I Don’t Like You and It’s OK

When I was in college, I was very involved with an on-campus Christian group called InterVarsity. They were really big on this thing called “intentionality” (a totally made up word, but whatever) and used that as a basis for ministry. Basically, it was to intentionally befriend certain people who were open to being influenced and then pursue the hell out of them without it seeming like you’re stalking.

So, if I chose you to focus on, I would invite you to events, eat with you, hang out with you, go do stuff you liked to do but I would personally rather eat nails than do, etc. It seems kinda creepy and yucky and fake, but if you think about it, that’s how most friendships work anyway. Sometimes, it’s serendipitous and things just gel and you naturally want to hang out all the time and do stuff together, and in college, that’s really easy to do and seem natural and spontaneous. But in the real world, outside of the lovely bubble that is endless free time, it doesn’t work that way at all. To be friends once you start working or have a family, that takes a lot of effort. At least one person in the friendship must go out of their way to initiate and “pursue” a relationship with the other person. Otherwise, the friendship stalls, doesn’t deepen, and sometimes, withers and dies.

The group was also big on “reconciliation” and any time there was conflict, negative feelings, or weird interactions, we were encouraged to reconcile with each other. That involved having long conversations resolving issues both big and small. Of course, since I was crazy and overly dramatic in college (Hapa Papa would interject at this point and question the use of “was” in this instance as he maintains that it is still an ongoing situation), this meant I was constantly reconciling with people.

Furthermore, I took it to mean (and I’m pretty sure that’s not how the leaders of IV thought to interpret it) that if I didn’t like someone, that was something I needed to work on. In other words, if I didn’t like someone, I should be even more intentional (not to mention more reconciling) with the people in question. So, I would often feel terrible over not liking a person and try to force a friendship.

It took awhile, but after college, I gradually gave myself permission to dislike people. I slowly realized that it was utterly stupid to try and force chemistry with people. If I didn’t like someone, who the fuck cares? (Keep in mind, I absolutely do NOT think that IV told me that I couldn’t dislike people. That was just my own weird application of intentionality and reconciliation.)

Nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to like people – not even to like God. (And quite frankly, I often don’t. *Looks nervously upwards.*) After all, according to Jesus, we are first to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Deut. 6:5) Then, we are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev. 19:18) (Matt. 22:37-40, NIV) It says nothing about like. (Or “like like,” for that matter. Yes, I am permanently a thirteen year old girl.)

Once I gave myself permission to not like a person, I realized I, in fact, disliked a LOT of people! (Ok, not a lot, but a lot more than I had originally anticipated being that I thought myself quite the easy-going and friendly person. Again, Hapa Papa would vehemently disagree with this personal assessment. Does the man even like me at all? Or does he know me a little too uncomfortably well? Marriage is really harsh on a person’s delusions.)

More importantly, I realized it was okay to dislike people. More than okay. Perfectly normal and valid. After all, you cannot help the way you feel. You can, however, help the way you act. So I decided to change my philosophy since I obviously disliked people anyway regardless of whether or not I thought it was acceptable. I decided that I didn’t have to like someone. I just had to love them.

I started to feel much better.

Not only was I more authentic in my feelings and no longer in denial, I could also move forward and better interact with people I didn’t actually like because I saw the situation as it was versus what I fabricated in my mind. In this case, it was a little easier to love a person once I knew I didn’t like a person. Sounds totally ass-backwards, doesn’t it?

Here’s why: when I actually like a person, it is very easy to be nice to them. You know, by being civil, showing interest in their lives, their comments, their whatever. The socially acceptable ways of behavior flows naturally and beautifully. It is lovely. But when I dislike a person, it is extremely difficult for me to behave. So when I was operating under the misunderstanding that I liked someone, I was constantly frustrated when behaving well was incredibly hard and didn’t happen naturally. But once I realized I actually disliked them, I could now approach the person and intentionally be good. (A sad commentary on my character, I realize.) Also, I could avoid them like the plague.

