This morning, Bill and I listened to James Taylor’s new Audible book together. The book, called Break Shot: My First 21 Years, is all about James Taylor’s first 21 years of life, the time before he was famous. I wrote about Break Shot the other day, before Bill had a chance to listen to it with me. I wanted Bill to hear it, since I related to so much of it and I figured he would, too.
After the book was over, we had a conversation about this pressure many people feel to be “liked”. Bill is a very likable person. He’s kind, generous, friendly, thoughtful, respectful, and decent. I, on the other hand, am not always likable. I have a tendency to be loud, opinionated, profane, annoying, disrespectful, and unfriendly. However, one thing I have noticed is that while I may not have tons of friends, the ones I do have tend to be high quality people who treat me well. Bill, on the other hand, has some good friends, but he also tends to attract people who try to take advantage of him. Those people might be “friendly” and “nice” to him to his face, but then they would roll all over him.
Several times in his life, he’s found himself a doormat to others who were willing to make a scene. Or he’d do favors for people who probably didn’t deserve the consideration. More than once, I’ve witnessed him helping people who don’t appreciate his efforts and even criticize him when he doesn’t do exactly what they wanted. It seemed to be lost on those people that he was doing them a favor– he could have just as easily told them to fuck off. In fact, I probably would have, in a less profane way. Bill gave up a lot to those people because he couldn’t stand the idea of not being at peace. It was easier to give in to his ex wife when she did crazy things than put his foot down and say no. It was easier to be apologetic and understanding to other abusive people in his life than demand that they treat him fairly, or not take advantage of his good nature. I have often joked with him that he needs to develop a resting bitch face more like mine.
I’ve always thought it was curious that my husband, who would bravely and willingly go off to war, would be so quick to let things slide on the domestic front. Having gotten to know him for the past twenty years, I can see where he’s learned to be so accommodating. Bill’s parents are also extremely nice, likable people who don’t like strife and hate disappointing other people. My parents, on the other hand, were a lot less willing to put up with abuse from others. They didn’t mind having enemies, and they taught me that having enemies isn’t the end of the world.
I think Bill and I are very compatible because we even out each other. He’s made me feel less depressive and angry, and I have prompted him to be more willing to stand up for himself. I have tried to teach him that it’s better to have a few genuine friends than a lot of people who “like” you, but feel no compunction about screwing you over. I’ve also tried to show him that it’s not the end of the world if someone has a public meltdown. In fact, I even told him about a book I read some years ago where this point was illustrated. The book was called Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy People at 35,000 Feet. Written by flight attendant, Heather Poole, it was an entertaining collection of anecdotes about working in the airline industry. I wouldn’t have thought I would take a nugget of wisdom from a book like hers, but sure enough I did. Here is the pertinent excerpt from the book:
What is the wisdom I gleaned from this anecdote? A man was being abusive to a flight attendant who was simply trying to do her job. When she corrected him in an assertive way, he became even more belligerent and abusive and said “fuck you” to her. He probably figured the flight attendant would back off and maybe even offer him a free drink to calm him down. Instead, she leaned over and whispered “fuck you” right back to him. He then proceeded to completely lose control and was escorted off the aircraft. Who was the loser in that situation? It certainly wasn’t the flight attendant. She kept her cool and said “Buh bye.” to the guy as he was dragged off the plane. Do you think she cares if the guy who said “fuck you” to her thinks she’s a bitch? I highly doubt it.
Was what the flight attendant did something a “nice”, “likable” person would do? No, not particularly… but I’ll bet that profane passenger thought twice about using abusive language when speaking to a flight attendant on his next airline experience. The moral of the story is, if someone makes a “scene”, it’s not the end of the world. As embarrassing as scenes can be, it’s helpful to keep in mind that if someone makes a scene, other people aren’t going to be looking at the person who is calm and mortified. They’ll be looking at and probably judging the person who is making a scene. They’re the ones who are out of control, not you. Adults are expected to be in control of their own behavior, and you can’t control anyone’s behavior but your own. If someone thinks you’re a bitch or an asshole for standing up for yourself, they’re not worthy of your company.
I am a firm believer that you have to teach people how to treat you. That doesn’t mean being mean, nasty, or rude; it means being assertive and having the courage to stand up for yourself. Of course, it’s wise to pick your battles. Some fights are simply not worth the effort. However, if someone is being an asshole, it’s not wrong to call them out. People have called me out before and, fortunately, I have matured enough to take an honest look at myself and apologize when I behave badly. Everybody behaves badly sometimes, and being apologetic when it’s warranted never killed anyone. But neither has standing your ground when it’s warranted.
