I’m 41 years old. My girlfriend is 19. We’ve been dating exclusively for nine months. When we first started dating, I was concerned about how well our social circle would accept us as a couple. To my surprise, the vast majority of our friends have embraced us and seem to have no problem with us dating. We get invited to parties and social functions together, we hang out with a wide range of friends and for the most part, people to seem to “get” us as a couple and can see that we’re happy together. If anyone has a problem with us dating, they don’t express it to me, that is, until last night.
I was out with a couple friends last night. One of whom is a 62 year old women. Let’s call her Deborah. I haven’t seen Deborah in quite a while and she asked how things are going. Naturally the topic of who I’ve been dating came up. I described my girlfriend and all her wonderful traits. I talked about how happy we are together. I explained how she’s a singer, that she’s studying TV production and how well we get along and how compatible we are. Deborah listened intently. Then she asked me the question that I knew was coming. How old is she?, Deborah asked. I paused for a moment and then answered as confidently as I could, she’s 19 I said, with probably a hint of reservation in my voice.
Deborah’s reaction didn’t really surprise me. She proceeded to outline all the reasons why a relationship like this wouldn’t work. She brought up the typical, cynical objections to may-december romances that most people who oppose these types of relationships espouse. What could we possibly have in common? My girlfriend must be using me for money (despite the fact that I’m far from wealthy). It’s wrong to be with someone so much younger than me and that I must be exploiting her youth and naivete. Of course, all of these objections were coming from someone who has never actually met my girlfriend or spent time with us together.
My friend’s reaction didn’t surprise me, but it did throw me off a little. Like I said, this is really the first time in nine months anyone has expressed their objections to me and I was a little taken aback and defensive. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but to judge someone or something you don’t really know about is unfair at best and completely off base at worst. But, our whole conversation really got me thinking about the topic of “haters”, where these sorts of criticisms come from and how we can deal with these sorts of critics in our lives.
No matter how conventional and socially acceptable our lives are, all of us will confront people from time to time who don’t agree with the decisions we make. As the saying goes, you can please some of the people some of the time but you can’t please all of the people, all of the time. We all have different ideas of what’s right and wrong, smart and stupid, and so on. We’re all on our own unique paths, making different life choices that lead to different places.
If living a conventional, “normal” life is met with inevitable criticism, then it goes without saying that a less conventional life will be met with even more critics and naysayers. Anytime someone veers off the conventional, socially accepted life path, they open themselves up to even more criticism. Criticism comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of it may be well intended advice based on wisdom and life experience, but in my experience, more often than not, it’s simply other people projecting their own insecurities and limited view of life and what’s possible onto others.
Pursuing music as a profession is considered by many to be an unconventional way to earn a living. As musicians, we have to deal with haters and critics on many levels. Whether it’s people within the industry that reject what it is we do and tell us we’re not good enough, or friends and family who discourage us from following our hearts, critics and haters are all around us.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of “haters” and critics related to playing music over the years. Whether it’s the implied but unspoken sense of disappointment from family members or the snide comments about what a hard life being a musician is from my more business minded friends and acquaintances, musicians are a fairly easy target for “haters”. What’s easier to make light of and put down than someone actually chasing their dreams? Musicians make an especially tempting target for those who are unfulfilled in their lives and afraid to pursue whatever their version of chasing their dreams is.
I spent a week at home with my Mom and stepdad recently. During my time with my family, I played one of my newest songs for Mom and stepdad. My mom was positive and encouraging, but my stepdad, as he tends to be, was cynical and judgmental. He listened to the song, visibly uninterested and unmoved. At the end, he looked at me with a smirk and asked, “What did you write that for”?
The question on the surface seemed innocent enough, but the implication was clear…. what’s the point? At least that’s how I took it, knowing my stepdad the way I do. Well, I said, I wrote it for myself and for anyone else who’s interested in listening. I write music I explained, first and foremost, because I’m simply inspired to write music. It feels good to me. Anything that happens after that is icing on the cake. My stepdad seemed unimpressed with my answer, and the conversation quickly shifted to something more mundane and not related to music.
This is just one of countless examples of people trying to belittle my passion for playing music over the years. I’m pretty numb to it at this point, but it still never amazes me how quick some people are to discourage others from pursuing what brings them joy.
F&%K The Haters
It would be easy to just say, screw the haters and the critics, follow your heart and don’t let anyone stop you. In fact, that is what I essentially believe, but it’s easier said than done. Apparently, the tendency to hold onto negative criticism is natural for most people. According to Roy Baumeister and researchers at Florida State University, we remember negative emotions much more strongly and in more vivid detail.
In a research paper titled, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good”, Baumeister summarizes
academic studies that prove that we are more likely to remember negative criticism than praise. Baumeister found that even happy people tend to remember more negative events than positive ones. In fact, Baumeister and his team say that it when it comes to your brain, it takes about five positive events to make up for one negative event.
The Biggest Hater Of All
Ultimately though, the biggest hater of all, that most of us have to confront, is ourselves. We choose which ideas and beliefs that others present to us we believe and embrace. Other people are entitled to their opinions and beliefs about our lives, but we get to decide what’s best for us. We’re the captain of our own destinies, at least as far as our beliefs go. We only have one life to live and it’s up to us to develop the courage and conviction to create and lead lives that make us proud.
I may not spend the rest of my life with my 19 year old girlfriend and I might not realize all my rock and roll dreams. I don’t know what my future will hold any more than anyone else does. But I know that when I get to the end of my life, I’m going to have few regrets about the choices I’ve made. I’m going to continue to live my life on my terms, un-deterred by the well-intended opinions of others.
Ultimately, whatever choices you make in life, someone is going to criticize you either way. You mine as well create a life that you’re proud of and happy to live, after all, you’re the one who has to live it.
I think Billy Joel summed it up best:
“I don't care what you say anymore, this is my life
Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone”