I have a handful of friendships that have carried forward from my teenage and very early young adult years – people I’ve known since high school or the two years or so immediately after. One such friendship is with a man whom I’ve grown rather distant from in the last few years, as we have some extremely different views on some topics that make it hard to keep the friendship close.
The last time I saw him, however, was on a January evening about two or three years ago. It was slightly chilly, but not enough to warrant a jacket. So I wore a tank top covered by a thin cardigan sweater with an asymetrical hem that, being as short as I am, hung to my knees in some places. And I’ll never forget what he said when he saw me.
“Well, you’re definitely…unique.”
It gave me pause, not because of the words themselves, but because of the tone behind them. There was a little amusement, and a lot of judgment.
This friend used to be in the military. He’s very rigid, very conservative, and very, very set in his ways – and getting more so the older he gets. By comparison, I’m practically a ’60s free-love-for-everyone hippie. But this was the first time I’d ever really felt like he was judging me.
And it bothered me. Not that he thought that my being unique was a bad thing. I long ago let go of any need to know what people think of me, or to control those thoughts – not to mention, any desire to be different as a result of someone’s opinion of me.
No, what bothered me was that he sincerely thought that wearing a sweater with an asymetrical hem was such a unique thing. Or that the way I dress, do my hair, eat, drink, or do anything else is a bad thing, whether it’s unique or not.
I’m never going to be the woman who colors her hair bright colors (well…I’ll probably never be that woman). I’m not going to be the woman who knows every point of etiquette backward and forward, either.
But I’m also not going to apologize for my tattoos.
I’m not going to apologize for being open-minded, and believing that it’s not my place to judge the way others live.
I’m not going to apologize for dressing the way I feel comfortable dressing, for preferring living in the country over living in the city, for being an introvert rather than an extrovert, or being happy as a single woman with no urgent desire to find a man.
These things make me who I am. They contribute to what I write, to how I write. They help shape how I raise my children, the friendships I cultivate, and many other decisions I make. And despite many mistakes throughout the years, I’m quite happy with who I am and the decisions I make.
Uniqueness is what makes creatives creative – it’s not the only thing, of course. But without it, how could we ever take the same handful of base story ideas and turn out such a plethora of different books, and continue to do so for not just decades, but centuries? Without uniqueness, we wouldn’t have all the movies, TV shows, paintings, photographs, advertisements, and patents on millions of products. Uniqueness is what keeps us all from thinking exactly the same way, allowing us to form different opinions, have our own thoughts, and come up with ideas about, literally, everything.
I don’t want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to be “normal.” I want to be me. If who I am doesn’t work for you, I’m okay with that. You don’t have to love me. You don’t even have to like me. That’s cool.
But don’t judge me. In particular, don’t call yourself my friend and then judge me.
Don’t say I’m unique like it’s a bad thing. But if you do, don’t be surprised when I smile, thank you, and continue to be my unique self.
You should try it, too. You might find you like it.