The world is filled with quotes. So many quotes. You can’t open Instagram without being assaulted by them. (I’m even guilty of posting them!) But recently, I heard a quote that straight-up changed my life…
My no-longer-secret favorite pastime is to stay home and watch old episodes of Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday. If you aren’t acquainted, this is a show in which Oprah interviews various experts on topics like spirituality and personal growth, frequently stopping to call out the “ah-ha moments” and yelling things like “THAT’S SO MAJOR.”
I like to employ this activity after particularly harrowing dates — like the time I returned from the bathroom to find my date swiping around on Tinder. After watching the show, I’ll come away feeling as if I’ve had an uplifting, motivational or otherwise educational exchange with a human being, almost like an emotional chaser. But one episode, with none other than the brilliant Brené Brown, actually changed my approach to dating.
Oprah and Brené were discussing authenticity — what it is, how to cultivate it, why it’s important — when Brené casually busted out this line:
“Cool is an emotional straightjacket.”
Clouds parted. Angels sang.
You know how sometimes you can hear the same advice presented 3,000 ways, then suddenly someone uses a certain phrasing and your whole world opens up? This was one of those moments.
Many are the times people have said things like, “Just be yourself!” or “Post what makes you happy!” or “Wear whatever makes you feel good!” Still, I would always pause before saying the thing or sharing the photo or tying the shoe, and wonder: How will it look? or What will people think? Followed closely by the question that has lurked somewhere in the back of my brain ever since the other second graders made fun of my pilgrim-like clothing: Is it cool?
The need to be cool “keeps us from moving, growing, stretching and feeling free,” Brené said, her statement necklace sparkling under the studio lighting. She went on to explain how “cool” and “authentic” are often mutually exclusive. If we’re worried about what someone else will think or whether our actions fall into some amorphous definition of what’s “cool,” we’re not sharing our most authentic selves. Without authenticity, it’s hard to truly connect with others. Without connection, our lives lack purpose and meaning.
I do not want to live inside a straightjacket, emotional or otherwise. But when I heard these words, I realized how often I had been. I was suddenly, acutely aware of how much I’d been second guessing and doubting, or else trying to say or wear or do the “right thing,” cramming myself into pretzel-like shapes to seem likable. Never was this more true than when it came to potential suitors.
So now, I am doing my best to live outside the proverbial jacket. Sometimes, this means I wear my beat-up Converse sneakers on dates. (Somewhere in New Jersey, my mom just shuddered.) Sometimes, this means I post something quirky or overly honest on Instagram. Always, this means I answer questions — from “What are you looking for in a relationship?” to “Do you want kids?” to “What is your favorite emoji?” — in the most true-to-me way possible, because I want any potential partner to know exactly who they’re dealing with (a person whose favorite emoji is the roasted bisected sweet potato), and vice versa.
“It takes courage to be awkward, goofy and silly,” says Brown. That, it turns out, is the path to connection.
I was reminded of this one night, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. While dodging quotes left and right, I came across another thing that changed my life:
THAT’S SO MAJOR, I thought.
After all, the opposite of cool… is warm. Doesn’t that sound nice?