A writer friend’s Facebook post recently caught my interest as I scrolled my newsfeed one lazy summer afternoon, rolling over something that’s been on my mind lately: Liking each other. Why do we like who we like? Why do we not like who we don’t? And why do we care so much about who likes us – and who doesn’t?”
Tiffany Sostar wrote about some questions that repeatedly arose during narrative sessions they participated in:
“Why does caring about the approval of others mean I don’t “feel whole”? Why can’t I “feel whole” while also caring about approval? Why is the approval of others automatically dismissed, when it is critical to having consensual and mutual relationships? What is active consent, other than enthusiastically and intentionally caring about getting the approval of the person you’re interacting with before taking an action?
Also, why is it a problem to care whether or not people like me? I want my friends, my family, my lovers, my companions on this journey- I want them to like me! Because I spend time with people that I like. I am invested in relationships with people that I like. And I assume that other people are, if not exactly like me, then at least a little bit like me. I have found that people are more likely to spend time with me when they like me. I have also found that I don’t enjoy spending time with people who don’t like me, so that’s a mutual thing.
Again, my questions keep coming back to why we valorize individualization. Why is it better to be an island? Why do we even believe we can be islands?! Isn’t there a whole song about how that doesn’t really work out? Sure, it may be true that the rock feels no pain, and the island never cries, and maybe that’s what we are hoping for when we distance ourselves from caring what others think. But that’s not the life that I want for myself.”
To Like Or Not To Like
It’s been on my mind a lot lately, similar questions about liking: Why we approve or disapprove of each other and how it impacts us. Relationships have always fascinated me, these connections to each other we have that not only help fulfill our deeper needs and desires necessary for personal growth and spiritual growth, they sustain us on a survival level. Infant humans are the most useless of the animal world, requiring attentive caregiving for several years in order to develop emotionally and physically. We have evolved into an intricately interconnected species – consider the last time you survived an entire day off of fair that you were solely responsible for from seed to table.
Even the most introverted of folks typically interact with several people regularly, made more easily accessible by social media. The average Facebook user has 338 friends, though the median is 200 friends, and 15% of users have over 500 friends on their page. That’s a lot of relationships, connections, likes.
Of course, there is a dark side to social media connections, particularly if they are the primary means of relating. We need each others’ physical presence in addition to their written word or even voice. We need eye contact, touch, facial expressions, nonverbal communication keys, and even, to get a bit woo woo, energy of other beings to be whole beings ourselves. But, social media has indeed made interacting easier.
This is one reason I’ve been thinking about liking. Social media. I, like 84% of the young Canadian population, use social media regularly. I find it fascinating, how social media has impacted how we form our own self-identities and engage with each other in a whole different way. Here is a tangible way of “liking” someone, of being friends. Though it may feel like we live in a time of intensified social pressure due to our current forms of communication, I wonder if that’s really true. I suspect it is more of a change in language and the seriousness that we talk about “Becky liked my comment,” and “Christy unfriended you!?”
I have a below average number of social media friends and followers and strive to manage my social media time and experience rather consciously, I feel, but I am in no way immune to the choppy waters of desired external validation. As I’ve been working to cultivate a sense of personal identity and career direction post-babies, I am learning to use social media as a tool for self-promotion, which is entirely weird in itself, and also kind of exciting. My success as a student, writer, organizer, creator, and however else I end up directing my energies are entirely dependent on others’ approval of me. And, to echo the sentiment in Tiffany’s writing above, I want to be liked! I want healthy relationships built on mutual liking that bring me peace and satisfaction knowing I am accepted and that I accept others. I believe I am better able to work toward potential-fulfillment if those relationships are in my life.
I Don’t Like You Anymore…
My children, like most, sometimes use liking – or not liking – and the threat of relationship severing as tools to try to manipulate others’ behaviour. As developmentally normal as it is, it still jolts me, when I hear one telling another in a fit of rage that she is no longer her sister because snacks weren’t shared. “It doesn’t work that way,” I tell them. “You can’t just revoke your sisterhood like that.”
Relational aggression is what it’s called in psych lingo, the intentional damaging of relationships. We’ve all done it, even as adults. Boundary setting and putting a hold on unhealthy relationships are important, of course, but denying (at least virtual) friendship because of a hurtful (and probably later regrettable) comment someone made …?
And as anyone who has felt the sting of being unliked or unfriended knows, those feelings of insecurity, loneliness, loss, self-criticism, and worthlessness that often arise from the active disapproval of those close to you can be difficult to sit with. In order to grow, in order to move forward in life, in order to be ourselves entirely and completely, we must be liked. And we must like. We must create mutual bonds of liking through which growth can occur.
I explored this idea on Tiffany’s thread:
I think a good question to always ask yourself is *whose* approval you are seeking and how it serves you.
It feels good to be liked. It feels so good we can become a bit addicted to it, being liked. And I think if that is your motive, just to be liked for the dopamine rush it provides, it can cause an issue since your self-worth can easily become interconnected with the external experience completely independent of you.
But the desire for approval from valued mentors, friends, partners, peers can serve us differently – it can help us build functional, healthy relationships where both parties are mutually invested in behaving in a way that results in approval or liking. It holds us accountable in a way, wanting to do right by a person. And I think we often grow by keeping expectations of each other reasonable. Working to feel validated, if consciously motivated, can help us do awesome things, I believe.
I find even knowing that people dislike me helps me self-reflect. It can again clarify values sometimes discovering where you’re not willing to budge.
