Updated: Feb 1, 2021
I was a teenager in the nineties, on the tail end of Generation X. You know that thing people do where they “like” or watch things ironically? We kind of invented that. We didn’t invent the eye roll but we certainly perfected it. In some ways, poking fun of things can be fun and freeing, but in others, it can be limiting. When we get too used to it, it can become scary to actually admit that we like something. We may find that we are not truthful about what we like, as admitting that something means something to us, we can make ourselves vulnerable to ridicule or disappointment.
Before hitting teenagehood in the nineties, I was a child in the 80s. I liked school and did well at it. I didn’t care about clothing and wore whatever hand-me-downs came my way. I didn’t care about music and only knew about whatever music my parents would play around the house, which was definitely not the “cool” music of the 80s. Needless to say, I wasn't very popular. I was mostly OK with this, but it did get lonely at times.
As I moved from childhood to teenagehood, I gradually learned ways of fitting in. While I still worked like mad at school, I stopped putting up my hand in class. I started to buy some of the “right” clothes and listen to the “right” music. If I did get caught out, wearing the wrong thing or listening to the wrong music, the irony so popular in the 90s saved me: I didn’t really like this or that. I was just being ironic. While this makes me sound like a fraud, I don’t think I engaged in any more secrecy than the average teenager. Most of us probably presented ourselves in ways that weren’t truly “us” in order to fit in or at least not stand out. Fortunately, I don’t think I ever truly lost myself. I just didn’t show certain parts of me that I was afraid would not be socially acceptable.
As I got older and made real friends, I got more comfortable with being truthful about who I am. However, at 45 years old, I still find myself reluctant to let certain people in on certain "likes." If someone criticizes something you like, it can feel like you are being criticized, like your association with that thing they deem worthless or unsophisticated makes you worthless or unsophisticated. While it may not be worth it to open up certain parts of ourselves to people we don't feel safe with, we cannot allow fear of judgment to determine our tastes. If we let others dictate what we listen to, what we read, what we watch, what we eat, we are closing ourselves off from things that can bring us joy.
I see my youngest son protecting himself by not sharing the music he likes. My older son only likes very obscure electronic music. My younger son likes some of the pop music on the radio but he will only listen to it on his headphones. He is afraid that if my older son hears him listening to it, he will tease him. This makes me sad. I try to talk to my older son about being supportive and try to tell my younger son that he should like what he likes, enjoy what he enjoys, despite what anyone else may say, but to no avail.
This subject puts me in mind of the first few lines of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”: “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Imagine what that would be like, if we let ourselves love what we love, openly, unironically, unapologetically. I think it would make for a much more interesting, more joyful world.
Take a moment to ask yourself what you really love, not what you feel you should love, but what you really love. If you had a full day to yourself, no one asking what you were up to, what would you do, read, watch, eat?