When I was recently writing about meeting people in different ways through the internet, a question popped up that I thought would be interesting to explore. I have a deep need not to be stereotyped and therefore by corollary, a need to be seen as unique. What is this about? I also wrote about feeling awkward about receiving compliments and dressing to be noticed whilst not wanting the attention. Is this connected?
On the outside I dress to stand out but perhaps it is more about dressing to be unique rather than being acknowledged. My wife and I went to a talk by Rory Stewart last weekend about his latest book. We heard about the talk through the local Oxford University Alumni branch and since we had read and enjoyed Rory’s book about walking through Afghanistan we thought we would go. Rory is also an ex-army officer and a Conservative MP responsible for the Department of International Affairs so is a bit of an enigma to us.
Anyway the talk was on the evening we got back from Mallorca which wasn’t great timing particularly as our plane was late and so we had very little time to get back to the house and go out again. We were late in fact, partly because my wife wanted to get changed and dress up a bit. I felt no need to do this particularly so I felt putting a jumper over my shorts and t-shirts would be fine. My wife asked me to put some trousers on. I knew she felt I was inappropriately dressed so I found a pair of cords, put them on together with a shirt over my t-shirt. My wife then wanted me to change my shoes to something darker. I didn’t.
Did I feel out of place? Not particularly I think. I was dressed more casual than all the other men there but then I was a lot younger than most of the men there. It was also held at the Black Watch Museum which by its nature has a great deal of military paraphernalia about of which I have actually a lot of interest in. My wife abhors anything to do with war, so I expect she was more uncomfortable in the surroundings than I was. The whole Oxford University elitism might have been a problem but I didn’t hang around to find out. After looking at some twelve portraits made for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2014, one of which featured Rory’s father, we headed to the drinks reception. The noise levels of people chatting were off the scale for me, so I quickly told my wife that I would move into the much quieter hall to find a seat for the talk.
So what does my experience tell me? Well dressing differently isn’t a problem I have even in more intellectual circles whereas my wife and others perhaps think differently. Not much insight there then. I wonder if there is a disconnect between my inner self and my outer self. I believe we all wear masks to protect ourselves and our vulnerabilities from possible attack and I think the clothes we wear can be part of that mask; we hide behind our clothes and our masks. Are my clothes part of my mask then? It would make sense to me that if I felt ordinary and plain then I might dress to counteract this and wear bright different clothes to garner attention I didn’t feel I warranted. However I have always felt different so in my case it would make sense that I dress differently to show that what I feel inside and transmit this by what I wear outside. But clothes are a visual thing, what about my other senses?
Do I speak differently to stand out? I believe I have a clear very deep English voice when I speak loud enough. It doesn’t necessary reflect the local accents I grew up with but given the right environment my Portsmouth twang, and south London twang will come out. One thing I did consciously do when I was moving around the country was to use local terms for things. In York I first started using “wee” (yes it isn’t only Scottish), “flower” and “petal” for friends (not something I do now). In Edinburgh “aye”, “tea” (for evening meal) and “shute” (for slide) appeared. I’ve lived in Scotland so long I forget what else has changed until I head back to London and hear the difference. I think this process is more to do with enjoying the local differences than anything else but I think there is a sense of feeling special because I have lived moved away from home and experienced different cultures (in a more minor sense) and perhaps the incorporation of language is my way of remembering that.
Smell is not something I have thought much about before. I have always hated artificial smells so perfumes and aftershaves are something to be despised and avoided. I guess I like more naturally generated smells like coconut, lemon, orange, mint, cinnamon and lime (that looks like a list of body washes I have used) but you know I am quite happy with body odour (my poor wife). My body odour is my unique smell I guess so perhaps I do like being different on the smelling front too.
I don’t think I can comment on taste really, though I can see why the dog likes to lick my salty skin. I can’t say I have a lot of experience of touch either.
So it would appear that from a sight, audio, and smell point of view I do like being different. I must be a marketer’s nightmare, never wanting to conform. I wonder that rather than externally expressing what I am feeling inside, what my motivation really is is to show that my internal feelings are justified by my external actions. So instead of dressing differently to justify my inner difference, I feel different inside because I dress differently. The later would suggest that if I dressed in a more conformal way, then I would feel more like everybody else. That feels a bit like cognitive behavioural therapy, if I smile and laugh enough even when I am feeling sad, then I will eventually become happy. I don’t think that works with me though, dressing, talking or smelling like everybody else won’t change my feeling of difference and perhaps therein lays the clue to a development disorder.
This is all very black and white though. Whilst the advertisements tells us that we should look a certain way, dress a certain way, smell a certain way; I think as a society we are becoming more accepting of difference. I do wonder if this hasn’t always been the case, each generation finds a newish way to express themselves, each group has a uniform but within each group people also like to distinguish themselves. Perhaps then, I just don’t feel I belong to any group or is my group so unusual that I have to take to the internet to find them.