Here’s a hint: It’s not them.
If you were lucky this weekend, you missed the New York Times piece which asked the question, “Do Your Friends Actually Like You?”, because it turns out they don’t. And not just the vague, general you, YOU specifically. You the person reading this right now. All the people who you go around casually mentioning as pals? They don’t want to be your friend. They think you’re kind of a joke. If they ever heard you being all, “My friend Kate” or “Oh, Jeff? He’s a friend of mine,” they would roll their eyes to let anyone else around know that it wasn’t true. There are a number of reasons for this that don’t have to do with how badly you suck, but as you have probably suspected during those dark moments in the middle of the night, most of it does indeed have to do with the quantitative and qualitative level of sucking that you do, which is well above average in both cases.
What’s the problem here? Apart from the gold medal you win in sucking every time you compete? There’s the usual story of self-delusion, where our mental equilibrium requires that we think that people like us more than they do (this is especially necessary for someone like you, whose unprecedented ability to suck defies all known physical laws). There’s the way we all see life as a narrative in which we are the protagonist and everyone else is either a help or impediment to our achieving fulfillment or whatever (in your case, you would have to be one of those anti-heroes who are so prevalent in our popular dramas right now, because no narrative could survive having a hero who sucks so bad unless we were given cause to root for them in spite of the sucking). But also, and perhaps most attractively, we can blame the Internet.
“Others point to a misunderstanding of the very notion of friendship in an age when ‘friend’ is used as a verb, and social inclusion and exclusion are as easy as a swipe or a tap on a smartphone screen.”
Sounds about right. Forget about the people you know in real life who can barely stand to be around you (because you suck) and are embarrassed that you claim them as companions; consider all the Internet “friends” you have who are mostly “following” you in the hopes that they can get something out of it, even something as simple as a digitized heart at the bottom of whatever idiot image or jape they have broadcast to an anesthetized world where the serotonin boost to self-esteem is so dependent on trivial and effortless action that almost any apparent emotion is blown out of proportion to its actual value. The Internet is very clearly at fault.
It is hard to believe this, given how badly you suck, but the Internet sucks even worse than you. Now I know there are a number of books out at the moment that are all about how wonderful the Internet is, how it sparks levels of creativity that were untapped in human history until this moment, how it helps bring people together who would never have found each other without it, etc. I don’t want to spend a lot of time relitigating the awfulness of the Internet, so I am not going to go into how much bullshit all of these books are spraying out at us. I will even concede some of the points. For example, the Internet does encourage people to come up with astoundingly creative new methods of harassing, threatening and dehumanizing others. And it is true that the Internet is amazing at allowing affinity groups to make contact with each other and organize in ways that they would not have previously been able — look at what it has done for furries, or ISIS. But what the Internet (which is just a very fancy force multiplier for how terrible people—people like you — are) does best is amp up your ability to believe that all the horrible things about yourself (and there are so very many) are invisible to others, or even assets to your appeal. It helps you disregard the (infinite) number of signs and signals saying that you are not as amusing or attractive as you believe. It allows you to count all those “likes” as likes, which for someone whose life is as lacking in like as yours, may be the only thing keeping you from having the frank and honest conversation with yourself that you are so desperate to avoid. The Internet is your only friend because you have no real friends, and you have no real friends because you suck so bad and only the Internet is so much worse that it will hang out with you without feeling ashamed.
So do your friends actually like you? The question is based on a faulty premise, i.e., that you have real friends in the first place. You don’t. You’re garbage. Your only consolation is that you are surrounded by other pieces of garbage, and the whole fetid pile is baking under the hot sun in the landfill that is the Internet. But if it makes you feel any better I will be your friend. The next time you want to say “my pal Al” to people you go right ahead, I will totally vouch for you. Just don’t tell them we met on the Internet, because that will give the whole game away.