You Don’t Have to Like Everyone

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your tribe small.

One simple rule governs all my friendships. If someone can kill my buzz, I don’t hang out with them. Take my boss. Halfway through his second beer, he turns into a long-winded Captain Obvious. His membership in the wealthy one percent doesn’t help.

When his guard comes down, he talks about his struggles. Like some cosmetic repair to his three-story house that’s taking too long. He makes our first world problems look like a life on the frontier.

At Happy Hour, we all sit there and smile at him until he leaves.

Or until we leave.

After he’s out of earshot, I say, “Dammit, now I have to get drunk all over again.” Everyone nods.

Most of us feel obligated to pretend we like everyone. It’s polite. Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur said so. Maybe. But you can treat someone with respect without lying to yourself.

You’re allowed to dislike people.

As long as you understand why. As long as you don’t go out of your way to hurt them. That makes all the difference.

In fact, you should dislike people. And you should think about the people you dislike. It can help you figure yourself out. Most of us don’t like someone because they somehow embody qualities we don’t want in ourselves. That’s useful information. Ignoring it makes us weaker.

People have killed my buzz in a variety of ways. It doesn’t always mean literally. Let’s say I’m having a good day. Natural buzz. And then someone serves me a big steaming plate of condescension.

I’ll get over it.

But that doesn’t mean I have to come back for seconds. It doesn’t mean I plan revenge. Just that I limit my interactions with them.

What does it even mean to like someone? Simple. You can share a drink with them, or a meal, without rolling your eyes. You can like certain people more than others. But at least for me, the majority of the people I know fit into a wide category of general likability.

Consider the moment when you first realize your dislike for someone. What a revelation. Something feels off in your interactions. You don’t know what. You just don’t enjoy their company. More than that, their mere presence drags you down. You need to recover from them.

It’s not about some personal defect or fault. A lot of times, our faults and imperfections endear us to others.

Some of my favorite people are also the most screwed-up.

Likewise, I have loads of problems. But I also come with a handful of redeeming qualities.

So what is it that makes us dislike someone?

Everything, it turns out. That’s what. Disliking someone means you can’t find a single quality you can relate to. Nothing about them interests or intrigues you. Not one shred of authentic interaction. Maybe they’re not even that good at anything. That’s what it takes to earn our dislike.

We form our tribes in different ways. We like to include people who share our personality traits, and others who complement them. Maybe a few opposites, to keep things interesting.

The best of us never discriminate in friendship when it comes to appearance, race, gender, sexuality, religion, nationality, social class, or disability. Those are dumb reasons to dislike someone.

It should take a long time to decide you don’t like someone. Once you arrive at your conclusion, there’s no shame.

For me, it happened after a year of false starts with my boss. We rebooted about ten times after he said or did something stupid. The reboot always involved coffee or lunch. Or a drink. Sometimes, it would be a group thing. Others, just us and our significant others.

Each time, my spouse and I debriefed. “Well, that wasn’t terrible,” I’d say. “A little awkward, but that’s okay.” Hope would loom. I’d think to myself, maybe I could learn to like my boss.

Except you can’t learn to like someone.

You can give someone chance after chance to make you like them. You can search for things — like some quirky hobby, a compelling personal story, an amazing achievement. Like maybe they climbed Mount Everest and rescued a kitten along the way.

I’ve found ways to like some ridiculous assholes. Always because there was one thing they excelled at. Or one thing they’d done that somehow made everything else tolerable.

You can search for that thing forever. Or some quality might present itself. Until then all you can learn, really, is to navigate your dislike.

That’s what I did. For months, I searched for one single thing I actually liked about my boss. Something I could relate to.

A lovable flaw maybe.

A funny story.

My bar got progressively lower. It turned out that everyone else at work was making the same effort. Trying to find some level of connection.

Watching my boss try and fail to connect with others, including myself, taught me a lot about likability and friendship. For starters, you can’t try to be likable. You can only be yourself, and make people take you at face value. So I’ve doubled down on that.

My boss tries too hard to be likable. If he would just own that he’s a rich asshole, I might like him better.

I might like him from afar, but that’s something at least. Because I’ve also learned that you can like someone, without being their friend.

Sometimes, I wonder if he’s ever shown anyone his real self, or just some weird persona he’s scrapped together over the years.

I’m not even sure what the real him looks like. One thing’s for sure — whatever his real self is, I’d almost certainly like it better than what I do happen to see on a daily basis.

Me on the other hand, I almost can’t help but be myself. I used to see that as a liability, but now I don’t.

I’ve reached this decision about a handful of people in my 30+ years on earth. I just don’t like them.

It’s not the end of the world. You can still work with someone you don’t like. You can also drink with them, if you have do.

You just won’t enjoy it.

You have to watch out and regulate yourself around people you dislike. You have to separate the boss from the person.

Or the person from the person.

Sometimes, my boss makes good decisions. Other times, huge mistakes. His good judgment shouldn’t make me like him more, and his screw-ups shouldn’t make me like him any less.

Since I already don’t like him, it doesn’t matter.

I’ve removed liking him from the equation. It’s helped me function better at my job. We can still engage in halfway pleasant conversations. We can take the same side on some issues.

Allow yourself to passively dislike people. It’s okay. It doesn’t make you a negative person, as long as you understand why and how to go about not liking them in a productive, mostly innocuous way.

Dealing amicably with people we don’t like is part of adult life. It doesn’t make us fake. Only pretending to like someone does. We can always leave the door open for someone to change our perceptions of them, but that’s their mountain to climb. Not ours.