Reminisce. Point. Laugh.
I sucked my thumb until I was 12 years old. I quit because I was getting braces to rein in my overbite and thumbsucking would have rendered the process moot. It was shameful, knowing that my friends were getting their periods and I was still furtively sucking on my thumb every night to fall asleep. If not for the braces, the shame would have put a stop to it eventually.
My family knew, but I never admitted it to anyone else until after college. It was as if I’d passed through a magical threshold of adulthood that separated me from my childhood and buried any residual humiliation. I was able to look back and laugh, cringing with a much lesser degree of embarrassment. Those Deep, Dark Secrets were no longer deep, dark, or even secrets at all.
It’s a liberating aspect of growing up. I can now freely recount the horribly embarrassing things I did in the name of love, such as obsessively visiting my friend who lived on the same street as my crush in seventh grade. “Let’s take a walk down the street together,” I’d say. Of course, she wasn’t stupid, she knew my real intentions, but I never owned up to it. I’d fantasize about all the ways he would ask me to be his girlfriend. I mooned over him in gym class, leaping inside for joy when we were paired in a tumbling exercise and we had to touch each other. I never said a word about my crush to my friends, and vehemently denied it a year later when they said they knew the entire time (how could they not? It was painfully obvious), but now, it’s fair game for laughs. Just like how my drunken kisses with Mike R. in front of my dorm freshman year were something I was prepared to deny to the death, but now my friends and I shriek with laughter when we gleefully recount that and all the other embarrassing missteps we took in college. Hell, I’d even tell my mom that story if she asked. Or maybe my future children will hear it as a cautionary tale.
There are two things that take something from the Super Secret Trove of Humiliation to the Files of Haha, There’s This Stupid Thing I Did, Isn’t that Funny?. The first is time. It’s been twelve years since I was a college freshman. Almost twenty since I had braces. The humiliation has long since worn off, and I can safely separate those actions from the person I am now. That was me as a child, and now I am an adult.
Second, haven’t we all been there? At the time, it seems like a unique experience. But then you learn everyone else has those things they did too. If you’ve gotten to thirty without a few embarrassing gems tucked away in your past, you haven’t lived. It’s a source of bonding, to know that your best friend once fantasized about Batman giving her her first kiss, or that your boyfriend religiously practiced Vanilla Ice’s dance moves to impress a girl in middle school. It’s humanizing to know people share similar heretofore unspeakable nuggets of humiliation in their lives, and that they laugh about them now too. It’s not stigmatizing when it happens to everyone.
This is not to say my life is completely humiliation-free as an adult. But at what point are those moments or actions going to become cocktail-party fodder or uproarious reminiscences with friends? Will last night’s thwarted attempt to flirt with the bartender suddenly become less embarrassing and more hilarious a year from now? Two? Or maybe, through the magic of the Internet, the next day?