4 Harmless Personality Traits We're All Embarrassed About
Now that we're living in the future, our society is pretty tolerant. Men can wear pink and women can breed pit bulls. Anyone can dress up as a dragon and walk around in public and will probably face only minor harassment. As long as your weird hobbies or personality traits aren't hurting anyone, you can expect to be accepted into humanity's warm arms of acceptance.
And if you're not, you can just set them on fire.
But in truth, it's not always like that. Many completely harmless emotions, preferences, and habits are still taboo in our society, forcing us to keep them firmly undercover, like an infected swastika tattoo. For example ...
Most angry conservative pundits agree that Western society is currently pretty good at opening up about its emotions. Want to express particular feelings about your life, video games, or kittens? Need to confess negative emotions like anxiety or sadness? Go right ahead! Men and women alike can now talk about this stuff in a way that once would have gotten them a lecture about a "stiff upper lip," perhaps followed by a punch literally enforcing one.
But if you want to tell the world you're feeling down because you don't have enough human company? Well, too bad.
Take yours truly, for example: I have moved either between states or countries three times in the last five years. Now, I'm lucky enough to have close friends in the old places I've lived, but every time I've moved to a new town, I haven't known people there, because that's how the laws of physical reality work. And every time this has happened, I've been forced to put on an "I am socially fulfilled" front, even though it literally wouldn't be possible to have friends unless I'd preordered some to arrive with the moving truck. This is because in most situations, admitting to being lonely and friendless is like admitting you keep your mother's teeth on a string around your neck.
And it's not just me. Whenever I go somewhere attempting to meet new people, even if it's an event set up entirely for people who want to make friends, everyone does this pantomime where we act like we're just there for the lulz because we totally already have a lot of friends. They're just all in Canada right now.
Above: My friends, having fun in Canada.
And what's weirder is that according to the statistics, most people have it way worse than me. One 2011 study found that the average number of "close friends" an American could claim was 2.03 (they keep those extra parts in a freezer, I guess), and 4 percent of people in this country reported having no close friends at all. Another study in the UK found a slightly higher proportion of friendless people, about 9 percent of the population, but that's still a shit-ton of people shuffling sadly through life with no one to discuss last night's shitty episode of The Walking Dead with.
"I know. They just argued with each other for 42 minutes. I'm here for you."
The ironically popular state of friendlessness doesn't mean that anyone can talk about it, though. After all, if you admit you're lonely, people might think you have a reason to be lonely, and then they might choose to avoid you, leading to a downward spiral of loneliness that gets so awful, your life ends up like an episode of The Walking Dead. And another thing we can't admit to is ...
Not Wanting to Talk About Sex
Way back in the day, people's sex lives were kept strictly private. This was particularly the case for women. If your husband had two penises or liked dressing up as a Druid priestess in the bedroom, and you didn't know whether that was normal, you most likely kept wondering, because it wasn't something you discussed with other people.
If you did, I imagine you made this face.
Things have changed now. We can talk about Druid penises with friends, work buddies and the store clerks at Rite Aid. But as a society, we also assume that if someone isn't interested in another person's sexual exploits, they must be an oppressed prude who's probably currently saving up for some pearls to clutch.
This is understandable, but it's also dumb. There are a lot of valid reasons for not wanting to hear about another person's sex life. It could be that the person talking is a close friend, and you think of her as a sibling. It could be that you're secretly burning with lust for that person and need to quell the flame that their words have ignited in your loins. It could be that there is a literal flame in your loins, and you urgently need to run away and put it out.
"Just let me finish this story about how Fifty Shades of Grey improved my relationship with your father."
But because of this society-wide, anti-sex hangover, if you don't want to hear about the adventure your buddy had last night involving nipple clamps and a rubber horse mask, then you, at the very least, appear sex-negative. At most, you're perceived as attempting to oppress him. It's like we're still developing the boundary between "I don't approve of your wicked, sinful sex acts" and "your sex acts are not something I particularly want to hear about right now." So we end up with situations where one person is telling her office acquaintances over coffee about how she and her partner have decided to try more butt stuff, despite all the problems they've been having with butt stuff lately, and all of her companions have to sit there and nod like they're desperate for her to go on.
And for some people, it's worse than just dealing with the occasional elderly relative effusing at the dinner table about her boyfriend's new penis pump. Asexuals, people who don't feel any particular sexual attraction to anyone, often complain that when they're not being completely ignored in popular culture, they're being portrayed as either mentally ill or curable with the right dose of science. As a culture, we now accept most forms of consent-based sexual preferences, but we're still not cool with the preference of just not really being interested at all.
