Being “Different”

My high school drama teacher (at one time the sole distributor of life altering wisdom I paid any attention to) said that one of the biggest mistakes most people make is believing they’re the only one who feels/thinks the way they do.  Time and time again I’ve found this to be true… and it’s comforting to take solace in the company of being known, heard, or understood even if it’s just by someone who isn’t in the same room (or maybe someone you don’t even know yet).  Shared experiences and being able to see ourselves in others contributes more toward the goal of world peace than anything else I can think of.

In recent years I’ve become acquainted with the second cousin to this life lesson…  that, another of the biggest mistakes we make is assuming that everyone thinks the way we do.  When we send a card to someone who would love to have lunch with us, they may not be receiving the love we sent.  Instead they’re focusing on the lackthey feel from the non-existent lunch date.  When we have a great plan for the way a project is going to go at work, the person we’re presenting it to (who has the same exact goals) may not see the “greatness” we’ve devised.

I forget this lesson a lot.  Many of us probably do.  The holiday season is a common time for me to be confronted by it again and have an opportunity to circle around it, look at it from all sides, pick it up and toss it around, get to know it better, and start to understand it.  Besides serving as a reminder to not make assumptions about what others need, feel, or think… this phenomena seems to be what creates cultural expectations or societal norms.  It’s the huge space taking energy that leaves little wiggle room for those practicing outside the traditional.

Earlier this week I posted on Facebook about my partner and I exchanging rings.  We had been “string married” for fun at a kid’s birthday party months before and found out we loved wearing our “rings” (so much so that they got rather worn out and nasty by the time we took them off for good).  As an interim solution to meeting the desire for symbolic commitment without wanting to be “engaged” to be “married” (because we simply haven’t decided yet if that’s the path that matches our desires or practical needs) we decided to get silver rings engraved with a quote from a favorite movie.  Photos of two, wide silver bands brandished with “because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible” and their background story accompanied a Facebook “life event” reading “Got Ringed.”

I was expecting a lot of excitement and fawning about how adorable the idea (read: we) is and was surprised instead by a flurry of congratulations.  The reaction felt like we had announced an engagement, which wasn’t the intent.  It was lovely… there’s not much better than your friends and family celebrating your love… but it felt off.  I wondered if I needed to clarify.

It took me back to planning the wedding to my now former husband.  We wanted it to be picnic style.  We didn’t rent chairs.  We asked people to dress casually and prepare to sit on the ground.  There were many questions about it, challenges of it, and lots of prodding/reminding from us that this would not be a typical wedding… still, not a single person arrived in anything less than their Sunday best, expecting a chair.

Somewhere along the way we’ve invested so much in the guarantee of sameness that I fear we’ve begun to rely on it as a way of validating our worth.  Even I, who encourages people of all walks of life to live as their authentic self, got a little down in the dumps and insecure feeling about the modest, intentional Christmas we had while looking at pictures of piles of gifts pouring out from underneath trees.

I have felt different my entire life.  As a child I acted it out on purpose with mismatched socks, bowler hats, and neckties (wow, I was a hipster before it was cool) hoping someone would see and appreciate it.  Then I learned to squash it when that plan backfired, and now I’m back to acting it out again… in a more digestible way.  And encouraging others to do the same.

It can be lonely though…  when I realize that not everyone thinks like me after a long time of forgetting, the first reaction is an old familiar ache.  Being different isn’t easy.  Still, every time I think I’m different, or alone in being different, I find out I’m not.  Thank goodness for that.  May the cycle continue to push and pull on all of us until we’ve stretched into the fullest expressions of ourselves, living lovingly, side by side with our most similar and different neighbors.

Happy New Year!

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