Unpopular Opinion: Liking things and people is good.

Claire Zulkey
Jun 13 · 4 min read

While on a Target run last week I picked up a fresh pack of Uno cards, curious to see whether my 6 year old son was ready for the fast-paced but simple card game I remember getting competitive over with my friends in middle school. I actually had two Uno students as I taught my kid to play while out at dinner a few days later — my 40 year old spouse had also never played the game.

“This is fun!” my husband marveled as we dealt another hand and ordered a second round of cocktails. “Who knew.”

“Yeah, it’s almost as if, sometimes, when a lot of people like something, it’s for a reason,” I teased him. My husband, like many people (although Gen-X males really seem drawn into this category), can sometimes identify a little too readily with the role of the contrarian, the hater, the outlier. Sort of like the person who says that they’ve never tasted pizza or played miniature golf, it feels like a form of defiant identity-forming to decline to participate in something many other people like.

The ironic thing is that everybody has that one thing that everybody else likes that they don’t opt into. I could never watched an episode of Game of Thrones. My friend Robin’s husband has never seen Titanic. My friend Meghan has never seen an episode of Friends. My brother doesn’t like the Beatles (or dogs.) Sort of like the racks and racks of tee-shirts I saw for sale this past summer in Salem, MA that read Normal People Scare Me, nobody likes thinking of themselves as ordinary, which is in fact a very ordinary emotion.

As I get older I realize the mendacity of the attitude that everybody is basic but me and have discovered that life is actually more fun when you can let yourself enjoy the things that supposedly vanilla people like. As an example, many years ago I wrote an essay critiquing Paul McCartney essentially for having the gall to continue to work, market himself, make people happy, and devolve in front of our very eyes from a cool young person to an uncool old person. It seemed so desperate.

Then, not long ago, while I played the song “Blackbird” to the 6 year old, he asked, “Is Paul McCartney still alive?” “He is!” I said, and then it hit me — Paul is alive! And so am I! And if he passed away without my seeing him play live when I could have, I was not going to feel satisfied that I never partook in this lame desperate old man’s art. I was going to have missed an opportunity to be in the same room with the creator of a lot of art that brought a lot of joy into my life. I bought a ticket and saw McCartney in concert in New Orleans (another thing that soooo many people love) and every critique I ever had fell away — the old man seemed young, the lyrics that once seemed silly shot out of my mouth until I was hoarse — I smiled and got goosebumps in the dark. I was so glad I wasn’t too cool to go.

When you become a parent, you learn pretty quickly just how uncool you really are — the childfree don’t see you as cool, your kids’ providers don’t see you as cool, and your kids sure as shit don’t think you’re cool. At first, this can be depressing and terrifying, like looking into the night sky and realizing just how insignificant we really are. But freedom also comes with not worrying about cool, a certain reprioritizing of joy and support. While you once may have said “I’m not a joiner,” in your teens, when you have kids, to not be a joiner — of your local team, school board, parents group — only serves to isolate, and removes a protective and soothing layer of community.

Obviously, personal taste means that not everything is for everybody, but I’ve found it to be an enjoyable rite of passage to let go of the person who Doesn’t Like and become the person who Does Like. It can be hard to be find joy as an adult, and saying no to a thing that might just give you a few minutes’ pleasure or turn down an experience just because other people like it will get you esteem points from no one, not even the high school you who wasn’t a joiner.

Claire Zulkey

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Chicago-area writer with bylines in the New York Times, Atlantic, and Wall Street Journal. Author of 2 books for young people; mother of 2 actual young people.