I am considered just barely part of Gen X. My particular age puts me right at the youngest of those who are included in this group. And I recognize that all titles and labels are often as harmful and simply off-the-mark as they are helpful, and there is a part of me that cringes when I hear anyone referred to as part of any category, particularly one that begins with a “post-” prefix. But maybe this is part of my cynicism, a hallmark of the Gen X-ers.
One way that I had to be intentional about being an anomaly in my cohort was choosing to be vulnerable enough to be candid about my boundless optimism.
If there is one way in which my peers exhaust and often frustrate me it is this: they choose to hide under the defaults of sarcasm, cynicism, apathy and anxiety and then wonder why their own lives are as they are and why the world is as it is. It’s in part because you aren’t ready to risk a vision of it being otherwise, never mind making steps toward making it so.
Seeing the good in the world, in people, is work. Walking around with a heart 3/4 broken is safe. I get it. I’ve done both. Though there is a bit of personality involved, I know doing either one is a choice. You can change from one to the other.
It isn’t always easy to walk around with a heart wide open in every context. It was far easier for me to have foolish, optimistic love as a pastor than it was in my personal life for years. Like Emily Haines sings in Metric’s “Help, I’m Alive,” it’s “hard to be soft, tough to be tender.”
I noticed, though, that this isn’t a problem that I alone have. I had gotten it into my head somewhere along the line that this was something that few people struggled with, or maybe few women struggled with. I don’t know. I can be (read: often am) particularly hard on myself and retreat/isolate when I have a problem rather than looking for help in community. Because THAT always works.
It was actually when I started to date that I noticed that a lot of people, if not most people, in their 30s who were still single (to be clear, all of the ones that I went out with were both of those things to the best of my knowledge) were struggling with this optimism/cynicism continuum. Some of them were really self-aware about their past hurts (and their role in them) and were generally optimistic people; others, the ones that had done the least amount of reflection, seemed the most cynical.
And that gave me pause.
They were mostly lovely people. But the sarcasm and the cynicism and the negativity – though I knew exactly what it was and what purpose it served – was not something I wanted to allow into my life. And yet I did it. I do it. I am consciously trying to stop, and it is the hardest thing I have ever done.
I met someone a little over a month ago and I like him a lot. He is kind. He is open. He is communicative. He is warm and giving. Sometimes when I feel like he sees too much of me I can almost feel myself putting on my coat of armor, hiding behind intellectualism and being a general smartass. Because that’s safe. Because that keeps people at arms length and on their toes. And though that may be what I want in that moment that isn’t what I want, not really. I really want to be brave and not hide behind anything. I’m slowly getting better at this.
I am, after all, brave enough to think that the world can be different than it is. That I can be different than I am. And seeing that vision I’m just brave enough to take the steps to make these things so.