This post was originally written for The Startup.
Note: I’m aware of the negative connotations of the term ‘red flag’, in this context I’m using it to refer to any aspect of yourself that someone else might consider problematic or a dealbreaker.
A few months ago, I read an agony aunt type column where some poor soul bemoaned that they feared their friends were all going to ostracize them over a non-specific life decision. They faced a choice between ending up alone or changing themselves.
Something that was at first terrifying struck me: the idea of that happening to me didn’t fill me with fear.
I used to think it was my obligation to be as palatable as possible to people I wanted to befriend or date. I’d attempt to contort myself to suit them, changing how I dressed, spoke, acted, what I professed to care about and value.
But when you reach a point in your life where you don’t fear being completely alone, where you don’t feel any sort of compulsion to fill your life with people for the sake of it, that changes. You don’t want everyone to like you. You know your energy for people is limited. You only want to spend it on those who don’t require you to reshape yourself for their benefit.
People disliking or disagreeing with aspects of you is not necessarily a sign you need to change for their sake. It’s usually just a sign that you don’t vibe with each other.
You don’t need to hide your red flags to avoid being rejected. Relationships built on lies and obfuscation and self-distortion aren’t healthy or even genuine. We might as well be upfront about things people might not like, to filter out those who don’t get us. As basic as this sounds, it’s not always easy to resist the urge to do everything possible to be liked.
The point is, the right people will get it.
The right people will completely understand you. The right people won’t even think about judging you. The right people will welcome the unfiltered, uncurated, unmoderated you with open arms.
The hardest part is truly internalising the knowledge that the right people are out there. That you are not abnormally flawed or screwed up. That you are not unworthy of love or friendship or basic decency.
It’s irrelevant that kids at school thought your art was weird or your ex didn’t like how you cut your hair or a friend you’ve known for decades continues telling you to tone it down. Just because some people don’t get it that doesn’t mean no one can or will.
The even harder part is finding the right people. There’s no map for that and sometimes it takes work. But the worst thing to do is to believe they don’t exist.
We all have our tribes, the groups we fit in with and those we don’t. Not fitting into one particular group doesn’t say anything about us. It just means we need to look elsewhere.
Maybe we can hypothesise that school gives us the expectation that we need to fit in with whatever people happen to be around. Except, we get to choose who we willingly spend time with and who we devote our energy to once we’re out.
The notion of finding people who love your flaws is bizarre.
People shouldn’t need to ‘put up with you.’ Or ‘get used to you.’ People shouldn’t begrudgingly ignore anything that is fundamental to who you are.
We don’t get to love people’s flaws. We don’t get to carve people up into little pieces and decide which ones we like and which we don’t or which we’re willing to tolerate. Unless we’re willing to take people as they are, we might as well not bother.
Everyone tells us not to bother trying to change other people. It’s less common to hear not to bother with people who try to change you.
Sure, there are standards. Some behaviour is so (perhaps intentionally) obnoxious or outright antisocial or devoid of self-awareness that other people shouldn’t have to tolerate it. Some things are your problem. For some of us, it takes a lot of work to unlearn unhealthy ways of relating to other people. We make mistakes, we fuck up, we’re cruel.
But let’s assume we’re not talking about that. Let’s assume we’re talking about normal human quirks, idiosyncrasies, variations — humanness, plain and simple. People are messy, emotional, chaotic, emotional.
Again: the right people will get it.