I have a confession to make: After all these years, it seriously bothers me that other people don’t like me.

I don’t know why it should. I’ve lived on my own since I was 17, survived in some of the most brutal and competitive cities in the world without ending up as a news story, and I’ve met every kind of person on the planet. I’m well-aware not everyone in the world is going to like me, just as I don’t necessarily like everyone I meet. Yet, when it is brought to my attention that someone doesn’t like me, or once liked me and has since reversed his or her opinion, it has an emotional impact.

OMG, why doesn’t everyone like me?

Not only do people not like me, in some situations, I encounter people who actively dislike me. After over three decades of life, I’m still encountering girls who talk about me behind my back, or do little more than glare at me when I see them, although I don’t remember ever actually saying or doing anything negative to them. I’m still encountering people I thought were “real” friends who no longer hang out with me because they have a boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend who doesn’t approve of me. I can inspire women twice my age to send me vitriolic letters and make phone calls that would put a less self-assured person on the brink of suicide. I have made people want to literally destroy my life, and not in the high school sense, where a bad rumour is circulated to make someone cry. Especially in Atlanta, where people are immediately sized up in social situations by money, appearance, and availability for no-strings-attached hookups, I’ve had to deal with the transition of no longer being the person everyone finds fascinating and wants to get to know. I’m a decade too old and twenty pounds too heavy in order to inspire people to pay attention to me for all the wrong reasons, which should be a relief, but it’s not. Instead, it makes you feel rather non-existent, as if you’ve fallen off the social radar of life.

I can make an enemy just by showing up. It turns out that when you’re taught “be yourself”, that mostly only applies if yourself is sufficiently socially acceptable and enough like everyone else that you’re dubbed as “a nice person”.

Why am I not a nice person?

I actually really am. I hold doors for strangers, make small talk with people I don’t know, pay for lunch when it’s my turn to do so, and don’t commit embarrassing party faux pas. On your birthday, I will always send a note or a card or a gift or plan you a party. If I like you, I will send you mail for no reason or share a particularly moving book I just read. I return phone calls, and send my regrets when I can’t make it to things. I am by no means a doormat, but I consider myself a generally nice and empathetic person.

Yet, it consistently shocks me when someone I thought was a friend turns out not to be, someone who is an acquaintance and doesn’t know me is spending time gossiping about me and I’m experiencing social repercussions as a result, someone says or writes something extraordinarily self-esteem shattering behind my back, or someone with whom I have a mild infatuation or am crushing on doesn’t see what an awesome, fun, and loving person I happen to be.

Do I suffer from low self-esteem, or rampant narcissism?

After all, it’s not paranoia if people are really out to get you, and it’s not low-self-esteem if what’s bringing you down comes out of the mouths of other people. Sometimes, it’s people you really care about, although you wonder why. Sometimes, it’s someone you know nothing about. Either way, the rejection and hurtful assessment of what’s unlikeable about you hits hard.

I’ve always been that way. I have always needed everyone to like me, and it’s always come as a punch in the stomach when I’ve heard people say things behind my back. I used to think I was my own worst critic, and then I met other people, and the things that were most hurtful were the things I already feel self-conscious about as a human being. It’s one thing if I look at myself in the mirror and tear myself down on a daily basis, and understand the reason everyone doesn’t love and adore me is because I am not pretty enough, smart enough, nice enough, likeable enough, laid-back enough, skinny enough, entertaining enough. It’s quite another when you hear others saying these things about you.

I was never bullied in high school. I never went through that “I don’t want to go to school because it’s a mean place that makes me feel bad about myself” phase, and I guess I’m fortunate. At the same time, I never learned the coping mechanisms that many of my peers learned early on, namely how to not let rejection and criticism and abject meanness affect you too personally. I went through the same awkward adolescent crap as everyone else, but for the most part, I was a fairly popular and energetic person who was very driven, and thrived on being at the center of everything. I suppose that hasn’t changed.

However, back in those days, for every few close friends I had, I had someone who wanted to tear me down and make me cry. I learned I wasn’t sweet or nice or congenial. I wasn’t the perfectly pretty girl everyone wanted to look like, or the charming one that everyone wondered “How does she have so many friends?”. However, I had enough redeeming qualities to make me a well-liked person by my peers. Still, I was too insecure about the people who said mean things about me to notice that. I wondered what was wrong with me.

I have always been a divisive personality.

I don’t know why. People either love me—in some cases, they actually fall pretty hard or maintain intense connections with me through long periods of time, and are the type that would do almost anything for me—or they hate me. When I use the word “hate”, I don’t exaggerate. I’ve been offered money to stop seeing people, and blackmailed in attempts to get me out of town. I’ve been completely ostracised by groups of people without even knowing what they had against me. I’ve had people say to ex-boyfriends, “Sure, I’ll marry you, as long as you never have contact with that girl again.”

