There’s an alarmingly easy trick for figuring out which of your friends have been mocked about the things they enjoy. There’s hardly any effort involved, and they might even accidentally insult your taste in the process.
Wait for them to mention something they like and immediately call it “terrible.” They’ll tell you they have awful taste in television. They’ll tell you that their cinematic specialty is “bad movies.” They’ll emphasize that they’re in it for childhood nostalgia or to make fun of it or for any reason other than actual, ordinary pleasure. You’ll ask them for recommendations and they’ll hem and haw about the things their walls are covered in, listing more supposed flaws than features. They’ll claim that their tastes are beneath contempt while searching through your collection for something they like.
If we say all the awful things about our little joys, maybe they won’t.
If we tamp down their expectations, maybe they’ll still enjoy it.
If we start with all the reasons they might not enjoy it, maybe they won’t think less of us when they don’t.
If we don’t show how excited we are about the things we enjoy, maybe they won’t think we’re weird for enjoying them.
My generation grew up with the pop-culture specter of “coolness” being synonymous with rarely being seen to visibly enjoy or care about anything, and it hit some of us much harder than others. So, so many of us grew up being repeatedly and regularly told that the things we enjoyed were ridiculous, childish, low-quality, inferior to some other thing, too CGI, too rubbery, too foreign, too girly, too mainstream, too nerdy, too complicated, too weird, all with the implied judgement of and that reflects badly on you. We would take the risk of showing someone a little piece of ourselves, something that made us happy and often meant something more to us, and what we received was derisive laughter and a lesson.
Conceal. Don’t feel. Don’t let them know.
A life like that makes one over-qualify every opinion and dilute every compliment. We never know if the audience is among the multitudes who takes it as a personal offense when something recommended to them turns out not to be their cup of tea, and we hedge. And if we hedge just enough, the instinct goes, maybe they’ll be kind instead of vicious.
The option to just enjoy things has been stolen from us. What should be mere happiness is now wracked with anxiety, turned into a serially repeated referendum about our merits as human beings that we cannot possibly win. And yet we try, endlessly try, because the words we most need to believe are the ones that they would like to deny us:
You are not alone.
Remember that next time you meet someone who is more cagey than usual about their interests.