On popularity

My teaching “niche”, so to speak, are fourteen to twenty six year-olds. It doesn’t matter if they are poor or rich, fast or slow, boys or girls, gay or straight, popular or nerdy, good at English or struggling with the language: it’s very rare to find a person from this particular age group with whom I don’t get along, who I cannot reach. Young people bring out the best, kindest, most tolerant side of me.

I love them. And they love me back.

Which begs the question: why? Why do they like me? I don’t even need to make any effort and they flock towards me. I don’t like their music, I don’t keep up with technology, I don’t watch any sports, I don’t play video games, I don’t follow their YouTubers. And worse yet, I make comments on how much they’ve grown and ask them all those questions they are sick and tired of answering, like “how’s school?” or “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I’m constantly reminding them of how young they are, of the gulf between us. To add insult to injury, I say completely uncool things like “see you later, alligator” and “okey dokey”.

And yet, despite all these things, I keep getting positive feedback and declarations of love from them. It truly baffles me.

I guess part of my popularity with 14 to 26 year-olds comes from genuinely liking them. Maybe they can sense that I truly want to help, that I’m on their side. People like to be liked, right?

Another reason might be because I vividly remember what it was like being a teen. I remember how much I struggled, how difficult everything was. Unlike a lot of adults, I don’t think their life is easy just because they don’t have to work. When I look at them, it’s like I’m time traveling back to when I was their age and their problems were my problems, their struggles were my struggles. But thank god now I’m on the outside, looking in. It’s not painful anymore.

What really keeps me up at night is not why they like me. The question is: why now? Why am I able to establish these meaningful connections now at 39 and not when I was their age?

When I was a teenager, I starved for connections. I would look around me at my classmates and I craved to be liked. But it was as if the other kids were wrapped in plastic and I could never really touch them.

And now it’s so damn easy.

It’s not fair.

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