Lately I’ve been thinking about how primed we all are to not allow ourselves to live sincerely. The joys of this world are veiled by layers of irony and detachment.
It had been awhile since I’d seen any of those bright, gaudy, happy Christmas sweaters. This made me sad. It made some of the older ladies who came into Marshalls looking for them sad. And then the “ugly sweater parties” started. The fact that something so bright and happy (if “uncool”) could only be enjoyed in the context of irony made me sadder still.
We all want so badly to look cool. We all want to have others think that we are worthwhile people– that we are smart, that we are good-looking, that we are impressive. What we want, really, is for nobody to ever dislike us. This is an impossible goal. It can never happen. But knowing that it is impossible, we still act as if it wasn’t; we still live our lives agonizing over an insensitive comment, a cruel rumor, an elitist clique, the fear of showing up to the party in the wrong kind of outfit. Somewhere along the line you lose yourself.
Christmas sweaters are made, traditionally, by family members who sacrificed time to knit something intricate for someone they loved very much. Are the designs often loud? Sure. But we don’t have a problem with loud outfits. Lady Gaga wears outfits several times more loud to major events, and while she is controversial, she is still widely loved.
What separates Christmas sweaters from those ensembles? What separates them from oversized glasses, or purposefully mismatching vintage pieces, or other perfectly acceptable items that are equally as tacky as the Christmas sweater in principle?
Part of it may be due to the fact that of these things, only Christmas sweaters represent a not-far-gone past in which the sweaters were regularly hand-knitted and given as gifts, presents that virtually stood alone in the time and thought that went into the making of them. We’re adults that are still making our parents walk five feet behind us in public.
But this reason is somewhat of a stretch, and I’ve only included it to foreshadow principles that I will bring up later; I think that the main reason for the ostracism of the Christmas sweater is that it has no pretense of being cool. It isn’t fashionable. It is merely an expression of happiness, and being sincerely happy makes you uncool.
Maybe not being happy in private. Maybe not being happy at an alcohol-centered party, where you and everyone else can chalk up your giddiness to a chemical substance you cannot control. But being really happy– singing with friends at a stoplight when strangers can hear you, laughing loudly in a restaurant, being uninhibited in your enjoyment of what life has to offer– that is uncool.
Although I complain about them, holiday-season ugly sweater parties are the most benign of all the manifestations this trend towards detachment takes. It goes beyond subduing one’s natural propensity for joy in front of strangers and acquaintances. The virus of ironic living starts there and creeps down into one’s closest relationships.
Bob Marley said, “Truth is, everyone is gonna hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” But if you don’t let anyone in, no one can hurt you. You will live in that utopia Vonnegut described by saying, “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” Except that nothing will be beautiful.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t ever expect anything from anyone. That way I never get hurt”? I first encountered that statement in “Cut”, a book about teenage girls living in a mental hospital. The character that said it was severely depressed, and had just been stood up yet again by her parents during visiting hours. The fact that the character said this was meant to be a sure sign of her mental illness. But since reading that book at the age of thirteen, I have heard it several times from people who would be considered passably healthy.
Forget all of the “epidemics” that we hear about in the news– forget bird flu, swine flu, and all the things that can kill your bodies. Restricting yourself from feeling emotions will kill you at your very core. You’ll walk around dead your entire life. Don’t think that self-preserving pessimism will save you from disappointment– it won’t. It will sit on your mind at all times. You will never be happy. No one can be happy if they approach life with the idea that nothing will ever go right for them. Never mind the fact that shutting yourself off from the possibility of getting hurt will mean that you also won’t have the chance to have some happy moments before things falls through. You already know that. You still don’t want to take the risk. I get it. But ask yourself this: Am I happy now?
Words lead to actions, actions validate words, and emotions are all wrapped up in the process. If we take my advice to give up looking cool, to give up thought patterns that keep us from being happy– can we sustain it, if we never show it?
Poets talk a lot about shouting their love from the rooftops, huh? Love interests in romantic films forgo “looking cool” to declare (in a crowded street, a packed room, a sports field, national television) that the person they adore means something to them. But in the context of real life, one can’t even write a Facebook status acknowledging their appreciation of their spouse or significant other without someone writing onomatopoeic gagging noises. They can’t share a short peck on the lips in public without adolescents shouting “get a room.” I’ve heard of eighteen-year-olds who can’t have an arm around a girlfriend in front of their parents.
Is that why people so often make fun of “old poets,” “stupid chick flicks,” and all the rest of the things that are “mushy,” “stupid,” “unrealistic”? Because the concept of love is disgusting to them? Like a child wiping off its cheek after getting a kiss goodbye from his mother, we wipe off the promise of imperfect yet fulfilling love as if it contained cooties. We even wipe off those real-life people who want to give us that imperfect yet fulfilling love.
I’ve seen it. In my friends, the thought process seems to go like this: “I have seen love fail, so it is not sustainable; the love that I have seen fail was supposed to last forever, so love can never last forever; I push people away when they mean enough to me that they can really hurt me; love is not real; people who express love are deluded.”
