She could see she was becoming a thoroughly unlikable person.
I know what that feels like.
On the surface (you can read the whole thing, all 300+ words of it, online and find out for yourself), this is self-explanatory: It’s true we can get away with more at 20 than we can at 40. Some of that is for good reason: we’re supposed to learn something with experience, and behavior that’s received as “cute” when one is young (“I did the same thing when I was your age” and “Just wait ’til she gets a little older, she’ll change her tune”) has an expiration date. That was the primary impetus behind my decision to leave home at 18: I knew I wasn’t prepared for the world, I knew that living at home was not going to prepare me, and I wanted to get all my mistakes out of the way while they’d still be forgivable. That still numbers among the five best decisions I’ve ever made in my life (the five worst decisions are, however, a lot more interesting).
The other side is implied here as well. Maybe as we get older – get some mileage on us, so to speak – we have a tendency to tire of the bullshit, of the make-nice, and start to gain the confidence to value our own view of the world, as opposed to that of others. We stop taking advice and start giving it, answer more questions than we ask, insist more than we wonder. We start to feel like we’ve earned the right, through hard experience. Assertiveness, particularly when exercised by women, can be seen as unlikeability, and I think the line for women is drawn differently than it is for men. And of course one can move beyond assertiveness, first into judgmental dogmatism, then into aggression.
I’ve always wondered if those who proudly frame their unlikeability in terms of confidence, who describe rudeness as honesty, are just unable or unwilling to learn or use the social skills necessary to walk the line between obsequiosity and offense, to determine which is appropriate (as they both are in different circumstances). As someone whose social skills frequently falter, I can sympathize, but own up to it – don’t claim it’s an asset. The story is, after all, titled “Likeable” rather than “Unlikeable” – is that an assertion? A hope? A contrast – or an expectation?
But keep in mind: this is a fiction piece, not an essay. It’s a character speaking – what if the character is speaking, not as a representation of a person, but as an actual self-aware character? An unlikeable character who, by page 43, finds herself put away on a shelf in favor of more likeable characters?
Roxane Gay had a great article on Buzzfeed about “the importance of unlikeable female protagonists.” I see no reason why a fictional character, male or female, must be likeable; I don’t think in terms of likeability as much as I do of how interested I am in what the character is doing, and those are different things.
I think I’m reaching, because otherwise, in spite of my appreciation for Unferth, I would have little to say about this piece. It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s that I’m struggling to find anything unique about it, a reason it’s been selected. Does that make me unlikeable?