I’m done with them in real life. I’m done with them on social media.
Despite what others—including myself in the past—have said, you can escape middle school. All you have to do is leave. I’m leaving.
This has been a really hard year for me with a lot of personal pain. How I cope with it and survive it depends on me. I finally understand something my mother always said: “You can’t change other people, but you can change yourself.” I bet every single one of your mothers said the same to you. It’s quintessential motherly advice.
My whole life I have tried to change people who don’t want to change. I have tried to make them like me more, treat me better, care about me like I care about them. It doesn’t work. Sometimes it pushes what I want further from my grasp. If someone is self-absorbed, indifferent, or, worse, enjoys making me feel excluded, why waste one moment of a short life trying to win that person over? I thought that if I were nice enough, supportive enough, engaged enough in the lives of others—real or virtual—I’d quite naturally receive those same things in return. I’ve learned that genuine relationships that are two-way streets are rare.
When I really was in middle school, I looked forward to the day when I’d be inside the circle, whatever circle it was that I wanted to be inside. Forty years later, I’m still usually outside the circle, but what has changed is that I used to assume I deserved exclusion, whereas now I am confident that I don’t. And that’s what has been transformative, because when you realize that you don’t deserve to be shunned, you can remove yourself from people and situations that make you feel ostracized, and it is fantastically empowering.
I’ve made my small social world a little bit smaller, but here are the good parts:
I’m crying less.
I’m complaining to my husband less.
I’m less anxious.
I’m less angry and resentful.
I’m no longer perpetually disappointed.
I’m less jealous of friends and relatives who are “popular.”
I’m more focused on the things that really matter, like authenticity and substance.
I treasure truly reciprocal relationships, whether IRL or online.
I’m no longer conflicted about doing the social engineering I need to do to be happy.
I’ve left middle school! I have a little survivor’s guilt, but there is nothing magical about the steps I took—they are available to everyone.
Here’s my advice to anyone angsting over one-way relationships:
Unfriend or unfollow anyone on social media who deliberately snubs you. You don’t need them. You will be hugely relieved when you no longer see them being social butterflies on Facebook while acting as if you don’t exist.
Do what it takes to spend time with the people who really care about you, even if they are far away, even if it requires Skype. Geographical convenience is not a substitute for true friendship.
When relationships are persistently shallow but convenient, let them be what they are. They won’t change, and you can get what you really need elsewhere.
Do your best to love yourself, but if you need help, see yourself through the eyes of people who admire and value you, not through the eyes of those who don’t. They’re wrong, so don’t ache over their blindness.
I ask myself why this journey took so long, and all I can come up with is that I was stubborn. I didn’t want to give up on people. I didn’t want to believe people when they showed me who they are, despite Maya Angelou’s sage advice. I believed that if they’d just give me a chance or if they’d just be kinder everything would work out.
See the problem? No one owes me that, and it is not under my control. Nothing I do will make someone who has already decided they don’t want to be close to me to suddenly swing open the door. Birthday presents won’t do it. Christmas cards won’t. Cheerful comments on their Facebook photos won’t change anything, even if you do it with the perfect finesse for years. Dinner invitations will always be met with polite requests for a rain check that is never cashed in. Even if your efforts are rendered with a light touch, and don’t occur too frequently, anyone resenting your outreach might see you as stalking them. You have to remember what they want from you—nothing.
Now I’m going to tell you how I feel having made these changes. I feel free of my younger self. I feel empowered as a middle-aged woman. I feel emotionally unburdened. I feel content. Letting go can be so hard, but once you do, you free up so much headspace and heartspace. You have more to give the people who love you and the people who like you. The glass does not switch from being half empty to half full—it becomes a smaller glass that is full. And that’s enough. I’m good with it.