I Am A Stranger Thing
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Netflix's new summer hit, "Stranger Things" by now. If you haven't, it's basically an '80s movie made in 2016, featuring a bunch of weirdo kids who don't fit in. They play Dungeons and Dragons, love Atari games, and are generally just huge nerds none of the normal kids have any time for, which reminded me a lot of my own childhood. Because I was one of those weirdos.
And I still am. I don’t fit into the world. I never have, and I probably never will.
I’m different, just like everybody else. But my differences tend to confuse and confound people at best, and completely annoy the crap out of them at worst. You probably know someone like me, or maybe you’re a kindred spirit. Either way, this might help you understand the weirdos in your life a little better.
Outwardly, I’m a pretty normal guy. I don’t dress crazy, I have no tattoos, and I’ve had the same hairstyle since Grover Cleveland was president. I’m friendly unless you honk at me for no reason while I’m driving, in which case I’ll give you a death stare from my window until I realize you’re a friend of mine who’s just trying to say hello. Then, I’ll smile awkwardly and just make everyone feel uncomfortable until you wish you’d never even tried to beep-beep at me.
That’s because, on the inside, I’m a total weirdo. I’m terrible at small talk, have no interest in sports, and couldn’t care less about 90% of all the things normal guys tend to talk about. I don’t react to things like other people, I overthink everything, and all the stuff you love probably just gets on my nerves, even if I try my best not to show it.
First off, I’m highly competitive - but only with myself. If someone else is better at something I’m doing, I don’t try to outdo them. If someone else enjoys more success than me, I don’t begrudge them. I just try to be a better person today than I was yesterday, and I’m legitimately happy for everyone else who’s doing better than I am. I don’t feel the need to crush them with my superior such and such. It just doesn’t matter to me. At all.
In the real world, guys are supposed to be highly competitive. We’re told that we need to dominate and eliminate the competition, be the king of the mountain, and the ruler of all we survey. We’re supposed to be aggressive and domineering, towering over our all who would oppose us as we crush the nonbelievers beneath our hairy, burly man feet.
But to me, that’s just caveman logic. It’s the reptilian brain taking over our ability to reason. It’s why guys go looking for fights on Saturday nights, or puff up their chests at any other dudes who dare make eye contact with their wives or girlfriends. It’s insecurity wrapped in the shiny paper of overcompensation to distract people from the fact that none of us really know what we’re doing.
I have no use for competition. Did Beethoven worry about beating Mozart? Did Twain need to beat Dickens? Does Marvel stress about dominating DC? Nah. Just do the best you can at whatever it is you do. Then, try to get better at it every day. The rest will sort itself out.
I’m also extremely literal, which always makes things interesting. People tend to like a little ambiguity because I don't know why. Maybe they just don’t want to commit to anything, and prefer the wiggle room that shades of grey give them. However, I don’t understand any of that. I’m a black and white kind of guy. Something is either on or it’s off, it’s right or it’s wrong, it’s this way or that way. If someone tells me to do This, I’ll do exactly This. If they tell me to do That, I’ll do exactly That. I don’t deal in shades of grey. My brain just doesn’t work that way.
For example, I once had a guy demand that I send him a confirmation reply to every email he’d send me, so I did exactly what he asked. I set up a rule in Outlook that automatically sent a reply to anything he sent to my Inbox. “I have received your email,” it said. “Thanks, -Kristian”
The thing is, he didn’t actually want me to reply to every email he sent. It even auto-replied to his replies, and since he sent out roughly 37 “high priority” emails an hour, he quickly got annoyed and eventually sent me another email, telling me to stop. “I have received your email,” I replied, automatically. “Thanks, -Kristian.”
