Cool. Brave. Inspirational.
These are a few of the words I often hear being used by others to describe me. And I’m very grateful. Growing up desperately lonely, frequently yearning for social contact, it’s nice to know that people like me. This doesn’t mean, however, that I always believe it. The truth is that sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.
Which is ridiculous.
Okay, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m unfairly judging myself. Maybe this feeling is something a lot of people feel but don’t express. Okay, so it’s not ridiculous that I feel this way. However, I’m sure people who know me personally, or those who I’ve worked with, would never guess that I sometimes am afraid I won’t be liked be others.
I’m pretty outgoing. I have a lot of friends. I work directly with people and I believe I’m well-liked by my coworkers. And I believe I’m well-liked by my clients. I’m also a public speaker with the ability to make crowds laugh, cry, and introspect–all in 30 minutes or less. I’ve gotten my share of standing ovations and I’ve literally experienced rooms shaking with applause. Sometimes when I go out with friends, I get loud and make the strangers around us laugh. So given all this, it would seem that I’m pretty good with people and that I’m a *gasp* likeable guy.
Yet sometimes I’m still afraid people won’t like me.
Where then is this all coming from? The place where all nagging insecurities are born, from the irrational bowels of naive and self-absorbed misunderstanding, a place called childhood!
Again, this would seem strange because, at least until I was about age 11 or 12, in a lot of ways I had a pretty normal childhood. Yeah, I was poor and food was sometimes scarce, but I was pretty happy as a kid. At least I think I was. No, I’m sure I was. I had a lot of friends at school. I was good at sports, made every team, and was always a starter. I was literally the smartest kid in my school and not in a pompous way, but in a whimsical, “yeah, I’m smart I guess *shrug*, can we talk about baseball now?” kind of way. Other people cared more about me being smart than I did. For them, being smart meant I was going to *drumroll*…change the world!…and for me, it meant that I could spend more time daydreaming and drawing in class. Teachers liked me as well and I was never bullied. So, I was in that rare position where I was well-liked by teachers and peers, despite being super smart and kind of nerdy (my school crush in grade 6–Scarlett–nick-named me ‘computer geek’ and then she asked me to dance at the end of the year party). So, then, where is this feeling that I won’t be liked by others coming from? Certainly not from what was happening at school–school was a pretty positive place for me. What’s that other place you spend a lot of time when you’re growing up? What’s it called again? Oh yeah, I think it’s called…
Now, my home life wasn’t bad. I was just alone a lot. And not by choice. My mother, having to feed three sons who shovelled food down like they had wheelbarrows for stomachs, was doing her best to improve our lives–or just to keep us well-clothed and fed. She did this by going to school full-time and working full-time. So when my mother was done with work, school, and cooking, well there are only 24 hours and the day, and for most of those hours, my brothers and I, we didn’t have the luxury of receiving meaningful attention from our mom. For me, that meant that my mother didn’t show up to any of my games, it meant that she left school performances immediately after my part was done, it meant that she didn’t have the time for long (or short) conversations about my day, that she didn’t have the time for me to analyze for her the drawing that I drew or the story that I wrote. She just didn’t really have the time to always engage in the social aspect of parenting.
The problem with single-parency is that it often turns that parent into a provider while leaving little time for nurturing. This a problem because after basic needs are met, what a child needs most of all is attention–and unfortunately my mother just didn’t have a lot of that to give me. And that’s not her fault. As a kid, though, you don’t really get how tired, how exhausted, life can make you. Instead, you just wonder, “why doesn’t my mom want to talk about my drawing?” or “why doesn’t my mom want to read any of my stories?” or “why doesn’t my mom come to any of my games?” As a child, your mother might say, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m really tired,” but then what you hear and what you feel is, “baby, I’d love to see your art but I’m too tired to care.” That’s how I felt. A lot. I get that she was busy and tired. But it still hurt. Because as a kid, you don’t understand, “busy” and “tired,” what you understand is, “mommy, you’re not there.”
And then there was my father. Well, to make a long story short, at the time of my childhood (even he would admit) he wasn’t a good dude. He, despite having much more free time than my mother, simply wasn’t there. By choice. His music career was more important. That’s where he spent all of his money and that’s where he spent all of his time. And forget child support money, what he needed to do was to give his child support with his time and his presence. But instead, I was given broken promises, phone calls to my pops that were never returned, late arrivals to the meet-ups he would schedule, or no arrival at all. I spent a lot of time crying because of my father. I’ve probably shed more tears because of my father than for all of the other events and people in my life combined. There were a lot of tears.
I felt unloved.
So, to recap quickly (as I gotta go to work at some point), with my mother, I felt like she didn’t care about me or my life outside of my grades, and I just didn’t feel like my father cared about me at all. When a kid feels like this for the large majority of his childhood, it’s easy to understand why he might feel like others won’t like him…
Because he never felt like his parents did.
And that my friends and anonymous readers is why I sometimes don’t return phone calls from people who teeter on that thin line between friend and acquaintance, or why I don’t ask potential friends who I’ve just met to hang out, or why I generally wait for others to introduce themselves first when I’m meeting people, or why it takes me such a long time to bring my walls down and open up to others, or why it seems like I don’t care or check-in enough, or why I don’t reach out to friends I haven’t heard from in awhile–it’s because I’m sometimes afraid people won’t care.
And I know that’s not true. I know that people do like me, and I know that people care. But sometimes the residue of childhood experiences aren’t easily washed away by the insight and maturity of adulthood. That’s why the fear is still there, that’s why I have to talk that fear back down when it tries to surge its way to the surface. That’s why I have to force myself through my social anxiety, to say hi to friends and strangers alike, to press send on that text, or to get on stage to talk to hundreds of strangers openly about my life.
Because sometimes I’m afraid people won’t like me.