What Will You Do if “Nobody Likes You”?


While browsing Quora the other day, I came across a surprising question about a statement that someone once made to me. The question asked was How do you respond to the phrase “nobody likes you”? What surprised me was that in the more than 100 answers from Quora users, the majority were responses advising snarky comebacks and opinions on how it doesn’t matter and that you shouldn’t let it bother you. Very few of the responses were addressing the possibility that it could be true that you are in fact a person who is very difficult to like.

Story Time

In the late 80s, I left home to begin my freshman year at a small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. I had gotten a roommate assigned to me who I had spoken to a few times on the phone since we lived too far apart to meet in person before school began. She and I were both very excited about starting college and had had some great phone conversations where we seemed to hit it off. Unfortunately when I got to meet her and her family in person, I reacted with some surprise and not well-disguised disappointment. They were a lower middle-class family. The irony of this was that even though I was part of an upper middle-class family, we were only one generation removed from lower middle-class. My father was the first in his family to attend college but like many people with new money, we were vain and overly disdainful of those without it. (It wouldn’t be until a few years later that I finally understood that money didn’t equal virtue and the lack of it didn’t equal vice.)

I am not proud to say that my new roommate, Darlene*, got a very chilly reception from me which was in stark contrast to what she had experienced over the phone. I had made her very uncomfortable at that first meeting with my awkward, stiff hug and tight smile which set the tone for our relationship from that point on. As you would expect, we did not become fast friends but we remained civil after that. She had a much easier time making friends than I did and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why at the time.

During our first semester, Darlene decided that Pennsylvania was too far away from home for her and she decided to transfer to a school much closer to her family in New York. When she told me she was leaving I was surprised by my reaction considering that we weren’t really close. I was actually crushed that she was leaving because she was someone I felt comfortable with and at that time I had trouble warming up to anyone. She was shocked at my reaction because she believed that I didn’t like her. The one bit of emotional honesty I had with her finally cracked something open in me and before she left our relationship became a lot more open and honest.

Darlene was the one who told me that “Nobody likes you”. Although I was hurt and reacted defensively when she first said it, it was an observation that I could not ignore. I didn’t even like me and I had gone to college with the specific purpose of recreating myself into someone else, someone better somehow. Someone who could actually make and maintain friendships.

She told me how hurt she was by the cold reception she got from me when I first met her and her family. She told me that some of our dorm mates really didn’t like or appreciate my holier-than-thou attitude and the fact that I never had anything nice to say about anyone. I’ll admit that my personality was quite dark in my teen years and that I had this very misguided impression that to be popular one had to be mean and sarcastically funny. I don’t know what I was thinking at the time but if I had to guess, I think I was trying to emulate unsuccessfully the “cool” kids I had known in high school.

Trying to look at it objectively, Darlene was leaving, so how could she possibly benefit by putting me down when we had just started to become so close? She said what she said out of concern and friendship. No one had ever held up a mirror to me before. I believed what she told me because she had made friends easily while I had not. I was playing an aloof and cynical part and was for some reason surprised by the fact no one thought it worthwhile to get to know me.

Darlene left school shortly after and I struggled for a while to figure out how to correct my course. I did eventually by being kinder, less negative, and less judgmental. I became a better listener and took an active interest in the stories that others would tell about their own lives. Slowly but surely, I was able to make friends by being more open to others and trying harder to see things from their perspective. I didn’t magically become a social butterfly because that wouldn’t have been me, but I did manage to make a few close friends. I would never have known how people felt about me if Darlene hadn’t been so brutally honest and if I hadn’t had the drive and desire to change things for myself. Thanks, Darlene, wherever you are!

What really saddened me about the majority of Quora responses was that the popular tact was defensiveness and sarcasm without a dollop of introspection. What if there was a grain of truth in that statement that “Nobody likes you”? What if you missed your chance to improve your life and relationships by addressing your negative behaviors? What if that was your wake-up call and you ignored it? The world we live in today makes it much easier to be a human island. However, is that we what we really want for ourselves or is that just what we have grown accustomed to because we don’t want to put the work in to improve?

I am a firm believer that everyone has the ability to make things better for themselves if they are willing to be honest about their limitations and work on mitigating them. It’s human nature to perceive and react with anger or hurt to any blow to the ego, but are we missing an important opportunity if we don’t take a more circumspect approach?

Not all comments or criticisms should be dismissed outright. Always consider who said it to you. What is the nature of your relationship to them? Have they been a truthful friend/ally to you in the past? In what way are they benefiting by putting you down? Do they have more to lose by being honest with you under the circumstances? It pays to answer these questions honestly and to pay close attention to the warning signs that the universe throws at you once in a while to see if you are listening.

No one is perfect. We all have things that we can work on to improve ourselves and better our lives. So ask yourself, what are you going to do the next time you are presented with an opportunity in disguise like this one?

*Not her real name


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