was having problems following directions. I tried to explain to him that when you are dealing with people who are trying to help you, the first time it could be an issue with their personality, but when there is a pattern of behavior, you have to look at yourself honestly to see if maybe the problem is with you.
Stop lying to yourself. If someone doesn’t like you quite as much as others, it’s a referendum on you.
I’ll never forget an incident where this point was driven home to me. My partner and I were playing in the finals of a Men’s 35 and over tennis tournament and winning the match easily. For me, nothing was at stake since I no longer played professionally.
But for our opponents, it was a really big deal. One of our opponents had a problem with his serve. He would toss the ball way behind his head, wince in pain and let the ball drop. He would do this over and over until he finally got a toss close enough to a place where he could hit a weak serve that we would return without a problem.
I couldn’t take it as he suffered through and lost his second service game. When we changed ends, for the only time in my tennis life, I said something to try to help my opponent. I said he needed to toss the ball more to his right so he wouldn’t hurt his back. The guy got angry and told me to mind my own business.
After we had won the match, my partner and I laughed about the incident. Because he was a tall, bearded Englishman, my partner charmed everyone with his accent, regardless of how much he boasted about his abilities or trash talked others. On the other hand, I felt empathy for my opponent’s pain and tried to help him and all I got for it was the equivalent to “go f*ck yourself.”
For my opponent, respecting his game — regardless of how badly we were beating them — was more important than showing any concern for his health. Maybe he would have felt differently if he’d had a heart attack, or if I had hit him in the groin with an overhead.
Sometimes you’re Leo and sometimes you’re the bear.
And sometimes you go to Bears’ Anonymous, because you can’t stop yourself from eating people. (And damn it, they sure can be tasty.)
Not only do you to have to find the right people to care about, you also need to do the work on yourself to make sure you don’t unconsciously find a way to drive away the people you care about who also care about you.
My wife, over the years, has even called me a bear. So while I can be charming while riding a unicycle and juggling, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that I’m eight feet tall, weigh six-hundred pounds and have razor sharp claws and teeth.
Bear (22 year sobriety chip)