I turned forty this year. The number has a decidedly permissive flavor to it.
I’ve never really been interested in doing things in a particularly conventional manner, but I’d be lying if I said that others’ opinions haven’t mattered a lot to me at certain points in my life. In the work arena, in particular, there’s always been a sense of wanting to present as a particularly capable person to make up for the fact that A) I will never know everything and I’m aware of that fact and it terrifies me and, B) I have looked twelve since I was twelve, and don’t anticipate looking my age anytime soon.
But something about forty is liberating. Something about forty feels like it’s okay to abandon any of the pretending that might be left in me, and just go ahead and embrace all of the things that I know to be true and okay and normal, according to my own standards; to accept all the things that are true to me and for me.
In the therapy room, discussions about what’s true or right or okay or functional/dysfunctional are commonplace. Many perfectly interesting and wonderful individuals spend hours questioning whether or not their behaviors or feelings are “normal,” because they don’t align with societal norms or expectations.
Here’s a very benign example of this: Couples choosing to sleep in different beds, for any myriad of reasons. Guys, this is SUPER common, and for whatever reason everybody feels weird about it. This “secret” has been revealed to me in the therapy room more times and in more ways than I can count, and each time when I ask, ok, so what? I’ll inevitably hear: is that okay? Should we break up? Is it normal?
Yep. Completely normal, and utterly commonplace. But only therapists know this, because we get to hear about it. Nobody else knows it’s normal because nobody wants to cop to it, so we all walk around secretly thinking we’re the weirdos.
There are a million little arbitrary standards like this buzzing all around us, all the time. It’s annoying, it’s unnecessary, and I’m calling for a mass debunking. So here’s a tiny start; ten human truths I’ve gathered in my years as therapist that make many of us feel uncomfortable, but are resoundingly true nonetheless:
- Almost no one likes baby showers, and even fewer people like baby shower games (but people feel obligated to attend and to play because everyone else does).
- Not all women enjoy or want to have children (but some do because they feel it’s their role to fulfill).
- Not all men enjoy being or want to be the breadwinner (but many work jobs they hate in order to appear/feel more “masculine”.)
- Married folks fantasize about people that aren’t their partner (but would never discuss it openly because they think it’s immoral and shameful).
- Not all single folks are lonely (but some date anyway because they’re continually asked why they aren’t married).
- Christmastime is not universally Merry (but almost all Christians feel obliged to participate so as to not disappoint their relatives).
- Some couples live in different homes, in different regions (but don’t tell other people because it’s an alternative lifestyle). 7A: Some of those couples are very happy with this arrangement and don’t want it to ever be different (but say otherwise because it’s an alternative lifestyle).
- Many smart people with solid work ethics feel that a 40-hour workweek is too many hours (but shame people that work less because they don’t want to appear lazy).
- People with body shapes and sizes that aren’t considered “desirable” by US standards feel awesome in and about their bodies (but feel pressured to say they’re dieting in order to help others feel comfortable).
- Many, many, many people have the desire to explore their sexual identity and preferences, (but don’t because they fear how they might be perceived if other people found out).
When we shift to a lens in which our assumptions about what’s “normal” drifts out of focus, we might be really surprised by what we learn about our own personal preferences and truths. We might find there’s a whole spectrum of experiences we aren’t having or preferred choices we aren’t making or desires we aren’t pursuing because we think they will make us look other, and we will no longer be “normal”.
Whatever that means.
What if we consider less how to be acceptable, and more how to be authentic? Can we grant ourselves the permission to pursue what really works for us, and to move on from what doesn’t?
Can we embrace being the weirdos, the everyday, perfectly acceptable weirdos, that ALL of us really are?