I’m Afraid They All Secretly Hate Me.
The title of today’s blog is one of my biggest fears and social anxieties: that the people I’m friends with and/or close to don’t actually like me, and are only tolerating my presence because they feel like they have to. It’s a common social fear. I’m certainly not the only one who has it, and if you read this and related to it then you have my sympathies.
I live in pretty constant fear of it, from my close friends to (on super rare occasions) my wife. “Constant fear” may be a dramatic way to put it. It’s not on my mind all the time, but it’s certainly lurking in the background, waiting for an idle moment to remind me that it’s there. Hopefully for most people this social fear is the product of anxiety and/or unsubstantiated worry.
In my case? It’s actually happened. Three times.
The first time was a light version that I kinda-sorta had coming. I was playing tabletop roleplaying games with a close group of friends and I was really, really into my character (who would later become Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire). Little did I know that everyone else was aggravated by my antics and enthusiasm, until one day a mutual friend came to me and said, “Yeah, everyone’s been talking and they don’t want you in the game any more.” It hurt pretty bad, but at least I literally made a career out of the character.
The second time was at an art store where I was employed. The employees there were, for the most part, a tight-knit group of people. Many of them were friends outside of work, and I was excited not only 1) to be working at an art store but 2) to make new friends who were artists! I really tried to be not only a good coworker, but friendly and amicable. Then, one day, the manager took me into his office and said, “Yeah, everyone’s been talking and they want me to fire you.” That hurt really bad. Really, really bad. But most of “everyone” who was talking shit behind my back eventually left, and a new group of people were hired. They actually liked me.
The third time hurt the most. I was in a local burlesque troupe, acting as the host or narrator for shows. This burlesque community was super tight, and I was thrilled not only for the opportunity to make new artistic friends, but honored that I, a straight white cis dude, had been invited into their space. I felt I was very careful and respectful. I felt I was always aware of where I was. I felt I took all the lessons from my previous “yeah, everyone’s been talking…” and applied them here. My instincts were wrong. To make a long story short, I put my trust in the wrong person and it made for a slip-up that made way for the troupe to say, “You know what? We’re sick of you.” That hurt so bad I’m still recovering from it, years later. And unlike the previous occurrences, nothing positive came from this. I sank into a year-long depression and the emotional wound healed wrong. It still flares up. Like right now.
The lurking fear that everyone secretly hates me isn’t totally unfounded, or the result of anxious worrying. It’s a scene that’s repeated itself three times despite my best efforts to avoid it. Each time I was blindsided. And now, even with tested friendships, even with my marriage, I fear that I’m going to make that fatal mistake, where all the tolerances and secret annoyances are going to give way for the heartbreaking “You know what? We’re sick of you!”
I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for my friends and loved ones to send me reassuring messages. Whenever I share things like this in the blog, my fears and insecurities and stories of my mistakes, I’m hoping others will read and relate. That there are others out there with the same fears, the same experiences, the same hurt. I may not have the wisdom or insight to provide profound solutions, but I hope that my sharing can at least provide a sense of camaraderie. That you’re not alone in your fear, your anxiety, or your hurt.
For me, reaching out and sharing like this is a form of healing. The wounds still hurt and they still flare up, but this is one of my treatments.