Now just to preface, I was not a popular kid in school. I went to a large public school, graduating with over 500 kids, and found it very easy to float around in different groups and get by with a few friends. In fact, most of the time it felt like I was a bit invisible, just a passing face in the halls. When I was in eighth grade, we had our first school dance. I remember getting ready with the help of my older sister and wearing one of her old homecoming dresses (enjoy the quality photo below). As I was dancing and hanging out with friends, I realized I did not know hardly any of the songs that were playing, but my friends seemed to know all of them. Then, Cupid Shuffle came on and everyone started doing the same dance moves, everyone but me that is. I left that dance feeling embarrassed and disconnected from my friends. When I came home, I was upset and blamed my mom for not playing enough pop music at home. I am sure she told me that I should not care about what my friends thought and that I should not listen to that kind of music just because my friends do. Was she right? Yes, of course, but that did not change the fact that I was about to go listen to all the pop songs that were just played at the dance.
Too many times growing up an adult would tell me that I should not care about fitting in and being popular. While I knew they were right and were coming from a good place, it really was not helpful advice. At some point, all of us have this strong desire to be liked, to be popular, and to fit in. Whether you change the type of music you listen to, the clothes you wear, or what you are watching, we all try to fit in. Why is this? Why do we care so much about being popular and being liked by others?
First, we know the Bible says that we were created for relationship with God and with others.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
The desire to be like others, to be liked by others, and to be in relationship with others comes from the likeness of God. God created us in his image and God wants us to know Him and to be like Him. In Jeremiah 24:7 we can even see Jesus telling us that he gave us a heart to know Him and be in relationship with Him. God also said it is not good for us to be alone. When God created Eve it was so that Adam would not be alone and would have another person to be in relationship with (Genesis 2). We care about being in relationships with others simply because God created us that way.
Not only does the Bible says it’s not good for us to be alone, but science says the same thing. When someone is socially isolated, they will experience greater levels of stress, higher blood pressure, have a harder time sleeping and be at a 50% increased risk of death. That is why not only does God tell us to be in relationship, but he designed our bodies to encourage us to be in relationship too. Around the age of 12, the brain starts to increase the production of 2 different chemicals called oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone and promotes a need to connect and bond with other people. Dopamine activates the brain's pleasure center. Paired together these chemicals link social connections to the feelings of reward. So, every time you make a new friend, get closer to an old friend, or bond with a peer your brain is rewarding you for that. And, not only do these 2 chemicals increase in the brain, but the number of receptors (the things that take up and respond to the chemicals) also increases. These changes make people hyper-focused on creating and staying in relationships with their peers.
The Bible and science show us that we need relationships to survive. We have an innate desire to belong to social groups and have friends. As you grow up and figure out what you like and who you are, there is no question that those things are going to be influenced by the people around you. The desire to feel accepted by those around is you and the fact that you change your appearance and the things you do to match your friends is normal. However, you must always make sure that the changes you’re making and the desire to fit in never overpowers the desire to be in a relationship with God. Are the things you are doing to fit in, in line with your values and faith? Are you hurting others or yourself for the sake of being liked? Do you spend a lot of time worrying about being popular or accepted? Does the desire to fit in feel more important that the desire know God? Ultimately, is what you are doing bringing you closer or further from God?