You Should Embrace Being Cringe
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You Should Embrace Being Cringe

I like being uncool too much to stop now

There are two old ages, and during the first old age, you will worry about being “out of touch” with the younger generation. If this is you, you might find yourself—after some research—peppering your vocabulary with slang popular with folks who have nice skin, heads full of hair, and are rich with tomorrows, even if the future is bleak for everyone these days.

I want you to consider not caring what anyone of any age thinks or says. This is the only perk of your second old age, the “golden years,” so-called because of incontinence. The elderly enjoy the knowledge that all the shit that seems so important now is not important at all. I’m suggesting you embrace this attitude early.

The first old age doesn’t exist, though it will feel like it does. We tell ourselves we’re old every birthday; that’s what birthdays are for. Ritualized self-torture. Life is hard enough, yet we must tell ourselves annoying little lies and then believe them.

It is quite normal for a thirty-five-year-old to feel old. I felt old at twenty-five. You are not old at those ages. Forty isn’t old, either. It’s older. There are things you should figure out by forty, like taxes and flossing.

But, in many ways, what you are feeling in your late 30s and 40s is the absence of capitalism’s warm gaze, which is not unlike Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron in his Lord of the Rings Novel, ringed with fire, unblinking and ever-staring.

There comes a time in every American’s life when marketers abandon them because it’s easier to sweet-talk the young into buying crap. Those entering their first old age don’t react well when the culture stops begging them for attention. It can feel disorienting. And that’s when you may start to care about being seen as still with it, in the know, plugged in.

You will use words like ‘slaps,’ which means ‘excellent.’ The rules of cool are simple and consistent: I do not even know if anyone under thirty uses the word “slaps” anymore. Perhaps they have moved on to another descriptive adjective. This is the way of the world. But you know what I mean.

This brings me to ‘cringe.’ This is a popular word online. Social media is littered with ‘cringe.’ Everything is ‘cringe.’ You do not want to be called ‘cringe,’ trust me. The word for ‘excellent’ changes all the time: dope, far out, groovy, outta sight, chef's kiss, rad. Another way to say ‘cringe’? Square. Awks. Yikes. ‘Cringe’ can be corny, but it’s an comfortable feeling. I’ve heard it referred to as ‘second-hand embarrassment.’

There is a generation out there upset by human beings being human out in the open. Emotions are, like, so cringe.

"Another way to say ‘cringe’? Square. Awks. Yikes. ‘Cringe’ can be corny, but it’s an comfortable feeling."

Unfortunately, I am ‘cringe.’ I am well into my first old age, rapidly approaching my second, and I would prefer not to be an outcast, but, alas, I cannot help it. I have always wanted to be part of the in-crowd, but that is not my destiny.

I am cringe. I wear crocs. Cringe. I am a proud Android phone user. Cringe. I write personal essays. Cringe. I’m writing one right now. I went contra dancing last weekend. Do you know what contra dancing is? Look it up. I do-si-doed with total strangers in a school gym. I got sweaty, too. I am ‘cringe.’ I overshare. I text funny GIFs. I slurp my noodles. I unironically love the musical Hamilton. I do not think America lives up to its ideals, but I have hope, and that opinion alone is cause enough for jeering and tsk-tsking

Everything is awful, old man! It's the worst it’s ever been! I quietly protest: the world was a shitshow the day I was born, and for years and years before that. But we can change that! With compassion! Cringe. Hippies are cringe. I miss hippies. Is it cringe-worthy to preach peace while stoned and spiral dance and have freaky, stinky sex? I think the answer is “yes.” Sadly.

This online slang — cringe — has seeped into public consciousness, and we are worse off for it. The word ‘cringe’ traditionally means to recoil in fear or to wince with embarrassment, but a third definition has evolved in dark, dank comments sections into an accusation: when something is cringe, it is awkward and uncool all at once. An insult. A cry. ‘Cringe’ is the mob screaming “monster!” at Dr. Frankenstein’s unholy child.

And it’s become more than a colloquialism; it’s a sort of modern-day philosophy—a lens through which to see the world.

‘Cringe’ is conformity. ‘Cringe’ is self-censorship. ‘Cringe’ teaches. It teaches you to keep your head down. To squash your dreams and fears. To swallow every virtue except pride.

One day, you will be cringe. No one is perfect, so live in fear. One day, you say or wear or do something that is cringe. You’ll admit to listening to the wrong song, or post one too many selfies, or express a sincere belief and that will be that. You will stand up for someone and be mocked for it. You will be ‘cringe.’

What exactly constitutes ‘cringe’ behavior? Well, ‘cringe’ exists when a person is temporarily honest on main, as the kids say, for now. To be labeled ‘cringe’ is to be cast out and humiliated for the crime of being the sloppiest, horniest, most unhinged and unvarnished version of yourself.

Displays of vulnerability are ‘cringe.’ Anyone publicly insecure or desperate for attention or success, anyone openly in love is ‘cringe.’ To be ‘cringe’ is to be too much. Those wearing scarlet “C” talk too much and hug too tightly. They’re messy and impatient, their laughter is too loud, and their sense of humor is too coarse.

‘Cringe’ is not humility. ‘Cringe’ is judgment, haughty, and distant. It is an arrow dipped in shame. Humility is a virtue no one values anymore, and it is what is most missing from our anxious and conceited times. Humility is quiet. It is compassion. To be humbled is to be thankful for what you have, no matter the amount, and to cheer the good fortunes of others. Humility is joy whispering, “I will love you forever, no matter what.”

Whatever you do, do not be ‘cringe.’ The only way to avoid this is to dive into screens and dount your inner-most thoughts and feelings; social media is like a vast 19th-century masquerade ball, with strangers and friends hiding behind fans and masks, whispering, giggling, and judging, a cruel little party with strict rules of conduct. Rule number one: sincerity is cringy. Do not expose yourself. Roll your eyes. Cross your arms. Gossip and ghost (another terrible word for our terrible era.)

If you are old, be old. Congratulations, you know things you didn’t know when you were younger. If you are not old, enjoy your knees. If you are in a relationship, write love letters. If you are single, make out with sexy people. That advice is for everyone, now that I think about it. Kiss and write poems as much as possible. New words will be invented. Some will be forgotten. One day, the word cringe will be cringe, and that day can’t come soon enough.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of John DeVore's work on Medium. And pre-order his book, Theater Kids: A True Tale of Off-Off Broadway here.