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I Haven’t Learned Anything.

4 October 2013

When I was a kid, the thing I wanted most in the world was to be popular. I wasn’t. I was a strange kid. Smart, defensive, depressed. And I was tiny. I was in the 3rd percentile of height and weight until I was about 14. Scrawny as a child, I never passed through a fit stage. I went straight from tiny to pudgy. Physically, I still think of myself as short. I’m not short. I’m right about 5’10”. But I feel short. I vacillate between feeling pathetically small and stringy, like I was as a child, and ponderously fat and bloated, the way I was from puberty to 35. As a kid, though, I always used to think: “If I were a bigger guy, I’d be popular.”

I was aware somehow that I had a “big” personality. I take up space. In part that’s because I’m loud. My eardrums ruptured a lot as a child. I needed tubes but never got them. As a result, my eardrums are scarred and I don’t hear very well. So I talk too loud. I try to pay attention to it, but it gets exhausting. My sisters know to remind me: “Dr24, you’re shouting.” Or my older sister will make a pinching motion with her hands to remind me to lower my volume.

But it’s not just that. At the dinner table, when I was a child, I stood up whenever I was talking. I’ve always needed to be heard. Needed people to acknowledge me. I talk loudly because I’m afraid people aren’t listening. I rarely stop to wonder if I have anything worth saying.

And so I was an unpopular child. Unsurprising. I tried to learn to fit in. I found places I fit. But there were never that many people in the groups I fit in with. We weren’t in the middle of the gym at the homecoming dance. The grownups always liked me. I was a good kid. Almost never got in trouble. Always did my homework. Never quite lived up to my potential. Showed up early to school. Sat alone on the playground. I watched the kids playing and I wondered how it worked. I didn’t know the rules to the games. I couldn’t stand anyone knowing that I didn’t how it worked.

As time went on I found a few more groups I fit into. I fell in with the “smart kids” in college. I was the dumbest of my group, by a wide margin, but I basically belonged there. Having a bunch of friends that were smarter than me drove me to work harder to be smart. But I wasn’t as advanced as they were. I was a year (at least) behind in math and physics compared to the full-ride scholarship kids. I ended up making a lot of friends with the freshmen when I was a sophomore.

Alcohol helped me let go of the anxiety and relate to people. I didn’t notice as I began to relate only to people who drank like I did. Then no one drank like I did. One might expect that I didn’t fare so well with romantic relationships. One would be right. When I got sober, I discovered that there were a lot of drunks in AA that I related to pretty well. Shipwreck survivors always find things in common.

Then I found twitter. Finally, finally, here was a group of people that I felt like I fit in to. Where I was a popular kid. But I still have that “big” personality. I still talk too much while feeling isolated. I still need acknowledgement. I’ve tried to run with the popular kids on twitter. But I can’t do it. I’m not smart enough. I’m not cynical enough. My jokes don’t work. I’m not clever. And I’m not willing to be anyone’s punching bag anymore, just to fit in.

Cynicism and meanness are funny. Often. Sarcasm can be an excellent way to connect to people. But too much viciousness becomes a snake eating its own tail, to me. I feel sad at the same time as I feel wounded. I wonder why people are so hurtful to each other. And then I catch myself doing the same thing.

I’ll never be one of the cool kids. I haven’t learned a thing about fitting in. I don’t understand the rules. I just wish I didn’t care. Because I think not caring about fitting in is one of the ways people fit in. But I don’t have that nonchalance. I’m pretty sure I never will. I’ve been told, over and over, that it’s better to have a few good friends than to be popular among many casual acquaintances. And I have my few good friends. It’s time I learned that people who become popular by being cynical and mean aren’t going to accept me when I try to approach them with sincerity. And everyone has the right to decide that I don’t have assets that they value.

It’s time I took to heart my own oft-repeated advice: what other people think of me is none of my business.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 4 October 2013 22:51

    “It’s time I learned that people who become popular by being cynical and mean aren’t going to accept me when I try to approach them with sincerity”

    It’s a good idea and I’ve been trying to remember (yet again) that I shouldn’t care what ppl think about me or rather strive to be popular like you describe. As always though, it’s easier said than done…. I keep reminding myself that “I’m not liking myself better just because other people say they like me” (even though I think that’s the quick fix. You have to like yourself, from bottom up.). Important to remember for me… Especially in times when I end up staring at twitter and Facebook wanting to hang with the cool ones with the entourages….

