“What does this song remind you of?” my husband asked, as the song Take My Breath Away played on the radio station.
I thought for a second before responding, “I don’t know. — Nothing, I guess. What does it remind you of?”
He laughed. “Top Gun!”
“Oh.” I said, feeling that familiar embarrassment overtaking me. “I’ve never really seen the full movie.”
He smiled his understanding.
Most people wouldn’t understand how someone born in 1979 could have grown up in America without seeing such a classic movie. My life seems to be an exception that is difficult to explain. Often I just tell people “My parents were really religious. I was very sheltered.” But to be honest, that just doesn’t cut it. It doesn’t do justice to the fact that my ability to relate to the pop culture of most of the 80s and 90s is almost non-existent. Those two decades are a mystery to me.
I don’t know Debbie Gibson’s songs. I never had a New Kids on the Block tape. The only reason I know Michael Jackson’s song Billie Jean is because I missed that Humdinger in Cranium because I didn’t know it. Yup. I know it now. People laughed me out of the room in disbelief. I’ve never seen Ghost. I know Patrick Swayze is in it. And I guess there must have been someone who was a ghost.
Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch The Smurfs — there’s a wizard. I couldn’t watch Scooby Doo — there were ghosts. I couldn’t watch The Flintstones — Barney and Fred lied to their wives. I couldn’t watch Fraggle Rock — I don’t know why, maybe because it was just strange. I never watched Alf or The Gremlins or E.T. or The Simpsons.
I wasn’t allowed to go to dances. Moving ones body in time to music could cause another person to look at you in a manner that might lead to sexual immorality, you know. And sex in any context is bad. Unless you are married. And then since it was never talked about and repressed, good luck figuring sex out — much less enjoying it.
Sometimes the resentment I feel can be overwhelming. All the things I couldn’t do. All the “firsts” I missed or experienced terribly late. The school dances. The concerts. The movies. Everything was evil. Bad. I developed the world’s largest guilt button.
I’ve been “out” of that overprotective, stifling subculture spurred by my family’s involvement with ATI (the Advanced Training Institute) for 15 years now. I’ve acculturated well to mainstream “normal” life. But it has taken time. And I have made a lot of mistakes!
Advice I would give to someone who wants to know how to relate in a foreign world:
- Don’t “overcorrect.” You know how when you skid on a road while driving and, in an attempt to keep moving forward, you steer too far in the opposite direction? That can happen in real life, too. Some people try to go from conservative extreme behaviors to liberal risky behaviors — experimenting with drinking, sex, trusting the wrong people, etc.
- Take baby steps. Extremism is what brought you to the point you are at. The change will take time.
- Laugh at yourself. Be kind to yourself and ask questions when you don’t know something. Others will, no doubt, react incredulously at times when you don’t know a common reference to pop culture or a slang phrase. Just tell them that you were raised in a family that overprotected you from everything, and laugh along with them. Google is your friend, as is Urban Dictionary.
- It’s normal to feel abnormal. Seriously. Everyone feels it at some time or another. It’s not just us! There really is no such thing as “normal.” We all live our lives in mini subcultures, whether they are defined by religion, ethnic background, age, or geography. Some are more exclusive than others. But we all live on a spectrum of sorts. There is “average” behavior, or what is expected in social situations, but there is no “normal.” Seriously. Every individual in this world feels out of place at some point. It is human nature to desire a sense of belonging, to escape our aloneness, and to be part of a group.
As I continue to work my way out of the overly sheltered life I led growing up, situations like the one I described at the beginning of this piece become less and less frequent. And I find it easier to laugh at them. Hopefully, those who share similar growing up experiences will, too.