“What does this song remind you of?” my husband asked, as the song Take My Breath Away played on the radio station.
I thought for a second before responding, “I don’t know. — Nothing, I guess. What does it remind you of?”
He laughed. “Top Gun!”
“Oh.” I said, feeling that familiar embarrassment overtaking me. “I’ve never really seen the full movie.”
He smiled his understanding.
Most people wouldn’t understand how someone born in 1979 could have grown up in America without seeing such a classic movie. My life seems to be an exception that is difficult to explain. Often I just tell people “My parents were really religious. I was very sheltered.” But to be honest, that just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t do justice to the fact that my ability to relate to the pop culture of most of the 80s and 90s is almost non-existent. Those two decades are a mystery to me.
This same scenario has happened to me too many times to count. I also love that the author offers some advice to those who are in our situation, advice for those who want “to know how to relate in a foreign world”:
- Take baby steps. Extremism is what brought you to the point you are at. The change will take time.
- Laugh at yourself. Be kind to yourself and ask questions when you don’t know something. Others will, no doubt, react incredulously at times when you don’t know a common reference to pop culture or a slang phrase. Just tell them that you were raised in a family that overprotected you from everything, and laugh along with them. Google is your friend, as is Urban Dictionary.
- It’s normal to feel abnormal. Seriously. Everyone feels it at some time or another. It’s not just us! There really is no such thing as “normal.” We all live our lives in mini subcultures, whether they are defined by religion, ethnic background, age, or geography. Some are more exclusive than others. But we all live on a spectrum of sorts. There is “average” behavior, or what is expected in social situations, but there is no “normal.” Seriously. Every individual in this world feels out of place at some point. It is human nature to desire a sense of belonging, to escape our aloneness, and to be part of a group.
As I continue to work my way out of the overly sheltered life I led growing up, situations like the one I described at the beginning of this piece become less and less frequent. And I find it easier to laugh at them. Hopefully, those who share similar growing up experiences will, too.
I’ve been at this long enough that yes, it is starting to get easier. I think that in some ways I may always feel slightly out of place, but that feeling is receding more and more. I think I’m starting to realize three things: first, that I can pick up the cultural knowledge I missed; second, that “normal” is often an illusion and everyone has eccentricities; and third, that being “different” is not always a bad thing. And so, little by little, the mainstream world feels less foreign. Someday, maybe, I’ll even feel “normal” (whatever that means exactly).