In business school, I had a classmate who I struggled to get along with. I wasn’t the only one who did, but this is about my relationship with him and not whether others had issues with him (implying he was the problem), or if it was just me (implying maybe it’s me). He also had plenty of friends, so that counters any passive aggressive suggestion I just made that he was the problem. The reality is, this is about a relationship that wasn’t working, so it was both of our ‘faults’, if you want to use that word.
We tried a few times to be friendlier, and it was always awkward and forced. I can remember several times that I tried to extend an olive branch, and ended up offended by what he’d say in response. And I can imagine he has examples where he thought he was making an effort, and I was standoffish or couldn’t come around to his thinking.
Being adults who were literally getting educated in being professional, we both decided we should sit down and really try to figure out what the issue was. We had many friends in common, so there was some evidence that there was hope for us.
One evening, we sat down together to hash things out. Or, at least that is what I thought we were doing.
I went to meet him, and as soon as I walked in the room, it was clear that us talking through our issues wasn’t quite how he saw what we were doing. Instead, he viewed it as his opportunity to explain what was bad about me, and that I would then change to conform to his standard.
This was clear because, before I even sat down, he started with, “So these are the things about you that are bad…”
I’m big on self-growth, so maybe I could learn something. I let him continue.
The first issue was something physical about me that he didn’t like, and took as a signal that I was a bad person as people who have that physical attribute are bad people.
OK, then. At that point, I was not feeling quite as hopeful that we could work things out, or that I may have some good growth opportunities as I can’t change the physical thing he was judging me for. I could potentially get him to see how that’s both prejudiced and inaccurate. You can look or speak a certain way, like with an accent, and still be a good person.
I decided not to press on that one as it seemed so irrational, perhaps it wasn’t even worth engaging in.
So then he went on to the next item on his list. I actually wrote about this one before. One night about a month earlier, he asked me what I had been up to in one of our attempts to be friendly. I told him what I was doing earlier, which included interacting with some female classmates. He had been certain–and held this anger for a month–that I had fabricated the story to make him feel bad that he wasn’t hanging out with those women. There was nothing romantic about it, and that wasn’t his issue. It was just that I must have been trying to make him insecure about girls not liking him by showing that I can engage with them socially and he can’t.
I tried to assure him that kind of thought never crossed my mind, I only tried to answer his simple, friendly question with a simple, honest answer, and didn’t think anymore about it. I had no idea he felt that away about it (and for so long!), and said he should have said something to me at the time and I could have assured him otherwise.
Nope. He explained to me that I was still making it up, only now I was also trying to lie about lying. Or something like that. I couldn’t really keep track of the conspiracy theory at play here.
The next thing he said is what gave me clarity on how I was going to process this. He was done with his list of major grievances with me, and then went on to spell out the ways one of our professors was flawed as an educator, and showed me the email he had written to tell the professor how bad he was at his job and how he needed to change. Because he thought we were friends now that I had been educated on how bad I was, he asked if I wanted to co-sign the email with him. As you can imagine, I respectfully declined his invitation.
What became very clear is that I was dealing with someone who had very negative thoughts about others, and was quick to pass final judgment on them. He saw his role in relationships as the one who is right, and he had a responsibility to correct the other person.
I was dealing with someone who was not ready or at least open to the idea that every relationship has two sides to it, and both can grow and do better. The world is not only here for us to critique for all the ways it doesn’t live up to our standards. We also need to serve the world around us, learn from it, all the while growing and improving ourselves from ways in which we learn we can do better.
Herein lies the lesson I took from the interaction. Many of us feel uncomfortable with the idea that someone doesn’t like us. We try to get them to like us. Sometimes, it’s better If they don’t like us.
Why? Well, if that person has values that are out of sync with our own, perhaps them liking us means we aren’t acting in alignment with what really matters to us.
And I realized with him specifically that the only way to get him to like me would be for me to either abandon my values or at least squelch them in his presence. For example, I don’t like to make up stories to please people, but I would have to do that with him over simple, basic questions like, “What are you up to today?”
Several people I have coached around careers or relationship struggles have found themselves not fitting in with an employer, or someone they were interested in romantically. To fit in, they would have to squelch who they are and pretend to be someone else. For example, if you’re an artistic person who would rather stay in and read then you probably wouldn’t be happy in a relationship with someone who would rather go out clubbing every night and laughs at people who read. You would have to pretend to be something you aren’t, or at least hide who you really are. That’s not sustainable or enjoyable.
Or if you love everyone regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, etc., then what would it say about your values if a racist xenophobe thought you had good values?
Sometimes, it is better if someone doesn’t like you. Whether that bothers you or not is the thing to work on rather than trying to get them to like you by compromising who you are.
Like yourself, who you are and what you stand for enough not to feel the need for everyone else to like you, especially those who have values that go against your own.