“I Just Want To Be Normal”

Recovering Grace just posted a piece called “I Just Want To Be Normal.” As I’ve said before, me too. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

“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.

And finally, as this author points out, all is not lost.

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).

A Letter from Hell, and Self-Reinforcing Beliefs
My Kindergartener Knows What It Means to Be Transgender (and the Sky Hasn't Fallen)
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Liberated Liberal

    “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.”

    This. I grew up in a normal home, place, etc. I wasn’t sheltered, but I sheltered myself. I was quite a naive kid, living in my own world of art projects, studying and reading. Top hits of my time? Would barely recognize them. Movies? Only if it came on cable and I usually only had the TV on as background while I drew. Shows? Only the coolest baby shows! :D. Actual world events prior to my 25th year? No. Idea. What. Happened. No joke.

    Also, my SO is 10 years older than I am. I don’t understand ANY of his references :P.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      This, squared. For me, it was a matter of being interested in what *I* was interested in dammit, and not giving a fig whether it was popular. So yes, I still miss references to movies I never saw or music I never followed, and I often find myself alone in a crowd. At 55, I’m old enough to be secure in being a bit oddball, and hanging out mostly with a somewhat geeky bunch. There is no normal, so as Zach says to Claire[1]: Embrace your inner freak.

      [1] We’re watching Heroes on Netflix.

    • lucifermourning

      me too. my parents didn’t try to shelter us, but they weren’t particularly interested in pop culture, and i wasn’t either.
      my friends have got used to the fact that i haven’t seen most films, am not familiar with popular musicians, etc., and we laugh about it.

      being comfortable in my own skin was the biggest thing i had to overcome to get over that sense of awkwardness when everybody else was getting the joke.

  • http:.//thisbitchwontshutup.blogspot.com EEB

    To be honest, I kind of got used to it as a kid. My parents were a lot less strict than others at church…they actually gasp let us hang out with non-fundamentalist kids sometimes! So as a kid there were a lot of times a friend would bring up, oh, Rugrats, or maybe even The Simpsons, and I’d have to mumble, “My mom doesn’t let us watch that. She thinks the kids are too disrespectful to their parents.” And, of course, no sitcoms (sexual innuendo, the parents were mean to each other and the kids were disrespectful to their parents), no movies with sex, violence, or cussing (though they were very weird in that they let us watch Disney movies). Actually we were often straddling two worlds…when spending time with non-fundie kids, we were weird because we didn’t get to watch or listen to most of what they were, and at church, we were weird (and sinfull) because we liked Disney and fantasy/sci-fi, even though it had magic. or aliens.

    I escaped into the sci-fi world as a teen/young adult, somewhat because my dad is a huge sci-fi geek and it was a way to connect, but mostly because you’re allowed to be weird in geek culture. It’s not unusual to not get some pop-culture refrences; it’s almost a badge of honor, sometimes, because you’re so hardcore that you spend all your time on the superior geeky stuff without bothering to care about what the mundane masses are doing. Kinda pathetic, but it worked for me, for a while.

    Of course, I am happy that Nick is now running all the 90s hits again. I feel like I’m catching up on the childhood I missed. My brother and I have “Doug,” “Clarissa Explains it All,” and “All That” marathons now. (Not to mention I ate up all of “Boy Meets World” –now my favorite show and one I’m so angry I missed when I was the right age for it–when MTV ran the entire series.) I remember sneaking episodes of those shows as a kid, when my parents were out, and feeling soo guilty. Now, I watch those shows, and hope shows that creative and funny will be around when I have kids.

  • machintelligence

    Join the cheering throng. I barely follow sports, don’t care about pop culture, and haven’t had a functional TV in the house since my daughter left for college, over 5 years ago. Of course, I’m a crusty old fart of 64, so I have something of an excuse.

  • Elly

    My dad (an atheist) only listened to classical music and almost everything else was turned off, or muted if it was in the middle of a show we watching, I managed to catch up a it it over time, but my husband still asks me who wrote or performed a song and thinks its funny that I often have no clue. (On the other hand, he can never recognize classical music, and it gets more acceptable and classy to be familiar with that as you get older, I think, so maybe it balances out)

  • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

    Add Netflix and Youtube to that list of friends.

