Wasting my time wanting to be liked: a rumination on insecurity

March 31, 2015

By Penelope Loves Lists Founder Meredith Monday Schwartz

Periodically, I get into these weird obsessive jags. They can be about a topic (am I doing a good enough job as a mom?) or a physical symptom (is one arm longer than my other?), or a food (brussels sprouts every day for a month) or a person. This time, it was the latter.

I started thinking about a person I’d met a while ago and with whom I connected immediately. I was excited because, frankly, it’s not always easy for me to make new friends. I like this person a lot and we’d been talking frequently for a while. Then, I noticed I wasn’t hearing from her quite as much. Then, not at all. I’d reached out, but hadn’t heard back.

Putting my big girl pants on, I thought “Well, she’s busy, I’m busy, who knows what’s going on in her life? I’m sure it has nothing to do with me.” Then, the big girl pants started to come off a bit and I started thinking “Maybe she’s mad at me. But why? What did I do? Or not do?” Obsess, obsess.

Then, it devolved into full-on, Level 10 friendship insecurity. And that’s an ugly stage. I thought “I was wrong. There was no connection at all. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me.” Yeah. Ugly.

And, all the while, the non-8-year-old part of me is sitting back being flat out embarrassed by this mess. Thinking “You’re a successful business woman with a wonderful husband and several smarty-pants kids and a great family and tons of supportive friends and a fun blog and what’s your deal, Mrs.?” (My non-8-year-old self sounds suspiciously like Sharon Osbourne.)

It’s not as if I don’t already know the selfish and damaging nature of being an Over-achiever People Pleaser who always needs everyone to like her. I do. (By the way, I loved Lisa’s post on that issue.) Through this entire thing, I was absolutely aware of the insane irrationality of my thinking.

Obsess, obsess. Nothing life-changing, just low-level churning. Obsess, obsess.

Then, one day out of the blue. I get a voicemail from her. It’s a long message saying she’s just calling because she misses me. She’s thinking of me and loves me and just wanted me to know I am important to her and she’s so glad she met me and when can we get together?


All that wasted low-level mental energy. Spent. Gone. Never getting that back.

Double oy.

And you know the absolute kicker to all this? I’d like to believe that, having learned this salient lesson, having even freaking BLOGGED ABOUT IT, that this won’t happen again. That next time, I’ll not waste a moment thinking negative thoughts. That I’ll just assume everyone loves me all the time.

Won’t happen. Ugh. Sometimes I annoy the heck out of myself.

Does anyone else do this?


Originally posted in June 2010, but still so eerily accurate even today. So much for personal growth. – MMS


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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly June 16, 2010 at 9:49 am

It’s amazing how often we react to something that is an illusion — that hasn’t even happened, that is happening in our head and not in real life. I have a bunch of those Louise Hay “Wisdom Cards” and they all have cute little mantras on them and one that has stuck with me for a while says something like, “I react to what’s happening now, not what I perceive to be happening. What I perceive to be happening is a figment of my imagination. How I react in the moment is my creation.” It appeases my inner control freak, and reminds me not to be so insecure. win-win. (Not that I am always so naturally meditative. I spend a good time in my head hand-wringing over non-existant things myself! But I do find cheezy mantras helpful, even if I get made fun of incessantly!)

Megan June 16, 2010 at 10:37 am

I SO feel this entry! I do this all the time.
My worst fault is that I do this self-questioning obsessiveness about approval from my bosses! They are men. You know – men’s men kind of guys. They don’t do positive reinforcement. They don’t do “atta girls”. So I start to read WAY too much into every look, joke, silence or communication. It drives my husband nuts! He’s always telling me not to let my self confidence be controlled by guys who don’t deserve it!
Yeah – tell that to my inner Penelope!

Amanda @ Serenity Now June 16, 2010 at 10:43 am

I have so been there are done that. It’s just plain hard for most moms to find friends, period, regardless of your personality type. So it’s tough when you feel excluded….

Jody June 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Thanks to Holly, Megan, and Amanda. Plus Meredith too who shared Annie’s blog. Wow, there was a lot of pregnant ideas here. I could relate to many things, even though my VERY eccentric mother caused me to have a tough skin about pleasing people. (Wild and crazy family in a small conservative town. I sorta figured out quickly that you can’t be all things to all people.) I suffer from the opposite Penelope compulsion; I like relationships tidy and above-board, so I confront when I should just …let it go.
Thought provoking.

