Lisa Marie Basile's What's Not Said column explores topics people feel uncomfortable talking about out loud — things that exist in nuance and areas of shame or misunderstanding.
This post is going to get pretty self-obsessed very quickly, so please be warned. (Although, for the right people — I hope you’ll find some of yourself in this).
I have always felt different — not in the dreamy “I wasn’t made for this life” sort of way, although if you ask me on the wrong kind of day, I might brattily say exactly that. I mean different-different. I mean like there’s me over here, and there’s the rest of you way, way over there, and I can never reach or push past the threshold.
And because of whatever invisible difference this is, you hate me. Or love me.
I have always felt like I’m being punished for feeling different, too. Sometimes this difference can feel like a strength or a vibrant color, but not always.
I can remember, as a child, sitting on a tree stump in my school’s yard, watching everyone play together. I was keenly aware —although clueless as to why — most of the other kids didn’t seem to like me. I see why now: I wasn’t particularly warm, and I liked to keep to myself — same as today, mostly — and I suppose it took the form as some I’m-better-than-you-ness.
I was like my own disease; anything I touched got sick, and even the friends I made ended up deciding they wanted other friends. Friends with more color or voice, friends who were open and outward, kids who didn’t have to work so hard to be social or involved. I just didn’t have the interest or the energy most of the time. And while that sounds like I was a right ass, it was innate to me. I had the soul of someone 60 years my elder, and it must have shown itself right through my floral leggings.
Maybe you’re actually, really, really a nice person who just wants to read poetry and have a meaningful conversation and sit in the sun and then, bam, you’re being called an asshole in a Facebook group you swore was the one place you could be yourself (or some such nonsense).
I was eight. I was content to sit with one friend in my bedroom and silently flip through books or lounge in my tiny turquoise pool or run through the woods behind my house. Why was everyone so perfectly natural and authentic? Why was I stuck behind this scrim of anxiety and disinterest and weirdness? Did I smell like weirdness? Did I look bizarre?
So, I thought for a while that maybe I was hated for being weird. But then that wasn’t true. Fast-forward and life happened: I was social in high school. Later, I reveled in college’s debauchery, and grad school was totally fine. I had “my people,” but this is when I noticed that if “my people” weren’t “my people,” they straight-up hated me.
The enemies poured out, and so did the people who loved me. I was 25 by this point, and I was perplexed.
So, right now, this article smacks of indelible narcissism and self-aggrandized woe. I’m no princess; I’m no celebrity. You don’t give a shit if people like me or not. But I know that it’s something we all think about, regardless, and that’s why I think it’s important to talk about. In this column, I talk about things other people think or say, but not out loud, and certainly not in public.
No one wants to say, “People either love me or hate me” because it sounds ridiculous and arrogant and icky.
But maybe your name solicits ire in circles of colleagues or acquaintances. Or maybe, they love you — even if you haven't done much to deserve it. Or maybe you work really hard to make people like you, and the opposite happens.
Maybe you’re actually, really, really a nice person who just wants to read poetry and have a meaningful conversation and sit in the sun and then, bam, you’re being called an asshole in a Facebook group you swore was the one place you could be yourself (or some such nonsense). But sometimes the selves we are are not the selves other see. Sometimes we mean one thing but are misinterpreted in ways beyond what we could have guessed. (Sometimes, I reckon, we also are actually just truly assholes, though.)
It’s not about playing stupid either. I know when something I’ve done is probably iffy, but I also know that people who’ve never met me don’t like me. I mean, really, really don’t like me. Fuck off, Lisa, they think. I take too many selfies. I’m too opinionated. I’m aggressive. I’m pretending. I’m whatever I am. You fill in the blank.
What are you? What do people think of you? And should it matter?
Is it that people like us are too much of something or another thing — and that society wants everyone to fit nicely into a box of “just-enough?” Are we too full of something that takes a delicate balance to be free from risk? Are we alchemy gone wrong?
Remember when Rosa Lyster brilliantly wrote, “Are You a Round or a Pointy?” I loved it. I’m a round, I’m a round!, I sang out (a round being someone who is chill as hell and doesn’t really care what others thing). But when I wonder about why I’m so polarizing, I think: “Am I secretly pointy as fuck?” Do I care too much?
Do we all care deeply what others think? And is it total bullshit when someone says they don’t? (That’s a story for another time.)
I think it’s a social study of sorts to consider why some people exist on the “everyday” plane while we polarizing folks exist over here — way over here — exist on some other plane where, like a Twilight Zone episode, people consistently worship or hex us. And would it actually be any better if we were so meh that everyone passed by with a bland smile of just-fine-ness?
Maybe it’s sentences like that that make people dislike me. Huh.
So, you, polarizing folks, how does it feel to you? Like an evil twin, this polarity has followed us our whole lives, walking just behind, waiting to piss someone off or make someone fall madly, brightly in love with us. What is it about people who emanate this polarity?
I posed the question to my community, and I got some smart responses.
A friend, Natasha, said she experiences it too: “I have a good mix of friends who fall into the same category, who remind me that when you're candid and fierce, you're going to be loved or hated. Ultimately, I know this is better than being forgotten, but the sting sometimes...that sting…”
Another friend, Adrian, mentioned something else wise: “ I hope if people feel challenged or threatened by a personality, they question why and try to draw further conclusions through inquiry, rather than festering in the immediacy of their discomfort.”
And that’s sort of where this article could easily flip, isn’t it? It must be their problem. But, no.
I think we all have things we tolerate and things we are attracted to. Some people are just born less tolerant or more tolerant, and other people emanate (good or bad things) at a higher frequency. The world is built by a million variables all smacking together at Olympic speed. Pointies and rounds everywhere.
Maybe the best bet is to look inward, listen to why someone makes you uncomfortable, accept why someone may love or hate you, and accept the mystery of it, too — obliging what works and trashing the rest. Because life is long and also short, and so long as you are living authentically and kindly, you’ll get what you give.
And if you’re anything like me, it’ll probably be in spades.