So what did I mean by having to love someone? I hate to be cliché, but I will have to resort to the classic 1 Corinthians 13 version of love:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

– 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV

I most often hear this passage at weddings and as much as I find it useful to apply in my marriage (though often unsuccessfully since I am quite impatient, always self-seeking, and definitely full of Hulk Smash anger), it also comes in handy for forcing myself to behave like a good human being to people I don’t actually like very much should my strategy of “avoid at all cost” not be applicable.

Anyhow, I realize I have digressed quite a bit. But my whole point is merely to say that I am glad I figured out it was okay to dislike people and not have to fake friendships anymore. I’m glad I no longer have to waste time torturing myself over a feeling. I’m grateful that I am not commanded to like people and only to love them. I realize that love, as defined by 1 Corinthians, is quite a tall order. But let me just say that it is considerably harder to force a feeling. Much easier to have a straight forward course of action (even if the acts themselves are difficult). At least one is more plausible than the other.

The Power of Unfriending

When I first joined Facebook, I fully admit I tried to get as many friends as possible. I liberally friended people – even if they were people I didn’t know but somehow, were included on a mass Gmail mailing list once upon a time. In fact, there are a few of my friends on Facebook that I don’t actually remembering meeting in college but because they post so much and we know so many of the same people, I consider them my friends. Then, there are the many people I friended because we went to high school or middle school or even elementary school together. I friended everyone.

However, after the novelty of Facebook wore off and I started having children, I began to regret having so many people as friends. The more I thought of it, the more I realized that just because I recognized their names from school didn’t mean I knew these people. They were mostly strangers and could be crazy serial killers. So I started unfriending people or putting them in “acquaintance” categories.

The problem is that Facebook makes it really hard to unfriend a lot of people at the same time. Any time you unfriend someone, Facebook reloads all your friends but in a different order than before. It becomes really frustrating. (I realize that the mobile app for Facebook makes it easier, but I didn’t know that until recently.)

So, what I decided to do sounds really mean, but is very useful. Every day, Facebook tells me which people have birthdays that day. On their birthday, I take a good look at these people and decide one of several things:

1) Keep as a friend/status quo

2) Unfriend

3) Move to “Acquaintance” category

It seems mean because I’m making this judgment on their birthday. Whatever. I’m assuming they will be so inundated with happy birthday wishes that if I do happen to unfriend them, they won’t even notice. If I move them to “Acquaintance,” they won’t really notice either (since Facebook thankfully doesn’t inform them of this) and will likely just think I stopped posting as much in general. (Most of my posts are “Friend only except Acquaintances.”)

At first, I was really leery of this policy. After all, doesn’t everyone want MORE friends? But once I started doing that, I realized there was immense freedom in unfriending. Having all these people on my friend list that I either didn’t actually know or interact with was a lot like all the junk I shove in my closets or under my bed. Stuff I kept because I thought, “One day, I may need this/they may become a good friend.” Well, I rarely touch the stuff I think I need – and it is unlikely that I will deepen my friendships with people I knew briefly in high school.

Turns out, I kept a lot of people on as Facebook friends because I liked the idea of knowing what happens to people without the hassle of actually maintaining a real relationship. However, if I didn’t really know these people AND they weren’t posting on a regular basis, what benefit did I derive from having them as a friend in the first place? In addition, I would worry that too many people would know what was going on in my life or see too many pictures of my kids. (Ironic since I totally blog about way more private things but whatever.) The worry was gone if they were no longer my friend!

Furthermore, I realized that in actuality, it was the fear of missing out that was driving me to have so many friends. Missing out on pictures, updates, and gossip. In fact, this was just like my addiction to celebrity gossip except these people were not famous! They did not touch my life in any way, shape, or form! Why did I care what happened to them except on a cursory level? The truth is, I don’t care. So if I don’t care, why am I their “friend”?

It seems like such a silly thing, this “friend/unfriend” business on Facebook. But I see it more and more as becoming my more authentic self. I don’t want a massive number of “friends” online. It’s not a virtual popularity contest. What I really want are real, interactive, and meaningful relationships.

Whether it manifests in the online equivalent of “office cooler talk” about TV shows/current events or deeper conversations about articles and issues, I look forward to my daily “chats” with my Facebook friends. What I want is a community of people who are interesting to me and interested in me. Unfriending people who do not contribute to the life that I want is simply good housekeeping.