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Aloofness is out, and having emotions is in. If I had easy access to any roofs, I’d shout those words from atop them; instead, I’ll settle for writing this article with as much conviction as a tabloid gossip columnist. I may not be able to cite any hard data or experts in the field, but I’ve sure got a hunch that being cool and distant really lost its edge in a world where, for a while, that was the only option. It’s just so much hotter to be in touch with your feelings.
I understand the appeal of behaving standoffishly, and the allure of standoffish people. It’s all about power or something, right? Withholding validation, doling it out as if there’s a limited supply, praying on our shared desire for things we don’t have. It probably began with some cookie-cutter childhood trauma, and now we unconsciously seek the child/absent parent dynamic between ourselves and our partners, or ourselves and our high school frenemy, and look towards an outside source to affirm our worth. Or maybe it goes back to something even more primal, like something about the leader of the pack having the authority to vote the weakest link off the island… or something.
Whatever the case, we somehow all got it in our heads that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, of naïveté, whereas being a rock of a human indicates strength, knowledge and power. I find it interesting how this preconception influences the social dynamics within any sort of institution populated by young people. Pre-middle school, it’s like our brains aren’t developed enough to make any complex judgements about other people. Conflict is cut-and-dry, and the mean things we say or do are usually rooted in ignorance, not malice. Then sixth grade rolls around, and the nastiness gets a bit more nuanced.
The first time I can remember being pinned as “annoying” was at age eleven. Before this, I’d been admonished a few times for spilling secrets or writing something rude about another kid on a bathroom stall door, but these situations had clear cause and effect. Then it’s like one day my long-time frenemy, Mimi Murray (whose name I still curse to this day), just decided that the essence of my character was inherently obnoxious. Worse yet, she publicly and falsely accused me of being a “stalker”—a word we loved to throw around back in 201o because it cut so much deeper than the word “clingy.”
I transferred to a suburban, Episcopalian K-12 the following year. No shocker, this turned out to be a big mistake, but I had merely been fleeing from Mimi and her posse after a year’s worth of hurtful comments, not to mention an incident in which the plastic intestines of an anatomy doll were hurled at me one day in science class, resulting in a nosebleed and a bruise.
The type of bullying at my new school was a little less school-yard, and involved more whispers and condescension—a sign that our methods of psychological torture were advancing. I remember sitting in Algebra one day at a table with three of the most popular girls in school, Maya, Emma and Olivia. They were goofing off, drawing a map of the classroom where they assigned a label to each table based on who sat there. I snuck a regrettable glance and saw that James and Sam were now “The Obnoxious Duo,” and Ian and Vanessa were “The Quiet Ones.” They had divided our shared table into two, split off a fourth of it just for me and labeled my desert island “Cutie Camel.” The three-fourths that they occupied was labeled “The Queen Bitches.” At age thirteen, I had zero desire to be referred to as neither a cutie nor a camel; what I longed for in that moment was to be considered a Queen Bitch.
As a matter of fact, I continue to hear the call of the Queen Bitches even to this day, although over the years it’s become more like the call of the ‘Supercilious Hot Indie Kids Who Juul in the Commons and Won’t Look Anybody Except Each Other in the Eyes’. If I just started to exclusively wear Carhartt and vintage Patagonia, started to act kind of mysterious and unfriendly and got addicted to nicotine, would they invite me to sit with them? Or maybe their characters are fundamentally cold, and by the grace of God they were united during Welcome Week, then quickly sealed themselves inside the ‘Tomb of the Cool Kids’. And the facade of said-tomb sure looks magnificent (it’s like, Baroque or something), but perhaps the inside is kind of cold, dark and damp, as I’ve heard tombs tend to be.
I know I run the risk of sounding really pro-quirky and pro-snowflake in my closing remarks. For now, I won’t disclose my stance on these particular matters, but I will say that I am indeed pro-emotions and anti-aloofness. I don’t want to keep idolizing people who make me feel sort of bad, and I don’t want to stifle all the joyful emotions I experience each day for the sake of appearing cool, like I know something you don’t, like I’m so troubled and artistically talented and you could never understand. I’m happiest when I wear my heart on my sleeve and when I’m around friends who do the same. Genuine intimacy is fucking cool, and perhaps even edgy in a world that’s constantly trying to scare the capacity to be vulnerable straight out of us.