Not Liking Spicy Food
According to industry reports, the number of Americans who like spicy food has been going up for years. Dousing your food with hot peppers has even become a form of social competition. Hell, I do it myself. I don't have many talents, but I do have the unusual ability to eat a whole packet of wasabi in one sitting, and someday this might make people love me.
At least it lets me feel something.
But even if you're not trying to out-spice your friends for social approval, you probably agree that the bland, white-bread, "tip-a-can-of-Campbell's-soup-over-some-plain-noodles-and-call-it-dinner" style of eating is the opposite of trendy right now. It's so untrendy that even hipsters don't do it. The hippest hipster in town might raid his grandparents' house for frayed suspenders and listen to ska music from 1986, but would he Instagram himself eating American cheese on Wonder Bread for dinner? No, that's just beyond the pale.
And yet there are plenty of legitimate reasons to avoid spicy food. Perhaps it doesn't agree with your stomach. Perhaps you don't like the heat of a thousand blazing suns spreading through your head cavities. Perhaps you prefer to get your culinary excitement from seeing how many marshmallows you can fit into a microwave at one time. I don't know, I'm not judging. But it doesn't matter, because if you prefer not to eat spicy, congratulations, you're a food pariah. You'll be hanging out with your friends, and they'll want to order Thai, and you'll be like "I don't like spicy food," and the host will go to the pantry and very slowly get a can of Campbell's soup and silently heat it up while staring at you right in the eyes.
"Mmm, smells like old people farts. Thanks, shitweed."
Depending on your race, you'll probably also get a bunch of jokes about how you're a typical white person, or how you're really a white person on the inside, because only white people can't handle hot food. This is because the Spicy Food Enforcers who make these jokes are apparently unaware that the last white person who couldn't deal with spicy food for cultural reasons died of old age in 1983, and that most of the young people indulging in pointless Scoville-scale one-upping are so lily-white that the coughed-up flecks of ghost peppers stand out against their pasty cheek-skin like blood on a field of snow.
But ethnic stereotypes from 1977 are still apparently okay, as long as we're judging people with different taste preferences than our own. If we can tolerate vegans mournfully eyeing our plates of bacon while doodling pictures of baby piggies on their napkins, we should learn to be okay with the guy that just feels like eating mac and cheese for dinner. And speaking of dietary habits, another thing we just can't tolerate is ...
People in today's society enjoy social activities that our ancestors would never have dreamed of. If you tell people you spent last Saturday night at a gay bar, that's cool with everyone. Even if you tell people that it was a gay bar for people who enjoy The Walking Dead, most people will still be on board. But if you were at that gay bar and you weren't drinking? That's getting kind of weird, dude. Any long-term non-drinker will tell you that informing people of one's teetotaling habits in a bar is often received as well as a yarmulke at an ISIS party. After all, you're in a bar. Why else would anyone go to a bar if not to drink? To talk to other people? Ha!
"I'm just here for that weird moldy smell that's coming from the sink."
I think non-drinkers get this reaction because they make the people around them feel guilty. Your average drinker is out somewhere to relax and intoxicate himself, and then all of a sudden there's a non-drinker in his face, gearing up (he assumes) to silently judge his deteriorating drunken antics with a non-drunk, terrifyingly clear brain. There's a good chance that this drinker had already started imbibing when his friend declined a drink, which means his inhibitions are lowered, and the little angel on his shoulder that usually slams his jaw closed when he's about to say something rude has gone off to get a gin and tonic. So instead of simply saying "Oh" and changing the subject to how much he hates The Walking Dead like a normal person, he'll instead try to push alcohol on the non-drinker like the bad guy in a high school PSA.
"It's called 'beer.' All the cool kids are doing it."
And it's not like the non-drinker can always just explain their reasons for not consuming alcohol. Not everyone wants to talk about personal issues with people they don't know that well, especially if they involve something serious like a history of addiction or a medical problem. Talking about that stuff is difficult at the best of times, and it's a billion times more so when you're surrounded by uninhibited drunk people. Non-drinkers have not only been cursed with a preference that attracts the opinions of insecure assholes, and they've been cursed with a preference that almost exclusively comes up in the environment most conducive to those people being assholes. It's enough to drive you to ... glare really hard at people over your glass of diet soda, I guess.
For more from C. Coville, check out 5 Internet Pitfalls Faced by the Socially Awkward and 5 Awesome Things With Inexplicably Bad Reputations.
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