  • ArachneS

    A big part of dating my Dh was sitting together catching up on movies he saw as a kid and loved, that I had never seen because my family didn’t have a tv.

    • Sara A.

      I was going to say that it would be good to find some friends who, instead of being all incredulous and weird about it, will go “YAY LET ME SHOW YOU MY FAVORITE SHOW/MOVIE/ALBUM!” That way it’s fun.

  • http://pslibrary.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    My husband and I are both immigrants. We grew up immersed in pop culture, but it was a different pop culture. My parents were American expats, so I’m all up on American pop culture until about 1975, and then it’s a spotty blank. My husband grew up behind the iron curtain, so his blank is a bit more complete.

    So yeah, I think it’s important to remember that you aren’t alone, and it’s not even just ex-fundies going through this either.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      Happy Canada to a newly-minted citizen ! [/hijack]

      • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

        Argh: Happy Canada DAY.

      • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

        :D I can’t believe I spent my first Canada Day as a Canadian at home!

  • Antigone10

    Puh, “normal” is just another way of saying “You don’t know me very well”. Everybody has their little odd idiosyncrasies and tastes. And there’s no median baseline for us to be able to gauge- I can make references to things and have it fly right over the head of most of my families; and my tastes run to the mainstream-ish, geek-ish, nerdy, political.

  • Comrade Svilova

    I used to be more self-conscious about the gaps in my pop culture knowledge, but then I realized that I have my own set of references (literature, history, international cinemas) that I know others won’t ‘get’ — so I keep those references to myself. Now, if anyone criticizes me for not knowing popular references, I will ask questions and learn, reminding myself that I’m not ignorant, I just have different interests.

  • lucrezaborgia

    Is there a blog out there or a manual on how to bring one up to speed with pop culture?

    • Rosie

      Even pop culture is getting so diverse these days it’s about impossible to keep up with all of it. For anybody. Find friends that you have other interests in common with, and ask them for their favorite shows/music/etc. Then borrow from them or go to Netflix, and see which of those things you like. Chances are there will be a significant percentage of “good” (to your taste) things in your friends’ recommendations. And you’ll start getting their references to their favorites.

      The third time someone recommend Firefly (the defunct TV show) to me (and these three don’t know each other, even now), I finally got around to watching it. And now I quote it all the time too.

    • http://pslibrary.com MrPopularSentiment

      I find memebase.com really helpful for keeping up with pop culture. I’ve never even seen half the shows/movies or heard the songs they reference, but at least I know of them.

  • Fiona

    I am absolutely not from a religious family, but when I was a kid, my mum didn’t allow me to watch American shows. I couldn’t watch Starsky and Hutch, Bionic Woman, Six-Million Dollar Man or worst, Charlie’s Angels! All the other girls were running round shouting ‘Freeze!” in the playground. I ended up sneaking off to Louise Adey’s house to watch them all. But Top Gun,, you missed nothing there, in fact pop culture of the 80s could all be given a miss. Terrible to see the clothes are making a come-back.

  • Nenya

    Oh God, I resemble this post, hah! Though moreso ten years ago. I’ve spent the last decade and a half soaking in as much science fiction and fantasy pop culture as I can, and watching various movies I “should” have seen when I was little, but most kids’ shows from the eighties still go right over my head.

    It helps that my girlfriend grew up somewhat isolated as well, but in a different way: her family didn’t isolate themselves ideologically, but she lived in a remote location so there were things she missed. So she understands about having pop culture references fly right over your head (we bonded over that), and she’s also seen dozens of things I haven’t and is able to show me them. “Oh, you’ve got to see that movie! Let’s put it on the list!” is something she says at least once a month. The same thing goes for a lot of cultural experiences or common knowledge that aren’t TV and movies.

    Absolutely agree that Google is your friend, too. Can’t count the number of times I quietly check something out so I don’t have to ask, yet again, what someone’s talking about. Though knowing that even the “normal” “mainstream” folks don’t all have the same cultural referents helps, too. And it can be useful to have an outsider’s perspective, sometimes. But it’s nice to be able to pass for normal when you want to, too.

  • minuteye

    I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add, just wanted to leave this relevant comic:


    You just get to be part of the 10,000 more often than most!