Given enough time, the uncool becomes cool.
The eyeglasses the nerds wore in elementary school become the epitome of high fashion. The clothes they used to wear become high-priced vintage items on Ebay. The foods they used to eat become giant industries with fancy shmancy names like “The Mediterranean diet.” (It’s just hummus for crying out loud.)
Some nerds get the ultimate revenge by becoming rich and famous. Then cool people line up for days to pay gazillions of dollars for the latest version of the gadget created by the nerds … a gadget that is in most ways exactly the same as the one they bought a few months earlier.
But enough about them. Let’s talk about me.
I was anything but a cool kid.
I was a shy, introverted, only child — the product of an overprotective mother whose love helped me redefine what it meant to be cool — even though it would be years before I appreciated her wisdom.
The cool kids mocked me while I tried everything to get their attention. The more I tried, the less cool I became — in their eyes.
Yet deep down inside, I knew — when I ran back to the sanctuary of the people who loved me — that the cool kids weren’t really very cool.
Even at a young age, I sensed that there’s a difference between thinking you’re cool, knowing you’re cool, and being cool.
But it took me years to realize that the people who thought they were cool — those who the world defined as cool — were just as scared as I was. Their coolness persona was a mask behind which they hid — an overcompensation for their lack of self-esteem.
I realized that keeping up a cool facade was just as exhausting as trying to be cool.
In time I also learned that even the cool kids had their own “cool kids” — their own demons — with which they battled.
And as I got to know them better, I felt less helpless, less intimidated by them.
Then the unexpected happened … someone who I would have considered a cool kid when I was in my first decade of life fell in love with me and we joined our lives.
As we faced our fears together, the masks behind which we hid came down and our love for each other canceled out the fears. Not all the time, but enough to have kept us together for 16 years.
If judged by the world’s definition of cool, I guess you could say I became more cool, while my partner became less cool.
Yet even now — even when I know the cool kids battle the same demons as I do — there are times when I fall under the “I want to be a cool kid, too” spell.
At 55, I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of a schoolyard, a frightened 6-year-old waiting to be rescued.
Thankfully, I’m experienced enough — um, old enough — to know that it’s OK to be afraid. It’s OK to be vulnerable. It’s OK to be yourself. And it’s more than just OK to be uncool.
Today I look at pictures on Facebook of the people I once considered cool kids and I see old people looking back at me. Tired, old, not-so-cool-anymore kids.
“That woman looks like she could be your mother,” a 20-something colleague said to me when I showed her a photo of a former cool kid classmate.
Ah, the sweet sound of Universal Payback.
Who’s cool now?