Mary June 16, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I have experienced this in EXACTNESS, and recently as well. My poor husband, who is not a Penelope at all (what is a guy Penelope called anyways?), sometimes just has to shake his head at another one of my “conspiracy theories” that one of my friends is mad at me or just doesn’t like me anymore. If people really knew how obsessed I can get over these matters, I don’t think anyone would be my friend! Ha ha!

Stacy June 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I loved this post. It so reminds me of me. I too get stuck on things and can’t get enough- like foods that I’ll eat for a month and then not for five years! I also get super insecure if I don’t hear from my friends. I have some close friends that I’ve had forever because I also don’t make friends easily. But some days I go crazy thinking oh I haven’t heard from them what did I do? Why don’t they like me and it ends up being nothing, they are busy. I think sometime we overplanners and list makers make more of a point to keep in touch, even if just a short email, and some people just don’t do that, they aren’t schedulers and for us planners, well there creeps the insecurity. Thanks for sharing it’s nice to know that I’m not alone with this.

cate June 16, 2010 at 8:13 pm

I totally hear you! Only, I never get the voicemail message, or response to snail mail, text, email or any other form of reaching out I take… and I STILL persist in not getting the message and build up consipracy theories about what a terrible person I must be…

Lyndsay June 16, 2010 at 9:43 pm

It’s such a shame that the common-sense part of our brain seems to shut down when we worry. For all the sense it makes to reassure yourself that everything’s okay, part of having an imagination is being able to imagine the worst! You are adorable and everyone does love you, even more so for writing such an honest and relate-able post. Thankyou.

Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF June 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Oh Meredith, how i can relate. I wonder if she was sitting around wondering why the messages from you had stopped.. why you hadn’t called.. all the while you are waiting for her. This happened with me recently. A friend I thought was total BFF material disappeared and stopped returning my emails . I like to think it’s something going on in her life, not me, but I can’t help but wonder..

Your obsession with being liked (something I have too, very muchso) reminds me of The Office, when Pam says she needs everyone to like her. “I even think Al-Queda would like me if they got to know me….”

lou June 17, 2010 at 2:56 am

hm. i can totally understand your reaction but on the other hand – i went thru a similar situation and FAILED. i reached out and NOTHING came back. it’s still very ugly and it still bothers me.
we actually work together, became friends, were inseparable, even went on a brazil trip together. the thing was that i was the one who kept that friendship going. called, arranged dates… one day i stopped doing all these things, didn’t call anymore, didn’t pass by her office… maybe just to see what will happen. i felt that i was giving too much and she NEVER even asked why i reacted like that. during a party we came to talking and it was great as if nothing ever happened. i reconnected, i invited her to my new home, we had a great evening. after that day – nothing happened from her side. even though she said she missed me and she wanted us to be good friends again she never even lift a finger to make that happen again. nothing. no call. no sms. no email. nada.
there were times when i thought i did something wrong. now i’m at that point where i know i did my best but that “friendship” wasn’t meant to be. still it really bothers me because i can’t understand how we even got in this stupid situation. i know now a friendship can’t survive if there’s only one person participating. that was my lesson. i blamed myself long enough. i’m mad. really mad. and it annoys me that it annoys me so much. some days i wish she would call and everything would be great and girly again.
yeah.. sometimes negatives thoughts become verified. i’m glad yours didn’t and that your friend reconnected with you saying such nice things.

Maureen Thomson June 17, 2010 at 8:10 am

Don’t be embarrassed! Clearly, this happens to most of us all too often (if you doubt me–just read the comments to this post.) If it’s any consolation, obsession and insecurity does seem to reduce a bit with age (I’m in my early 50s and I’d say my percentage of fretting has cut back about 50% since my 30′s).

I’m a firm believer that lessons (and maybe even good things) can come from each experience in our lives so generally if you poke around in your psyche long enough after the obsessive incident has passed, you can either glean a nugget of wisdom from it or at the very least see how you’ll handle it differently the next time.

In the meantime, isn’t it nice to know you’re not alone?

Shannon S June 17, 2010 at 9:39 am

I loved your post today. I hate to fuel your insecurity, but sadly when tried to put on the big girl panties lately, and tried to assume the best. I learned the hard way that I was right – which now just makes my insecurites even GREATER and harder to deal with!

