Note: Day 11 of the #Trust30 initiative.
I spent my youth being uncool. Not being considered uncool, mind you, but being absolutely, definitively uncool.
I tried extra-hard to be cool, and somehow that made me even less cool. So I was more than a little relieved when high school and its byzantine social structures were behind me.
Young Mormons are generally expected to serve a 2-year mission away from home at age 19, and being the dutiful son, I went to serve in the lovely Mississippi River valleys of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Ah! Here was my fresh start, a chance to try again to be cool. So why wasn’t it working?
Now Nate, he was cool. He was legendary among the 250 of us serving in the region. He wasn’t just cool, he was effortlessly cool. In my many interactions with him, he would frequently tease me, and I generally felt like a loser when hanging around him.
I hated this guy. Girls swooned over him, and guys set him up as a hero to be idolized. He was exactly who I’d hoped to leave behind after high school. So a few months later, when I found out I was to be paired up and living with him, I could only mutter “no, please, no.”
But my time with Nate was revelatory. It was also just about the most fun I’ve had in my life. He saw something in me that I didn’t, and said that I had it in me to be cool if I would just recognize it.
During our months together, I studied his mannerisms and attitudes. I figured that if I emulated his behaviors and mannerisms, I’d become cool too.
And you know what? It worked! After just a few months of trying to imitate my friend, I became one of the “cool kids”, a person whose admiration was sought after. It finally happened; I was truly popular for the first time in my life.
But Nate wasn’t impressed. I believe he’d expected me to draw more from our time together than the pyrrhic victory of popularity. It didn’t take me too long to realize how empty that was, and I decided I’d just work really hard and ignore the rest, which had essentially become noise in my life.
That strategy seemed to work pretty well, and I went home after 2 years with many new lessons and a real sense that I had truly done my best to “forget myself and get to work,” as the Mormon saying goes.
However, after my 2-year mission was over, I still carried around the lessons I learned by watching Nate interact with girls. He drove them absolutely bonkers with phrases like “whatever you feel”, and by being generally aloof and untouchable with them.
I had never really been able to communicate with girls, as they generally weren’t looking for a nerdy guy who was sensitive, sweet, and awkward. So on dates, I would turn my Nate impression back on, and by damn, it did seem to work.
But each girl I dated seemed worse than the last. Every time, I’d be talking to a girl who would giggle and say, “I can never tell when you’re joking,” and for all intents and purposes, the date would be over.
Exasperated after a particularly bad date, I walked into my sister’s room and told her that I absolutely quit. I decided that day that I wasn’t going to put any more effort into dating, because there so clearly wasn’t a girl out there for me.
Sitting in her room with her was her friend Jessica, who cocked an eyebrow at my hyperbolic tirade, and I could tell I wasn’t welcome and left them alone.
After meeting Jessica a few more times, I told my sister that I’d like to ask her out on a date, but she was clearly uninterested. As usual, I tried to play the cool guy persona and set up a (lame) excuse: I asked Jessica to come “hang out” with me as I tried to help my friend rebound after his girlfriend broke up with him.
My cool guy schtick wasn’t working, and it was clear to me the date wasn’t going well. Afterwards, my friend Caleb said he thought we got along great and that I should ask her to go on another date. I (correctly) sensed it hadn’t gone well and that she wasn’t bowled over, and I specifically said I was not going to call her again.
Caleb convinced me to give it another shot, and Jessica, having nothing better to do and weak sales resistance, gave me another shot, and another.
As we continued to get to know each other and I started to let my guard down, I found out she was specifically into nerdy, sensitive, sweet guys, and a sense of humor was critical to her.
We both began to realize that each of us was exactly what the other was looking for, quirks and all.
It was only later I realized that by pretending to be Nate, I was setting myself up to attract girls that would be attracted to Nate, not me. Imagine if I’d married one! How happy could we have possibly been to have a relationship built on illusions and trickery?
More importantly, I would have missed the chance of connecting with the love of my life. This family is the closest thing to a miracle I’ve ever experienced, and I very nearly missed all of it, ironically, because I was trying manipulate Jessica so that she would like me.
Yes, being cool can be imitated. You can become a pick-up artist by sitting in a chair and reading a book. But if you let society push you into living someone else’s life, I promise it’s going to cost you a lot more than you’d ever gain.
It was only well after our time together that I realized what Nate meant. The process of letting go of the need to be cool and being comfortable in your own skin sort of makes you cool. In a certain uncool kind of way.