How to Stop Worrying Whether or Not They Like You

One of the most acute questions we ask ourselves
in relation to new friends and acquaintances is whether or not they like us. The question
feels so significant because, depending on how we answer it in our minds, we will either
take steps to deepen the friendship or, as is often the case, immediately make moves
to withdraw from it so as to spare ourselves humiliation and embarrassment. But what is
striking and sad is how essentially passive we are in relation to this enquiry. We assume
that there is a more or less binary answer, that it is wholly in the remit of the other
person to settle it – and that there is nothing much we could do to shift the verdict
one way or the other. Either someone wants to be our friend – or they don’t – and
the answer, while it is about us, is essentially disconnected from any of our own initiatives.
We are hereby failing to apply to other people a basic lesson we can appreciate well enough
when we study the functioning of our own judgements: we often don’t know what we think of other
people. Our moods hover and sway. There are days when we can see the point of someone
and others when their positive sides elude us entirely. But, and this is the key point,
what usually helps us to decide what someone means to us is our sense of what we mean to
them. The possibility of friendship between people therefore frequently hangs in the balance
because both sides are privately waiting for a sign from the other one as to whether or
not they are liked – before they dare to show (or even register) any enthusiasm of
their own. Both sides proceed under the tacit assumption that there is some a priori verdict
about their value that the other person will be developing in their mind which has no connection
to how they themselves behave and is impervious to anything they say or do. Under pressure,
we forget the fundamental malleability within the question of whether someone wants to be
friends with us or not. Most of it depends on how we behave to them. If we have a little
courage and can keep our deep suspicions of ourselves and our terror of their rejection
of us at bay, we have every opportunity to turn the situation in our direction. We can
dare to persuade them to see us in a positive light – chiefly by showing a great deal
of evidence that we see them in a positive light. We can apply the full range of techniques
of charm: we can remember small things about them, display an interest in what they have
been up to, laugh at their witty moments and sympathise with them around their sorrows.
Though our instinct is to be close to superstitious in our understanding of why people like us,
we have to be extremely unlucky to land on people who genuinely show no interest in a
friendship with us once we have carried out a full set of charming manoeuvres with any
level of sincerity and basic tact. Friendships cannot develop until one side takes a risk of showing they are ready to
like even when there’s as yet no evidence that they are liked back. We have to realise
that whether or not the other person likes us is going to depend on what we do, not – mystically
– what we by nature ‘are’, and that we have the agency to do rather a lot of things.
Even though we may initially get very few signs of their interest (they might be looking
a little distracted and behaving in an off-hand way), we should assume that this is only a
legacy of a restraint that springs from fear that they are not able to please – and that
so long as we keep showing them warmth and encouragement to appease their self-suspicion,
the barriers will eventually come down. It is sad enough when two people dislike each
other. It is even sadder when two people fail to connect because both parties defensively
but falsely guess that the other doesn’t like them – and yet, out of low self-worth,
don’t take any risk whatever to alter the situation. We should stop worrying quite so
much whether or not people like us, and do that far more interesting and socially-useful
move: concentrate on showing that we like them. Our emotional barometer is a tool that can help us to more clearly explain our moods. Click the link on screen now to find out more.

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