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.