  2. Syd permalink
    5 October 2013 05:51

    I definitely don’t want to hang with anyone who is mean. Cynical I can take, because I’m a little bit of that myself but the mean part–nope. What’s the point of being around people who cheer for the demise of others? I don’t care about the cool people. I guess I am a bit nonchalant when it comes to people in general. I do have a few close friends and that’s what matters most.

  3. 5 October 2013 08:29

    If its any consolation, I think you are one of the cool kids in cyberspace.

    I dislike any humor that has a person as its object. Therefore, I am not “in” on most humor and I have to live with that

  4. 5 October 2013 13:48

    I know what you mean, on all counts.

    I was also a tiny kid. I was 5’1 an the beginning of my junior year in highschool, and put on 10 inches over the next year. Even though I’m now a bit above average in height, I still think of myself as small.

    The thing that I’ve always wanted, more than anything, was just to fit in, socially. Not even to be popular, but just to not be an outsider.

    It’s not going to happen. I’ve learned to accept that, but not to be happy about it. I’d give so much just to find *somewhere* where I’m not on the outside looking in. It’s hard.

    It’s also a reason why I love twitter so much. On twitter, being a shy, awkward misfit isn’t as much of a barrier as it would be anywhere else.

  5. 5 October 2013 18:39

    This –> “I’ve tried to run with the popular kids on twitter. But I can’t do it. I’m not smart enough. I’m not cynical enough. My jokes don’t work. I’m not clever. And I’m not willing to be anyone’s punching bag anymore, just to fit in.” and this –> ” It’s time I learned that people who become popular by being cynical and mean aren’t going to accept me when I try to approach them with sincerity.”

    I don’t like the “popular kids” on twitter, for the most part. I don’t put myself out into the world for people to point out how stupid I am, cut me down, or make other people laugh at my expense. I don’t put myself out in the world in this way in real life, and I most certainly don’t do it on twitter. I blog and tweet as a means of communication, information gathering, and support – I’m okay with being disagreed with, but I’m not okay with being put down. Because I’m not stupid, unclever, or not cynical enough – and neither are you.

    As far as I’m concerned, the problem here lies not with you, but with the “popular kids” you’re trying to hang out with. Personally, being approached with sincerity is something I value very highly.

  6. 7 October 2013 10:34

    1) You’re *exactly* the popular tweep you seem to dislike so much, and I think suggesting you’re not is one of the ways you’re using to try to obtain that elusive attention.
    2) This must be truly exhausting for you. If people want to hear you, they will. If they don’t want to hear you, then no amount of screaming at them will make a difference. Life would be must more relaxing if you stopped trying to control how people perceive you.

  7. 7 October 2013 20:18

    It seems to me you are probably spending a lot of time in an atmosphere that is making you unhappy. I know your reflexive action is to question or blame yourself, but remember that wonderful meme: “when you feel bad about yourself, first check to make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes.” Is the twitterverse really as magical as you want to believe? Also, I think it’s worth looking at what the above commenter has to say, even though it is pretty harsh.

    I was not popular, either – in fact I was one step short of a pariah. Over the years, I have mostly stopped trying to figure out why. I have a few clues – I’m loud, too, and opinionated, and not physically attractive. Most of the reasons are not things I can change, even if I wanted to. Trying to change myself to be better liked is a losing game; I would rather continue to develop along the lines suggested by my essential nature and count on my family and my two or three really good friends hanging in there with me.

    Worrying about popularity after the age of 25 or so seems to me like a sign that you are not engaged in meaningful work – in other words, there are better things for grownups to spend their time worrying about. You ARE engaged in meaningful work, and how it is received by your peers is important, but how you, personally, are received is not. Perhaps spend a little time meditating on the distinction.

    By the way, I do NOT agree that “what other people think of me is none of my business.” I simply narrow the focus – what the five most important people in my life think of me (or feel about me) is exceedingly important, and I had better pay some attention to them. What a bunch of people I’ve never actually met think? Not what I’m going to hang my self esteem on.

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