Will You Love Me, Even Though I’m Different?

As I sit down to write this post, the planet Earth is now home to over 7.4 billion people. That’s billion with “B”. All currently breathing in and out, same as you and me. We all got here in pretty much the same way, and we all need the same basic things to survive – water, food, shelter.

But that’s where the similarities end. Not one of those 7+ billion people is exactly like you. Not one. You are the only you there will ever be. Think about it – you are truly unique. A one-of-a-kind creation, never to be repeated. This is a fact you know is true, but have you ever really thought about its significance? Or how it might be affecting your relationships?

We are all different from one another by design. Regardless of what you believe about the source of that design, no one – not even your identical twin – has your same fingerprints. They are the product of your genes and the affect of the environment in the amniotic sac inside your biological mother. Somewhere in the 6-13 week range of gestation, you touched the wall of that sack, and your fingerprint patterns were created.

Our DNA and genetic inheritance produce these vast differences in our physical bodies. To that we can add countless variations in personalities and temperments, and the possible combinations and permutations are limitless. All of these traits make up who we are as individuals. We benefit from some, and suffer from others. Especially in our relationships.

At the macro, geopolitical level, we all understand how our differences can lead to horrible things like wars and genocide. It’s like we can’t allow the different-ness to exist. Different is bad. Different is evil. It must be eradicated. And yet it can’t be. There’s no possible way. But this post isn’t about world peace. It’s about your peace.

Let’s look closer to home. In your little corner of the world, there are a number of people interacting with you, all of whom are completely different from you. But just how different are they, really? And do you celebrate those differences, or do you spend enormous amounts of energy conforming to some jointly accepted ideals of behavior and self-expression? For most, we choose the latter. We learned that it is right, it is good, to be the same. Different…not so much.

I study other people so I know how to behave in certain social interactions. Take shaking hands, for instance. In my culture, when I was a kid, I was taught to shake a man’s hand when I greet him. It’s a sign of respect. You put out your right hand (never your left), he does likewise, and you wrap your hand around his, palm to palm. To convey confidence, you squeeze firmly, but not too hard. No limp wrists allowed. A nice firm handshake. You hope your palm isn’t sweaty, or worse, his is. I do okay with the handshake, I think.

So…when did fist bumping become a thing? Nobody shakes hands anymore. Suddenly I’m doing it all wrong! I’m back to being different. It makes me uncomfortable, and now I’m floundering socially. What is the correct form for fist bumping? Is it a light tap, or a soft punch, knuckle on knuckle? Do I show my confidence by not wincing when the nerves in my fingers go numb afterwards? Who’s judging my fist-bumping performance?

I am. It’s right there on my inner score card, marked with my current perceptions of everyone else’s perceptions of me. If I perceive you think I just did a good fist bump – score! What made it good? I did it the way you would do it.

This mental score card is where I keep track of how well I am conforming to what’s expected of me. How much the same I am. I watch people’s faces, listen to their voice tones, clue in to their body language. Am I doing it right? Do you still like me? Can I stay?

It’s the same with my clothing, my expressions, my mannerisms, or the sound of my voice. I am a chameleon of sorts. I willfully change with my social environment, all in a super human effort to blend in, to not stand out, to not be different. Because different is bad, right?

Different means you’re arrogant. Or hopeless. Or clueless. Or “one of those”. A permanent outsider. Whatever it is, different is not good.

I can be a little different. We call it individuality. But my different-ness better not go all the way to weird. My different-ness can’t make people uncomfortable. If I’m too different, then it’s too hard to accept me, to love me. After all, who wants to put in that much effort?

That’s why we pursue sameness – it’s self-centeredness, pure and simple. We love the people who are easiest to love, and those are the people most like us already. Why do I live in a community of people who look like I do, who talk like do, and who live like I do? It’s just easier. We don’t want to pay the price to love someone who’s different. It costs too much.

We all want to be loved. Who doesn’t? But if we want to be loved by certain people, we have to behave like them, talk like them, and look like them as much as we are able, in order to make it easier for them to love us. Otherwise they might not bother. We do this unspoken dance, deciding how much energy to expend on conforming to their expectations, if we really believe we need their love.

Unless we can’t change enough. Unless we’re too different.

