It’s hard not to notice how much of our generation’s cultural language is based on irony, sarcasm, and a sense of cool detachment. Being too invested in anything — even things that may be considered objectively important — renders you vulnerable. And when communication is so fast and free and reputations are made and destroyed with a few strikes of a keyboard, the last thing you want to be is weak. If you take something too seriously which, to everyone else, is a joke, you will soon find yourself squarely at the punchline. It is easy to understand why wearing a hard shell of ironic indifference is a necessary tool in the fight against being irrelevant or, worse, needy.
And I would be lying if I said I don’t participate. I find it often very easy to put on a sort of persona and write from a perspective of deep sarcasm. It’s easy and the words flow freely from my fingertips if I am not personally invested in what I’m saying, if I find that any kernel of meaning is heavily obscured by at least three layers of being “in on the joke.” We all do it. It makes navigating life, in many ways, much less painful and easier to accept. It gives us a certain sense of community: we “get” it, while others do not. And when you are up against legions of anonymous commenters who can respond in any way they see fit, it is better to keep as many sacred things hidden away as possible — obscured under thick fog of irony.
No one wants to be the person who is made fun of for caring too much about something, who treats in earnest a situation that everyone else considers absurd. Even in personal relationships, feeling too heavily invested while simultaneously understanding that the other person couldn’t be more detached is one of the most profound feelings of embarrassment we can experience. Because it isn’t simply the embarrassment of making a mistake or a poor choice, it’s a shame over the kind of human being you are and how you see the world around you. To be shamed for your sincerity is to be reminded that you are dependent on something which is not dependent on you — that you are, once again, vulnerable.
It is perhaps for this reason that I often feel so profoundly ostracized. I find myself constantly feeling my cheeks flush with the possibility of having entered a conversation where I wasn’t welcome, or expressing a sentiment that is not reciprocated, or putting too much stock in something that others find unimportant. There is a deep cultural premium put on the “cool” of indifference in my generation, and it’s a persona that I doubt I could ever even fake. Because I do care, I care so deeply, and I am fairly certain I’m not alone.
I see nothing wrong in wanting to exuberantly proclaim your affection for people, in wanting to say what you like or find funny or emulate in another human being. I wish that friends could be made faster, without all of the elaborate social dances that platonic relationships seem to demand. I find myself always on the verge of asking how people are and insisting, when they respond with the inevitable “fine,” “No, really, how are you?” Because I want to know. I want to find out, and I want to feel that the connections I form with people are not superficial. Few things make me feel more isolated than the coldness I sense in social networks, the endless information we are provided about one another and the etiquette that prevents us from using said information to actually become closer. We pretend not to know something that someone openly posted on their profile because we wouldn’t want to seem as though we were looking too closely.
There are few things I want more in life than to like and be liked by people — for the right reasons. I don’t want to feign enjoyment of someone’s company because they are socially important, or have someone placate me because I have enough mutual friends to make it necessary. I want to feel as though the love we express to each other (in all its forms, romantic and otherwise) is entirely without irony or pretense. The conversations we engage in seem to me not worth the effort unless they are based in genuine affection and curiosity — and yet I feel that so many of our interactions are utterly devoid of such fundamental emotions.
Even people I know online, people that one might insist I “don’t actually know” never really seem close enough. I often hesitate over the send button of an email or message filled with questions I want to ask about people I’ve come to know from afar and wish I could get to know better. It is endlessly frustrating the kinds of deep connections we can make with one another from behind a computer screen, only to run up against a wall of geographic distance or social propriety that keeps it from blossoming fully. I have fallen in love with countless people only through reading their personal blogs, feeling as if we might understand each other more intimately than many people I see every day. And there seems, to me, nothing wrong with this. Yet there is that irony, that constant need for detachment, that makes me the strange one for feeling this way.
Whenever I read an article or post in which someone tears down another person’s work or opinion, not in sincere anger, but in flippant dismissal — I become profoundly sad. The writer is clearly scoring points on some invisible scoreboard for how above the fray of messy emotion and incisive they are, all at the expense of another person, whose sole crime was often being too earnest and oblivious. There is nothing wrong with disagreement, of course, but the “call-out culture” delivery that seems to take such lip-smacking delight in putting another human being in the shame corner for having felt too strongly about something seems the antithesis of human connection. I don’t mind irony and sarcasm in general — I think they have many poignant applications — but they seem to be replacing so many other human emotions as to become dangerous social crutches.
I don’t care what you like. I don’t care how you feel. I just want to know that it is real, and that it comes from a place of genuine emotion. There is such a frightening coldness to being able to communicate with people so effectively and never feeling as though you exchanged actual thoughts. Yes, I want to be close. Yes, I want people to like each other fundamentally. Yes, I want us to be done with seeming cool or uninvested. And no, it probably won’t all happen overnight. But if I write you out of the blue one day to tell you that I absolutely love your blog and I would really like to buy you a cup of coffee someday to talk about life — don’t say I didn’t warn you.