The Korean Vegan

When Someone Doesn't Like You Back, How to Satisfy Cravings, and the Mirage of Perfectionism.

published6 months ago
10 min read

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"Stop caring about what anyone thinks of you."

I heard this advice recently on a TikTok. This is the kind of BS advice that drives me nuts. It sounds cool and irreverent, but it's just unrealistic and impractical. It encourages people to be dishonest with themselves, dismissing genuine emotions in favor of a facade. The truth is--if we all went through life being completely indifferent to other people's opinions and feelings, we'd all be emotionally isolated and stunted. Human beings have evolved to be social creatures, after all, and meaningful connections with other humans requires some level of vulnerability and openness to growth. It isn't about not caring--at all-- whether someone likes or doesn't like you. It's about trying to sift through opinions to identify those that have the potential to be constructive and those that are simply destructive.

When They Don't Like You Back.

A few months ago, I did a short TikTok on "what if they don't like you?"

In my video, I assume the person you're worrying about doesn't like you. Obviously, I don't know whether that girl in chem class truly doesn't like you back. But, I can guarantee you that at some point in life, you will meet someone for whom you hold sincere affection or esteem and that person will not reciprocate. Sometimes it will be because they don't notice you. Other times, it will be because they do notice you, but not in the way you want.

So, what then are you supposed to do when someone you truly respect, admire, and perhaps even love has decided they don't feel the same about you?

Take Inventory of the Totality of the Circumstances.

There's this great phrase in legal jargon: "totality of the circumstances." The idea is, as the phrase suggests, to consider all the available evidence before deriving any conclusion. This is actually tougher than it sounds. As creatures of bias, we all have blind spots. Some facts are more visible than others. Certain pieces of evidence tend to flash and blink like strobe lights while others blend into the background, as our subconscious defaults to our own unique "factory settings." In other words, we might detect snubs where none exist. We might feel coldness where none was intended. This is particularly true as more and more social interactions occur over text messages, emails, and DMs, where the rules of etiquette and social norms continue to evolve with every new emoji.

In short, it's very possible that the person you think "doesn't like you" likes you very much, but:

  • Is very busy at the moment and therefore has not had a chance to reconnect with you
  • Is having an emotionally distressing day, week, or even month, and doesn't have the bandwidth to be social
  • Is really stressed out over something that has nothing to do with you, and taking it out on you because you're a close friend and sometimes we do things like this to close friends (not saying it's excusable, but it happens...)
  • lost their phone or otherwise doesn't have access to the internet (this is unlikely, but it's definitely happened to me!)

Of course, the best way to get to the bottom of this is to ask the person: "Hey, did I do something?" or "Hey, let's be friends!" But, I realize that these types of conversations aren't always feasible in the grown-up world to which we matriculate. In these situations, it sometimes helps to talk with someone you trust, preferably someone who doesn't know or otherwise have any connection to the person in question, so their objectivity remains intact. They may be able to recenter your evaluation of the circumstances, unsaddled with the biases that could possibly be skewing your vision.

No, They Really Don't Like Me Back.

As I said, you will inevitably meet someone who truly doesn't like you. There are several ways to respond to this:

When you don't really know each other:

If the person is someone with whom you don't have a long or deep relationship, it's unlikely you know enough about that person to truly value their opinion of you to make it worth the cost. In this scenario, it probably makes most sense to do as the BS advice suggests: "stop caring." Obviously, that's easier said than done. Think of it this way--if you don't know enough about them to confirm whether or not their opinion of you matters, then they probably don't know enough about you to conclude that your esteem isn't worth having. In other words, the overwhelming majority of people you meet in your life--even if you really like them--don't have the "inside scoop" on you. Therefore, their conclusion about who you are is inevitably premised on incomplete or, in some cases, inaccurate information. Would you be stressing out over someone who believes that the earth is shaped like a cardboard box because all they could see was the horizon? Of course not!

When you are friends (or more than friends):

As I mentioned earlier, the best solution in this situation is to talk directly with the person, if they are willing to do so. But, here are a couple things to keep in mind before having that conversation:

  • Be ready to hear and respect the fact that they don't want to talk about it with you.
  • Be open to hearing things that might make you uncomfortable, so that you aren't instantly defensive and closed off when you do.
  • Be prepared to leave the conversation even if you haven't changed anyone's mind.

Here, I will pass along one thought that I find extremely helpful: if your friend or someone you care about refuses to talk with you about something that has obviously upset them, then they're the ones who are acting without emotional maturity, not you.

If you value their friendship notwithstanding, then give it some time. Hopefully, they will come around. If not, perhaps it's a good time to evaluate whether this person is truly an asset to your life.

But why do I care so much whether they like me?

In my own experience, whenever I start to obsess over whether someone likes me or not, it's because I don't like myself. I noticed this when I was really young--back when I was in kindergarten. One of the girls in class was sharing her gummy snacks with her friends. When I asked her for one, though, she said no. I started to cry and when Teacher asked why I was crying, what I managed to get out through my sobs was very telling: "she doesn't like me!" It wasn't, "Leah shared with everyone else, but not me!" It was, "she doesn't like me!"

Over the years, I have discovered that I not only try my best to be as likable as possible, but that I very rarely dislike anyone myself. I've also learned that if anyone likes me first (for whatever reason), I instantly like them back (platonically or otherwise). I am so grateful that they like me, that they see something worthy and desirable, that I reciprocate without question. In actuality, I depend on their valuation of me, because my own valuation of me is inadequate.

