By: Meadhbh Park
It’s been three years, but I still remember the day that my first love, the person who knew me better than anyone ever did until then, turned to me and said
‘Why do you have to be so different to everyone else?’
It hurt me more than I could say, because until then, I was like every other 21 years old, just trying to fit in a world that was confusing and at times overwhelming. The worst part wasn’t that he said it, but that I took it as a sign that even though I was with him, I was still too weird and would always be intrinsically alone. He wasn’t the first person to say that I was different, others had jokingly commented on my personality as being ‘quirky’ or ‘a breath of fresh air’ along with other polite idioms that hadn’t hurt my feelings as much.
The irony of the situation when my then-boyfriend asked me this, was that we were at a hippy party where people were sitting in trees and around drum circles; surely this was a place where all judgments had subsided in preference for true individuality? But I still couldn’t feel free. I still had to fit into the crowd. I still had to try and remember the names of people I had met only once or be a part of conversations about topics I didn’t truly understand and laugh at jokes I didn’t find funny. I had to pretend I was ‘cool’ and not at all anxious or nervous being around so many new people at once. I was afraid to show my excitement over the little tea lights shaped like butterflies and I was afraid to show my lack of interest in certain genres of music. I was afraid to stand out in an environment that appeared to encourage standing out. But I didn’t want to stand out, I wanted to fit in. I wanted to know what it felt like to not be on the outside looking in, to not be ‘that quirky, innocent looking girl’ and to be a ‘cool’ girl instead. I wanted to be able to speak and laugh and have other people accept and agree with me. I didn’t want to be shy and hesitant, unsure of what I should say or do and feeling insecure about whether I wore the right clothes this time so I could look more like the other girls there.
This situation happened consistently throughout my early twenties. I was involved with a boyfriend who loved parties and festivals and I was interested in these events too, just as much as he was, however, while he seemed to somehow just know what to say and how to act seemingly all of the time, I found myself struggling with just trying to carry a conversation. My whole enjoyment of these events became based on whether or not I could get by without being ‘found out’ for being different. I suppressed my individuality, I learned how to fake interest in things I couldn’t care less about and surpress my interest in things that I did. Every now and then, I would come across someone at one of these parties who seemed to understand me and in those moments of connection, I felt the most amount of joy. Finally, someone who realises that this DJ doesn’t know what they’re doing.
I understand now that at times, it’s as if I speak another language to those around me and that it takes a little time to get to know the real me. I’m essentially not an open book. The truth is that we all see the world slightly differently and we’re all also narrators of our own story. The feelings and colours of each of our stories differ slightly to each other as we perceive reality slightly differently from each other, we are simply not carbon copies of one another. In this world, being yourself and being authentic is one of the most sought after traits and the media uses this as a selling factor in marketing. However, the media also communicates it in a fashion that is still essentially conformative; it’s this idea that if you pierce your nose and dye your hair blue then you are alternative and cool, but if you ask people what their favourite animal is or dance in a different way to everyone else or do anything that isn’t seen as usual or predictable, then you’re just ‘weird’.
As I grew older, I realised that it was a lot easier to just be myself than to be someone else. The reason being is that if you are pretending, even slightly, to be someone you’re not, you end up missing the people who you would befriend on a meaningful level and miss true connection. As I became more of myself, I noticed something else; all of the people who I would have in the past tried to emulate slightly, seemed to be more interested and respectful of me. Being yourself is hard at first, because we fear rejection so much. Even the smallest hint of feeling judged in the past upset me deeply, but now I’ve learned how to dismiss and laugh it off. I’ve finally learned how to be confident enough to dance in my own way.
‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.’ -Nietzsche