Kacey June 17, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I’ve so been there. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my crazy worrying! It is just so difficult to find friends now that we’re all grown up, so when we do find them we want to hold on tight!


Cheri McLane June 18, 2010 at 3:01 am

Hi Penelope,
I love your site, love your list and I especially love your summer reading program ideas. I found your site via Reading Rockets, which lead me to Reading is Fundemental site, then to yours. I have 3 children, who all love to read… but day one of vacation and they are sacked out watching tv and trying to get to the next level on video games. I have a special needs daughter and she was the only one still motivated – she just graduated from Kindergarten and enjoys the online reading program HeadSprout (she needs a multi-sensory approach and this program lets her be as independant as she can.) I’m printing out my calendar, marking trips to the library, and getting organized today. Thanks for the tips on how to add some excitement into summer reading.


Annie Mueller @ Sister Wisdom June 18, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Meredith, I just want to say that I LIKE YOU. so even if ms-won’t-return-a-phone-call has issues with knowing a great gal when she meets one, the rest of us don’t.
I’d also like to weigh in here kind of from the opposite side of the table, as in, being the one who doesn’t call, respond, etc. While I have some repressed penelope tendencies (i do), I am not a full-blown penelope. (gasp oh please love me anyway.) This means I lose people’s numbers frequently, forget to call, forget to write, think i called because i dreamt about a conversation but it didn’t happen in real life, &c. you get the idea. From my side of the table, sometimes – many times – I need the Penelopes in my life to remind me – LOUDLY – to get my act together and be a friend, hold up my end.

Lisa K June 19, 2010 at 6:33 am

Thanks for this post, Meredith. You have a remarkable ability to write this practical, wonderful blog about how to keep things together… and yet still write about the messiness with warmth, humor, and vulnerability. As everyone else here has said, I could really relate to this post. I am currently on one side of an 18-year friendship that is breaking down because of this sort of thing. As Lou said, they don’t always “call back”, or whatever it is in the freindship that we are asking for. Trying really hard to keep my big girl pants on, but they keep slipping down to my ankles! It’s nice to be reminded by everyone here that I’m not alone.

Meredith Meredith June 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Thanks for this wisdom, Annie. This perspective from someone on the other side of things is really, really useful.

Kimberly June 19, 2010 at 3:18 pm

{sigh} I am sooo so bad about things like this. If I send off an email (whether it’s important or not) and I don’t hear back from someone by the end of the day – I get irked. If I call and don’t get a call back, like STAT, I get my panties in a bunch. And DO NOT get me started on folks who I see FBing and Tweeting all the live long day and yet can’t bother to get back to me?? Grumble grumble. I’m not big on the “I’ve been so busy…” response I get all too often. I know, KNOW, that everyone has a minute to stop and say hello be it a phone call or a quick text. Clearly, I have issues on this subject ;)

No. 17 Cherry Tree Lane June 22, 2010 at 8:43 am

In this same place.
Right now.

tawnya June 23, 2010 at 1:35 pm

This is SO my life. I hate it. I try so hard to get better!

Kristine September 11, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Fabulous post! I too struggle with this same issue. Difficult to make friends. Most of my friends are not local. And I can so easily fall into the pity party that happens when you have no social life. Glad to know it all worked out.

Rachel February 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

Lol, idk that there isn’t one person out there (some may not be willing to admit it) that hasn’t went thru this same “rimro”! It is nice to hear the way others process it! ;) I have a quirky personality, and wonder how people take me all the time.

Cindy March 31, 2015 at 10:16 am

OMG – we’re so alike it’s scary! In fact, this post popped up when I was feeling EXACTLY like that!

Meredith Meredith March 31, 2015 at 11:05 am

@Cindy: exactly! I re-read this post and was shocked how totally true it still is. I still struggle with this issue.

Lisa March 31, 2015 at 1:31 pm

I think I go through this spin (in varying degrees) on a daily basis. Sometimes its a friend, sometimes its a family member, hell, I wouldn’t even put it past me to spin like this around my dog’s affection. I am so thankful that I’m not the only one!

Anna April 1, 2015 at 2:40 am

I can relate. It’s hard to be logical all the time. :)

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