There's a real danger that when someone's opinion of us is bad (or no longer good), we will internalize it because we don't have the necessary foundation to take the implicit criticism at face value. If we are surviving based solely on the good opinion that someone else has of us, then what are we left with if they change or disappear? We'll start to wonder, "maybe there's something wrong with me," "maybe I'm not a good person," or "maybe I was never a good a person." All of a sudden, the "imposter" in "imposter syndrome" may seem inaccurate. Maybe this person who doesn't like you has unmasked you to reveal the truly ugly villain that has fooled everyone else (including yourself).

Instead of focusing on why XYZ person doesn't like you, it's time to shift your attention to why YOU don't like you. You are the only person in the whole wide world with whom you are required to spend the rest of your life. Don't you merit that kind of due diligence? Ask yourself, are there certain things about yourself that you could work on? For me, I know one of the things I don't like about myself is that I have a tendency to get annoyed over small things instead of letting it roll off my shoulders. Another thing I wish I did better? Taking ownership of my mistakes, instead of covering them up with interminable excuses.

But I also know that some of my feelings of unworthiness stem from lies masquerading as truths: that the size of my body deserves a spot in formulating my worth; that my desirability to men in general is indicative of my value; that my intelligence is a function of how many books I've read or my ability to craft witty twitter replies; that success correlates directly to the balance in my bank account and failure is never an option.

You know you better than anyone in the world. You are the FINAL authority on whether you're worthy of being "liked." This is where the hard work becomes so critical--lay, brick by brick, the foundation to your self-worth so that the next time someone doesn't like you, you'll have the emotional fortitude to stand your ground and take the heat or...

Walk away.

Ask Joanne.

Hi Joanne I am currently in the process of going vegan. I’m doing it for health and I must say, I notice a difference. I am 90% of the way there but I still struggle with the odd meat cravings. How do I get over the final hump and eliminate those cravings? --Peter

Dear Peter,

First of all, congratulations on such an extraordinary commitment to your health! 90% is INCREDIBLE and it's so important that you take a minute to acknowledge this and reward yourself to reinforce good habits. Go book a spa treatment; pick up that shirt you've been eyeing; or, grab yourself that awesome vegan cookbook everyone's talking about. ;)

In answer to your question, I have some practical advice:

  • Get really well-versed with sauces. One of my favorite meat dishes growing up was galbi (Korean BBQ). Thus, one of the first things I learned how to make was my Mom's Korean BBQ Sauce (recipe in the aforementioned cookbook). I discovered that slathering that sauce all over a plate of grilled mushrooms and onions was all I needed to make those cravings disappear.
  • Meat cravings are sometimes a sign that your diet requires more protein. Maybe it's time to queue up the grill for some black bean burgers? One of my favorite bloggers, Nisha Vora of Rainbow Plant Life, puts together all these "Recipe Roundups" that I always find so useful. She has one for Tofu, Beans, and Lentils!
  • If you are truly having meat cravings, then I suggest checking out some of the amazing meat alternatives out there. While many of them are still highly processed, the occasional indulgence will not throw you off track if they are still plant-based. The problem with indulging in non-plant based foods is that your brain will cross a Rubicon, of sorts, making it that much harder to cross back (i.e., avoiding meat in the future).

Finally, Peter, part of starting new habits and making commitments--to yourself or other people--is learning to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Anyone who tells you that going plant-based is the silver bullet to all the things that ail you in life (physically or otherwise) is lying to you. The truth is, you may have cravings for non-plant-based or otherwise unhealthy foods for the rest of your life. That's normal. When I first went plant based, all I could think about was fried chicken sandwiches. But every time I had a "craving," I'd imagine what those chickens went through their whole lives just for the 7-minutes of satisfaction I received from one sandwich. In the end, I determined it wasn't worth the tax on my psyche, and chose to ignore the craving and walk right past it.

My point is, Peter, when you make a commitment to yourself--one that is thoughtful and reasonable--you are worth the sacrifices necessary to support that commitment.

Wishing you all the best.



  • GET YOUR TICKETS TO MY BOSTON BOOK SIGNING!! It's official!! My next book event is scheduled for May 17, 2022 with WBUR Events. Secure your spot now as seating is limited!!
  • LA Times Festival of Books! I will be doing a LIVE cooking demonstration on April 23 at USC's campus as part of this awesome food festival. Tickets go on sale on April 17, so keep your eyes peeled for more details soon!
  • CHICAGO HUMANITIES FESTIVAL--I am BEYOND EXCITED to be moderating a chat with THE SIMU LIU on June 2, to discuss his memoir, We Were Dreamers at the Music Box Theater! CHF members can reserve their tickets NOW!

Parting Thoughts...

One of the things I used to say all the time as a practicing lawyer was "You can't win 'em all." It always seemed that on the heels of a big victory--winning an appeal, getting summary judgment, or making partner--bad news would follow. A colleague would leave me a nasty voicemail complaining about something. A judge would issue a scathing opinion against my client. I'd get slapped with a motion to compel with a 2-week deadline for a response brief. You see, no matter how hard you try, or how good you are, you simply can't win them all.

Letting yourself off the hook every once in a while is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of strength. Why? Because perfectionism is really just a manifestation of fear--that a single mistake will reveal to the world that you're not as good as you've led everyone to believe. But if you're comfortable with who you are, how good you are, how worthy you are, then the occasional slip up won't deter you from meeting your goals.

As the workout instructor in my current program often says, "It's not about perfect. It's about progress."

What's your imperfect progress this week?