And that’s not even getting into how fun and exciting it makes my marriage. There’s a reason the old joke about whenever a woman says she’s fine that she’s anything but fine exists: because it’s true. My wife loves ambiguity. She might want me to know why she’s mad at me, but any reason she gives when I ask her will only be part of the answer. I’m supposed to figure the rest out on my own, which I’m absolutely terrible at. If she tells me, “I’m fine,” then I’m like, “Okay. What do you want for dinner?” And then I get in trouble.
I’m also no good at using body language, which is something everyone else on the planet seems to take for granted. For example, a co-worker has a sign on his door that lists ten things people can do that require no talent. Number four on the list? Body language.
I disagree. The thing is, I’ve never been good with body language, which took me a long time to figure out as a kid. What other people just naturally seemed to react to on a subconscious level tended to fly right over my head. Once I figured out that everyone around me was speaking an unknown, wordless language all the time, I decided that I had to learn to speak it, too.
So I studied body language until I could understand it. I read books, I watched people, and I paid attention to everything until I got it. I still don’t react to body language on any sort of subconscious level, and I can’t use it myself at all, but at least I can see it now. I can read all the little twitches and ticks people have, along with all the gestures and posturing they do when trying to make a point. I have to actively listen to these unspoken conversations, though - which means I’m probably better at reading others than most people are. So there’s that.
Of course, it also means that I don’t typically react how people expect me to whenever they’re trying to, say, manipulate me with body language. A lot of people read books on charisma or how to be an effective this or that, which are usually filled with helpful tips regarding using body language that they’ll try to use to dominate a room. But none of it works on me, because I can’t instinctively pick up on what they’re laying down. Everything they do, whether they’re assuming “power postures” or mirroring my (lack of) body language to establish rapport, has to filter through my active thought process. It can’t skip straight to my amygdala and affect me on a subconscious level, because there’s no way for it to get there.
So when someone tries to, for example, handle an object menacingly while talking to me to try and put me off guard (another tactic of self-help books), I don’t feel uncomfortable. I just notice that they’re trying to be menacing and think to myself something like, “Oh, that’s cute.”
The same goes for more benign things, like flirting and seduction. It took me a long time to be able to recognize these kinds of signals, which caused me no end of grief in my younger years. Of course, figuring them out didn’t help much, either. I’m not instinctively intrigued when a woman picks something up and starts handling it seductively. I just tend to look at her funny and wonder if that’s how she always eats bananas.
Now, I might try to react how people want me to, but I usually fail horribly at it because, while I can understand other people’s body language, I never learned how to use it myself. Whenever I try, it just feels like I'm flailing my freakishly long tentacle arms around and generally making myself a danger to everyone in the room. I don't want to put anyone's eye out.
Finally, I tell the truth. Always.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not honest out of some misguided sense of nobility or whatever. I just suck at it, so I don’t do it. My inability to use body language means people probably think I’m lying half the time anyway, so when I actually do try to fib, I broadcast my deception like an angry man shouting at God on a mountaintop in a thunderstorm. I’m just asking to be struck by lightning. So I don’t do that.
Always telling the truth makes everything more difficult, though, because people don’t always want to hear it. White lies are important in casual relationships, and absolutely vital in serious ones. I can keep a secret like nobody’s business, but I can’t directly lie about it, so I’ve gotten very good at redirecting conversations away from any scenario that might involve me having to try and lie about anything, especially if it's something I'm not supposed to tell anyone. Which is probably why I'm awful at surprises, and turn innocent things like Christmas shopping into a waking nightmare.
It also means that my wife is basically a saint, because I can never answer typical questions husbands are expected to lie about: I tried a new recipe. How does it taste? Do you like my new hair? Is this thing I made any good?
She’s learned to stop asking, unless she really, truly wants an honest answer. Hey, at least she knows that when I tell her something, I always mean it. But let’s face it, I’m a challenge to live with. Bless her heart.
So that’s me, in a nutshell. Chances are, you know someone either exactly like me, or who at least shares a few of my obnoxious traits. I hope this helps you understand them a little better.
We're not trying to be difficult.
We're just different.