Bill struggles with wanting to be liked. He grew up with little conflict. He and his mom are very close and rarely fought with each other. He saw less of his dad when he was growing up, but when he was with him, there also wasn’t much fighting. Bill has a huge, sympathetic heart and he loves to please people. He’s one of the most service oriented people I know. It truly brings him joy to help others, especially when they appreciate his efforts. I, on the other hand, grew up in a family where there was a lot of fighting and selfishness. I certainly didn’t enjoy the fights and, to this day, I get really upset when people yell at me. I can remember having panic attacks when my parents and sisters fought with me. However, because I had those conflicts, I think I’m less concerned about ruffling feathers than Bill is. I know it won’t kill anyone if I piss them off. If they’re reasonable people, they’ll eventually get over it and we’ll repair the relationship with strengthened boundaries. If they’re not reasonable, then the relationship is worth letting go. Not everyone is worthy of being a friend. The older I get, the less time I have for people who aren’t reasonable and decent. I have NO time for abusive, unreasonable people anymore.
So, while we were digesting James Taylor’s early life story together, Bill and I were discussing what we took from the Audible. Somehow, we segued into talking about situations in which Bill has often found himself. It may be unbelievable to those who have never met him, but he is one of the kindest, most understanding, genuinely loving people I have ever met. I look at him every day and can’t believe my luck. He’s willing to give so much… to a fault, really. He’s already been through hell when he was dealing with his greedy ex wife, who separated him from his children, tried to ruin his relationship with his parents, and demanded that he give her much more than she was entitled to. He’s survived that experience and is now thriving. I was with him every step of the way. I remember telling him that this shit with his ex wife was temporary and that he’d come out of it a survivor. And he has. He doesn’t tolerate her abuse anymore, either.
Ditto to when Bill went to war in Iraq with an abusive colonel who played mind games with him, demanded all of his time and energy, and did everything he could to humiliate him. Think Donald Trump in a uniform– completely narcissistic, uncaring about other people’s needs, and selfish. Someone finally stood up to that colonel. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Bill who took a stand, but that guy finally did get his comeuppance in the form of a very embarrassing and public firing weeks before he had been planning to pin on as a brigadier general. It was very satisfying to watch that guy’s career go down in flames, knowing the way he regularly treated the people under him, especially while they were in a war zone.
I remember taking calls from Bill when he was in Iraq. He told me his boss reminded him of his abusive ex wife. I knew it was really bad when he compared his boss to his ex. Fortunately, Bill is now thriving after that experience, but it took some time to undo the mind fuckery. And years later, when that abusive colonel wanted to add Bill on Linked In, Bill felt fine about ignoring the request. That guy wasn’t someone who deserved to be in Bill’s life, even if ignoring the request felt like a “mean” thing to do. Bill established boundaries and enforced them. He’s looking after his own interests, as every wise person should. It’s noble to want to help people, but even in a plane crash, you’re told to put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help other people.
We’ll have other challenges ahead of us that will require backbone and assertiveness. But we’ve already survived a hell of a lot. Sometimes it’s scary to be “unlikable”, to rock the boat and ruffle feathers, and to take a stand. But we’ve already survived so much. If someone doesn’t like us for standing up for ourselves when it’s warranted, that’s their problem.
I often run into people who don’t like me, especially in the military community. There’s often an undercurrent of misogyny in military circles. I’ve seen it directed toward female service members, but I’ve especially seen it toward wives of service members. Women who are “dependas”– overweight, uneducated, entitled women who sit on their asses and spend their husband’s paychecks are frowned upon, of course. But so are educated women who refuse to shut up and color and dare to speak up when someone is abusive. In fact, in some ways, the educated women get even worse treatment and less respect. It’s usually from insecure men who can’t stand the idea that a woman might make him look stupid. Of course, there are a lot of people like Bill in the military, too. Some service members are true heroes in every sense of the word. But some are abusive and disrespectful to everyone they think will take it without a fuss. I’m less likable because I protest when people are shitty to me, and I don’t mind speaking my mind. Could I be more likable by sitting quietly in a corner? Sure… but what’s the payoff? Someone who pulls a jock strap over my face? No thanks… I don’t want to be liked by that type of person, anyway.
You may not like me. Lots of people don’t. Plenty of people find me annoying on many levels. Those who know and take the time to understand me usually find out that I’m not a bad person at all. I have my good points and my bad points. I don’t suffer fools and I don’t tolerate a lot of bullshit. But I’m a good and loyal friend to those who deserve it and can tolerate my idiosyncrasies. I may not be as “likable” as Bill is, but I also don’t tend to be crapped on by people for very long. When people crap on me, I tend to answer in kind somehow. If I were more like Bill, I doubt our marriage would survive because there would be no end to fending off people who want to take advantage… especially Bill’s ex wife. He needs a partner who will call bullshit and risk being in the dog house without being abusive and exploitative. In that sense, I think we’re perfect for each other.
Those who would like to read Heather Poole’s book can follow the Amazon link. I am an Amazon Associate, so if you purchase through my site, I will get a small commission from Amazon. But there’s never any pressure. I share these books because I think they’re worth reading.