When I was in high school, there was another Jennifer Kim in all of my classes.
She and I are still friends today, but during those painful and awkward years of adolescence, we simply became known as the "nice" (me) one or the "mean" one (her).
I suppose being called the nice one is better than being the "fat" one or the "stupid" one, but being the nice one had its own burdens.
When trying to differentiate between us, classmates would look directly into my eyes and say, "Are you the nice one?"
I would shrug my shoulders, uncertain how to answer. It wasn't that the other Jennifer was particularly mean; she wasn't at all.
It was just that, I was too nice. Think Disney movie nice—to the point where it kind of makes you want to vomit.
As much as I'd like to admit that I was just a naturally delightful and kind person, I was not. In fact, I purposefully sought out to be overly nice and sweet to others.
During high school (and most of life), we just want to be accepted, and we're told that the best way to achieve this is by being nice to other people: give compliments, share your food, buy them gifts, etc.
So that's what I did—all the time. The strange thing was that even though I was doing nice favors for people, I still rarely felt like I was being genuinely accepted by anyone or building deeper friendships. Instead, I felt like I was losing not only my allowance, but also my sense of self.
To me, being the nice one meant being the sycophantic one—devoid of personality or opinions. I found myself agreeing with other people more than offering up my own ideas.
And being too nice meant putting other people's needs and desires before mine. I saw myself bending over backwards for people who wouldn't dream of returning the favor.
Sure, I was always surrounded by people, but it eventually became difficult to be around them, because I felt like I had to constantly be "on" or live up to my "nice" label. Most times, I felt like the people I so desperately wanted to be liked by were the most inane and boring people I'd ever met. And the depressing thing was I was trying to be just like them.
But I was still the nice Jennifer—confined only to adjectives such as: happy, smiling, generous, when truthfully, I didn't feel anything of those things.
Sometimes, I felt jealous of the other Jennifer, who could get away with any kind of behavior, because she wasn't always expected to be nice.
It was during college when I stopped the niceties. The other Jennifer went to a different college and, for the first time, I realized I didn't have to be so painfully nice.
And I wasn't. I wasn't mean, but I stopped going out of my way to do things for people I barely knew. It was hard to make friends at first, because I really wasn't sure who I was—I kept on trying to find a label that fit my personality (funny, smart, pretty, etc.) but none of them seemed right.
I spent most of my freshman year just wandering between groups of half-friends like a nomad trying to find a home.
Ten years later, I still don't have a label to define me. The closest one that comes to mind is: "weird" which is not great, but not terrible.
But, I find that it's still better than being nice.
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