Recently, I was talking to my friend, somehow the subject of what people say behind our backs came up. He said, jokingly, mocking what some people say about me, "Oh, [my name] is such a b***h!", to which I replied that I am aware, but whatever. Then he said, "Yeah, a lot of people don't like you. I'm surprised it doesn't bother you."
I nonchalantly resumed the conversation, but inwardly I got scared and sad. The way he said it made it sound like everybody secretly hates me, but the thing is, no one is rude directly to my face. Then he said that several people think that I am a 'bitch' because - and I know this sounds really arrogant, but I don't know how else to word it - I'm smart and actively participate in class, which is a really petty reason, but it still gnaws inside of me; that maybe I should just shut up.
I guess I can sort of see why people think this of me. I'm fairly sarcastic, but I do my best to be nice to everyone and help when it's needed. But I can't get my friend's words out of my head. Now I'm just paranoid that everyone I talk to privately hates me. I've been feeling really down lately because of this. It's enough that I don't have that many close friends. Is there any way I can make them think otherwise? Or do I just have to suck it up and go through life being disliked?
Or may I suggest a third option?
Like, say, one where we talk about why you're friends with a person who goes out of his way to undercut your confidence and make you feel small?
Because maybe it's not generally in your friend's nature to behave like a giant wang, and maybe this was an uncharacteristic act of sabotage. But sabotage, it was—and elegant sabotage, at that. Your friend not only delivered information he knew would hurt you—"Other people think you're a bitch..."—and not only blamed you for other people's bad opinion of you—"...because you're vocal in class..." —but also implied that their opinion is valid and to be taken seriously:
"I'm surprised it doesn't bother you."
(SUBTEXT: Because they have a point and it should.)
It's a one-two-three punch designed with just one purpose: to make you feel like crap. And it did, of course. Because even though you've got the maturity and self-awareness to know you shouldn't be bothered by people thinking you're a bitch, you're still insecure about your likeability. You wish you had more friends. You worry that your intelligence and outspokenness, innate as they are, are off-putting.
Which brings us to the question of why your friend—who, as a friend, would know all about those fears and insecurities—decided to haul off and hit you right where he knew it would hurt the most.
Why, I can't say. Maybe he himself is intimidated by or jealous of your outspokenness, and he saw an opportunity to express those unattractive feelings without having to admit they were his. Maybe he's a dyed-in-the-wool underminer who cuts others down to build himself up. Or, of course, maybe he was wounded by whatever you said to him during this conversation, and was just giving as good as he got. (If this remark was preceded by your saying, "Most people think you smell like ostrich poop and they are not wrong," the lashing-out would be at least understandable.)
But whatever the cause of his jerky comment, the solution isn't to tone yourself down for approval by the lowest common denominator. I mean, let's say a certain contingent of people do think you're a bitch for speaking up in class: are these really people whose good opinion means something to you? Of course not. And the reason you're so paranoid now isn't that you've suddenly realized some people don't like you; it's that a person you trusted suggested that they're right.
Which is why your friend is the person you need to talk to. Tell him the truth: that you can't stop thinking about what he said, that he seemed to be implying that your haters have a point, and that it was a really hurtful thing to hear from someone you trust and care about.
In all likelihood, he'll apologize, and he may also try to explain himself. And yes, you should be prepared to hear and consider what he tells you (like, say, that your self-described sarcasm is actually driving away even the people you'd like to keep close). But at the same time, consider this: knowing what you do about him, and his motivations, is this guy still a person whose opinion you should value?
Because the point of life is not to be liked by everyone; it's to cultivate relationships with people who matter, people with whom you can be your most authentic self, and people you trust to tell you when your authentic self is acting like a jerk without suggesting that you are one. And a person whose opinion matters to you should be a person who likes you for who you are—and who would never suggest you be less engaged, less obviously intelligent, less yourself, just because some people don't.
Have you ever been sent into a tailspin by a crappy comment from a well-meaning friend? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.