But I don’t, for the life of me, know what’s so objectionable about me. Those who like me find me thoughtful, witty, empathetic, creative, entertaining, intuitive, and intelligent. I’m well-traveled, well-educated, and consider myself fairly cultured. Yet, I try my best to be all those things in a rather unpretentious way. I have a lot of interesting life stories…and I mean a LOT. Some people likely find them more entertaining than others, but isn’t that the same with everyone? Maybe I’m not wealthy enough or attractive enough to have every guy I’ve ever liked fall at my feet in return, or every girl I’ve ever wanted to be friends with to find me cool enough for her social circle, but neither have I done too shabbily in either of those departments throughout my life. I’ve never been one to have trouble finding dates, or relationships, or making new friends in a new place. I will find myself in a brand new city for a day, and have an adventure, and meet 20 strangers. Yet, the reality is, at least 5 of those strangers didn’t really care for me or resented my presence, while another 5 immediately friended me on Facebook.

I know I am not low-key enough to ever win any congeniality awards. It isn’t that I’m not nice. Yet,I say what I think. I stand up for myself, and my ideals. I won’t keep my mouth shut just to be polite, or keep conversation from getting too deep, because I find that painfully dull. If you get to know me, you may just find me rather insightful and compassionate. I won’t decide that glitter and jewelry and other adornments aren’t for me, because they’re too much for other people. I don’t see how the way I use fashion to express myself should form your opinion of me at all, yet I’ve heard it does. Frankly, I sometimes feel like a Real Housewife Of Atlanta, without the money and its advantages.

I know some people find my way of being “too much”, are put off by my rather Northern demeanour, which can come off as brash or abrasive without meaning to. Some don’t like my flirtatious banter or witty observations. Some people dislike my style, my disinterest in simply being pretty and charming and accommodating, ideals that are held very highly in women in the South. Some people don’t care for my ability to make a snarky remark, tell a dirty joke, or drink others under the table while still having a fairly respectable good time. Others don’t relate to my disinterest in marriage and children and having things in my life to nurture and support. Sorry, but I’d prefer to discuss politics over pacifiers any day, and I think a drink with a friend at 6 PM every day should be mandatory.

Of course, then there are those who don’t find me particularly respectable or endearing or charming at all, and that’s not something I can ever change.

But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt my feelings. I don’t intend to come off as obnoxious to some or threatening to others. I just like having fun and living life without too long of a list of rules and boundaries. I don’t mind that maybe some of my choices in life are unconventional, so why should anyone else? If those who judged me bothered to talk to me about my life, they might learn to look at the world in new ways, as I do when I talk to people who aren’t much like me.

So, why don’t people like me?”

The answer is, truly, I don’t know. I do my best to be nice to others while refusing to change who I am, as a person, in order to suit anyone else. It’s never enough. I’ve encountered more hatred and judgment and criticism in Atlanta than I have in my entire lifetime anywhere else, and I don’t understand. I wish I did. But it’s tiring, feeling perpetually misunderstood, on the defensive, or just overlooked.

I don’t think it’s low self-esteem, because most of the time, I think I’m pretty fricking awesome. I’m just secretly crying because someone else I either liked or respected or genuinely cared about didn’t agree, and I don’t know how to brush things off and move on without being too affected, as most adults seem to know how to do.

However, if people don’t like you often enough and criticise you harshly enough, insecurity is an inevitable consequence. You begin to wonder if all the secret little imperfections you see in yourself are so glaringly obvious to others that people can’t stand you. You wonder what people really say about you behind your back, if the bits and pieces you’ve heard are bad enough.

I was always nice to you, so how can you not like me?”

Inside, there’s a 13-year-old girl who asks that, and can’t come to terms with the idea that someone people just genuinely dislike the kind of human being you are. Being yourself doesn’t always win you friends. Being intelligent and accomplished and empathetic doesn’t always make you likeable. If you’re a woman, sometimes being yourself is the fastest way to make enemies, either because the men around you want to sleep with you or they don’t, and the women around you are either threatened or disdainful of the lack of positive qualities you bring to the table.

It’s not fair, but it’s how it is. Yet, it doesn’t hurt any less when you’re the type of person who truly invests in building real friendships and chooses them carefully, or meets someone to whom you’re genuinely attracted once a year, and those things aren’t always treated as the gift they are

If I share myself with someone, on whatever level, it’s a gift…because I don’t take the walls down for just anyone. When I do, those friendships and relationships often become connections that last a lifetime, but when others find them disposable or not that significant, it affects me more than it should. It’s a reminder of why I am so distrustful, so reticent to really bond with others.

I wish that, not just in regards to my own experience but in general, people saw what others bring into their lives as the gift it is.

Why don’t people like me?

I won’t ever know, I suppose. I know I like me, most of the time, though probably no more or less than anyone else. I know I am often unfairly judged, misunderstood, or fit into someone’s life as the “inspiring manic pixie” character who is tossed aside when someone else finally becomes who they wanted to be and found what they were really looking for. It’s hard to be the person who is hurt in all of those situations.

I can only be glad that those who do support me, love me, adore me, maintain infatuations with me, want to be my friend, go out of their way to hang out and call and write and visit, and honestly are happier for having me in their lives feel the way they do. I may never understand why people react so strongly to my personality, either positively or negatively, but I do know I have more enduring friendships and relationships than most. Little is superficial in my universe, and maybe that’s why things are the way they are, because I don’t have much interest in the superficial, the acquaintances, the living life on the surface.

Unfortunately, sometimes, I think I’m in the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong mindset for that.

Perhaps that, more than anything else, is why people don’t like me.