Right about now, your inside voice is hopefully shouting, “This shouldn’t be!” Thankfully, some people excel at loving those who are hard to love – those who are different. They work with handicapped veterans suffering from PTSD. Battered woman hiding in shelters, fearing for their lives. Young boys and girls disowned by their families and thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. The homeless, the helpless, the lost.

But the differences don’t have to be so drastic. What about the young man at work who’s mannerisms are too feminine for your comfort, so you won’t invite him to the group luncheon? Or the girl who has a face full of piercings and tattoos covering her arms, the same girl you are secretly afraid of, but who is actually afraid of you? Or the young man whose religion and dress differs from you and your friends, so you won’t invite him to the latest blockbuster movie?

How far will you go to love someone who is different from you? 

What happens when someone you love, someone you were comfortable with and thought was pretty much just like you, suddenly surprises you with their different-ness? What happens when you discover they have a secret desire or personal quirk that doesn’t conform to your earlier perceptions of them? Does loving them suddenly become harder? And what if you believe, for whatever reason, that secret desire or quirk is somehow “wrong”? How hard is it now to love them as you once did?

They’re different, but will you still love them?

They are not wrong – just different. They are different by design, just like all of us. And we need to start celebrating – AND LOVING – our “different-ness”. It’s not always easy, but who cares if it’s hard? Love celebrates different!

Why I Write

I recently joined a Mastermind group. We’re a small collection of would-be authors, writers, bloggers and other creatives dedicated to improving our craft, reaching our desired audience, and making our mark. So far I’m having a blast! I challenged myself to really put it all out there. I want to know if I can do this thing called “writing”.

Our first assignment from the moderator/coach was to answer the question “Why do you write?” Not HOW you write, or WHAT you write, but WHY do you write? I honestly had never considered the question. I just do it. I love to write; I love the whole process of it. It’s therapeutic, cathartic, and energizing to me. But is there a deeper reason? Why do I sometimes feel compelled to write? I spent the better part of the day with this question nagging away at me in the background.

Hours later, as I ruminated on the question over dinner, I remembered afresh the day in August 2014 when I sat down to my computer and said to myself, “Tell the story.” That story became Forever. The need to write it had become overwhelming. I didn’t ask myself “why” on that day, I just did it, because it felt like I had to. Thinking about it now, I know why I had to write.

I write to encourage, uplift and inspire others to believe in themselves and their intrinsic value as human beings, regardless of their origin, family history, orientation, or social standing.

I want to help people – especially people who don’t like themselves or feel somehow disqualified from normal life, for whatever reasons. I am a natural encourager – I can’t stand it when someone in my presence doesn’t see their own value or potential. When I started writing, I don’t think I fully understood this powerful dynamic in play. It became clear a few chapters in when I had an epiphany, along with the main character, Jack. He had spent his whole life to that point believing a lie, that he would never have value or be able to do good things with his life, simply because he was gay. My heart broke that day, and I sobbed at my computer screen, certain that what I had just written resonated with potentially thousands of men and women who viewed themselves with similar disdain.

I remember asking myself if I should erase those lines of the story. After all, this was supposed to be a fun little romance, not some deep psychological treatise. But I’d already learned one fundamental truth about writing – let the characters speak. So I let Jack say what he needed to say. Apparently he was speaking for many other people, as well.

The response was overwhelming. After that chapter posted, I started hearing from people all over the world. I remember one in particular, a woman, who said she had had a conversation with a gay uncle who confessed he had spent his whole life feeling unacceptable and worthless, just because he was attracted to the same gender. Jack had touched a nerve – raw, open, and throbbing in pain.

I write fiction. I don’t write self-help, motivational, or how-to-fix-everything-that’s-broken-in-three-easy-steps books. I tell stories – and sometimes, if we’re lucky – someone else’s story can be the light in the darkness to show us the way. For every email I’ve received from someone in pain, I’ve received four or five from folks who tell me reading Forever has given them courage and the strength to stand up and be themselves and believe again. Believe they can have a forever love. Believe they can make a difference. Believe they matter.

Yes, Forever is a romance. Yes, it’s a fun read. It’s entertaining. It’s supposed to be. But I am intrigued by the hidden opportunity I’ve found to teach, to encourage, and to inspire with my words. I don’t have billions of dollars, like story Jack. That’s why I write. It’s my way to change the world.