This manifesto has covered a lot of how this detached modern mindset relates to love and relationships. This is not because the attitude I am speaking of only applies to dating and marriage. I linger on these subjects because love is where this attitude causes the most devastation, and also because love is such a central part of our existence.
Let me give just one reason for this, written especially for my friends who share the same religion as I, or a similar one: does God want us to be in love? Does he want us to get married? Does he want us to have sex with our spouses, an experience that is extremely personal and intimate, both physically and emotionally, in order to form families and increase marital bonds? Obviously. Does marriage spring into our lives out of nowhere, or is the result of emotional and temporal preparation and mature choices… not to mention the way that we go about connecting with others and dating?
There is our basis for believing that romantic love is very important in God’s plan for us. So I will ask you a final question: Is there anything in the gospel, ever, that tells us to close up our hearts and minds to something that God wants us to do? Or are the scriptures packed full of commands to have faith in things that seem unrealistic, to give of yourself even when it means going out of your comfort zone, to trust in your fellow man?
I’m not a self-help author. (That would be awesome.) Maybe I don’t know enough about human nature to offer ways to improve ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. But I don’t want to be a writer who philosophizes and stops short of real-world application; I want to be a writer who uplifts and inspires people. So I’ll try to come up with some suggestions to separate ourselves from this attitude, and start LIVING SINCERELY:
1.) Make the choice to live sincerely. Maybe you don’t fully know what this means yet. Maybe you can’t predict every trial and choice that will come into your life and make it very hard to continue living sincerely. But as with all commitments, once you’ve made the choice to stick with it no matter what, it’s a lot easier to continue despite obstacles.
2.) Of course you should protect yourself. Of course you shouldn’t be emotionally involved with someone who is toxic for you. Of course you shouldn’t tolerate abuse. But you know what? I have known very, very few people who would actually have a problem leaving a relationship that is genuinely hurting them. I know a whole heck of a lot more people that could stand to be a little less afraid of the people who love them. Look around. You’re not in any danger. Not by opening yourself up to love and optimism, that is. The only thing you have to fear is treating your spouse or significant other like they have failed you, when actually you’re just anticipating them failing you.
3.) Just freaking let go already. Enjoy life. People are not judging you. They are way too concerned about what other people are thinking about them. And if someone makes fun of you for dancing a little crazy or laughing a little loudly, ask yourself: what on earth is wrong with their life that your joy offends them? And feel sympathy for them, then forget them entirely.
4.) Sarcasm can be fun, irony can be fun, but don’t let them color your entire life. Don’t live ironically.
5.) Realize how freakin’ awesome your life actually is. Okay, a lot of bad things have happened to you. A lot of bad things are happening to you now. It’s really, really hard to deal with. And no one can tell you that your struggles aren’t valid. But don’t let your struggles define your existence. It would be perfectly understandable for you to let your burdens weigh you down every day of your life. But you don’t want to be understandable. You want to be happy. Your problems have no right to deny you of joy. Don’t let them.
6.) Do you love your partner? Yes? Really? Show them. The movie “Valentine’s Day” may just be a knockoff of “Love, Actually”, but they really had something with the line “Some people feel like love isn’t real unless it’s acknowledged in front of other people.” Unless you’re in some bizarre modern-day “Romeo & Juliet” situation, there is no reason to hide your love from the world. (No, wait, even Romeo and Juliet told the people they could trust; now there is no excuse.) I don’t think I’ve ever met a person in my life who didn’t like the person they loved to compliment them in public. I know a couple that just broke up, and a big part of the deciding factor in ending the relationship is that one of them was free with praise and affection when no one was around, but never uttered a word about it in public.
Growing up, I read a lot. A lot. That’s why I still pronounce a lot of words incorrectly– I read more than I talked. (And I talked PLENTY.) As I grew older and passed through delicate formative stage after delicate formative stage, I always found comfort in those books. They showed me that people were going through the same thing I was. If characters felt the exact same way I felt and thought the same things I thought, then there must surely be real people out there who also feel the same. I was normal.
That’s why I want to be a writer. I want to let people know they are not alone. I want to help them. Other authors did this for me.
After reaching adulthood, I sought even more from books. Having realized what life was like, and the sadness and hardships that people encounter, I wanted to know solutions. I wanted to read inspiring things that would give me insight into how to change my own life. Maybe then I could pass on the happiness that this brings.


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  2. That is a disingenuous comfort, this cynicism. I don’t blame people for adhering to it, they’ve been primed to since childhood, especially adolescence. Some people have genuinely disturbing problems and if they want to live with philosophical pessimism, fine enough, but it’s really no way to go through all of life when there’s nothing to be protected from.

    I don’t live ironically but I do often have a sour face.

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