Ultimately as adults, we want to strive towards secure, autonomous attachment – meaning that our self-worth is not dependant on anyone else – but forming safe, trusted bonds with other humans where there is a mutual, and yes consensual, liking is necessary for us to get there. I think we are too interconnected as a species and biosphere to be an island. We impact each other too much.
I’m Glad I’m Me
It is that final point I circle around to when I think about the complexities of human liking: The goal of secure, autonomous attachment. To be healthy adult people, we need to like ourselves, inside and out, for better or worse. We need to know that we are worthy of love, deserving of finding flow in a chaotic world, absolutely and undeniably, 100% okay just as we are, requiring no external validation.
This confident perception of self and detachment from others’ opinions is encouraged in Karen Beaumont’s children’s story, I Like Myself:
I like me wild, I like me tame. I like me different and the same.
I like me on the inside too, for all I think and say and do…
And I don’t care in any way what other people think or say…
Even when I look a mess I still don’t like me any less.
No matter if they stop and stare. No person ever anywhere
Can make me think that what they see is really all there is to me…
I’d still like me with fleas or warts
Or with a silly snout that snorts
Or knobby knees or hippo hips
Or purple polka dotted lips
Or beaver breath or stinky toes
Or horns protruding from my nose
Or – yikes- with spikes all down my spine
Or hair that’s like a porcupine
I still would be the same, you see,
I like myself because I’m me.
Can I get an “AMEN!?”
I’m Glad You’re You
We are social beings. It is our biology. It is our spirituality. It is how our brains are wired. Our giant neocortexes, the part of the brain involved in higher social cognition; mirror neurons; oxytocin; and even how our brain waves sync in a speaker-listener relationship is all evidence of our species’ social needs. When social isolation occurs, we become unwell.
While this point can be and is, refuted – after all, science like most things has a certain fluidity about it – I ask myself, do we want it to be? Glamourized individualism and colonialism rather than collectivism as a way of life has led us to where we are now, altogether a bit rootless. Of course, I am not arrogant enough to believe we have any say whatsoever over where or how evolution will take us but I feel like generally, I prefer to live life believing we need each other.
I believe that we do, in fact, need connection to live and to flourish. I believe that we need to be kind to each other not only because we are then inviting kindness into our own lives, but because every single being on this Earth deserves kindness. I believe that by liking and loving each other as clever, creative, inspiring, beautiful, and magnificent people, we are giving ourselves permission to feel that way about the person we see reflected back to us.
A poem I have loved since I first discovered it long ago has woven its way into my several times, including being adorably read by our young flower girls (who are 16 and almost 18 now btw…whaaaAAA…?) at our wedding, speaks of a type of liking that I love. In I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg, a liking of respect, acceptance, and mutual desire for each other is pronounced. Here is an excerpt:
I like you and I know why
I like you because you are a good person to like
I like you because when I tell you something special, you know it’s special
And you remember it a long, long time
You say, “Remember when you told me something special?”
And both of us remember
When I think something is important
You think it’s important too
We have good ideas
When I say something funny, you laugh
I think I’m funny and you think I’m funny too
You know how to be silly
That’s why I like you
If I am getting ready to pop a paper bag,
then you are getting ready to jump
I like you because when I am feeling sad
You don’t always cheer me up right away
Sometimes it is better to be sad
You want to think about things
It takes time
I like you because if I am mad at you
Then you are mad at me too
It’s awful when the other person isn’t
I can’t remember when I didn’t like you
It must have been lonesome then
Even if it was the 999th of July
Even if it was August
Even if it was way down at the bottom of November
I would go on choosing you
And you would go on choosing me
Over and over again
And that’s how it would happen every time
I like this liking. The acknowledgment that there is something mysterious yet oddly confident about liking another. “I like you because you are a good person to like.” Period. You compliment me and I, you. I am drawn to you, just as we are drawn to particular flavours, scents, images, spaces, so too are we almost magnetically drawn to each other.
Overthinking this, strategizing, analyzing and questioning can get in the way, something we all need to be conscious of in this socially algorithmic era. Like so many processes, it comes down to trust and release. Trust that we are guided to foster the connections that will sustain and support us and release of the fallacy of control.
I Am An I-I-I-Island
I suppose the liking story I like to tell myself is a little like one of those old-school Tupperware shape sorting toys, only, in order for this analogy to work, made of silicon. Just stick with me here, it’s going to work. We are drawn to shapes that, and I mean this is the least sexual way possible, fit our holes complementarily. Sometimes a little wiggling and stretching and shifting need to occur to find a way to fit together, and sometimes a shape just won’t fit no matter what. We still need to exist in the same playroom together, respectfully. And sure, you could never try to get any shapes in the holes and live life just as a holey silicon geometric ball thing but that just sounds lonely.
In a way, we are islands; all separate, unique, individual spaces. But we are not alone. Just as the birds overhead fly from a tree on one island to the next; as the sovereign sea waves crash simultaneously on several island shores; as a crab scuttles on the underwater sand streets, unaware that she lives in the in-between space because what is in-between to one is home to another; just as the wind blows warm blessings to all island air in an enveloping embrace and the water dwellers move seamlessly through their home, paying little attention to the islands that speckle their sea; so too are we entwined with all that – and who – surround us.
We all deserve to be liked – by ourselves and others. And we all deserve to like. Cultivate an island where you feel at home, and hone in on connections that make island-living grander. Let severed connections teach and hope and love guide. And trust that even if you feel isolated, even if you can’t quite navigate through the fog right now, you are surrounded by islands, already intricately connected. When you’re ready, you’ll make your way. For now, know you are held up by the Earth and the sea, liked simply because you exist.