‘Better’ is Subjective: Like What You Like No Matter How ‘Weird’

In a media studies class in college we were discussing something about bands and radio play. I don’t remember the specifics, but I attempted to make a point. I started by posing a premise I assumed was intuitively true. I said, ‘The only reason to form a band is to become famous…” And that was not my point. Don’t remember my point, because a fellow student cut me off and said, “I don’t agree with that.” It derailed our discussion about whatever and instead became all about providing examples and reasons why my premise was inaccurate. And they were all valid arguments. And I changed my mind about that afterwards and have never forgotten that ‘aha’ moment.

I remember it was the first time that it ever occurred to me that someone would want to get into music for reasons other than being ‘rich & famous.’ Man, did that blow me away. You’re telling me there’s more to life than longing for money and fame? Okay…if you say so.

My problem was that I looked at the world as if it was objective in some ways that I now believe are necessarily subjective. For example, I understood that some people preferred Aerosmith to Winger and some people preferred Winger to Aerosmith. I got that. But I thought there was a deeper reality that was objective that Aerosmith was a better band. I mean, you may prefer to listen to Winger, but you can’t argue that Aerosmith is better.

Aerosmith has been together longer. Aerosmith has sold way more albums, had more chart toppers, sold way more concert tickets, appeared in more movies, had more singles, etc. Those are objective facts. But even when you add up all those facts they still don’t make it a better band. You may still prefer ‘Headed for a Heartbreak’ over any Aerosmith song. And you may not care about how long they’ve been around. You may not care about anything other than the likability of their songs which you judge to be better. So, relative to you Winger is ‘better’ than Aerosmith. But to someone else, Aerosmith is ‘better.’ Neither one of you are wrong. You are both simply applying subjective criteria for judging.

This may seem obvious to you, but to me it wasn’t. And one area where I wish I would have understood this was dating. You see, I’m average height, average build. I believed sincerely that that meant I was a weaker choice for dating material than someone taller and better built. But that’s not necessarily true. If a girl’s criteria for judging a guy involves washboard abs then I’m outta luck. But not all girls are created equal. In fact, they’re all individual beautiful creatures. And some of them legitimately don’t like guys with muscles. Some of them like bald guys. Some of them like short guys. The percentages of women who prefer short bald men to tall men with wavy locks of hair might be way less, but that also does not make them more or less correct. Just because a body type doesn’t appeal to 90% or even 40% of the population does not mean it’s ‘worse’ than another body type.

When I moved to Chicago to be an improviser/sketch performer there were five theatres I knew about to audition for: Second City, iO, ComedySportz, The Annoyance, the Playground. At the time I moved, the Annoyance was homeless and remained so for a few more years, so I had four theatres to aim for. In my mind it was an obvious hierarchy: Second City was the best, iO & ComedySportz were 2nd and 3rd, but I couldn’t quite tell which was which, and The Playground was clearly in last place. Why did I think this? Well, Second City gets huge crowds and pays and has a long list of famous alums like Tiny Fey and Bill Murray. So, it’s obviously number 1, right?

Nope! Some people don’t get into improv to make money or to get famous. Some people find it more fun to play for small intimate crowds of 50 rather than play for 300+. IF that’s the case, then the Playground is a better place. At Second City the paid performers mostly do sketch comedy as opposed to improv. Some people love improv and don’t particularly love sketch. If that’s you then you’d rank Second City as dead last, because the other three places primarily focus on improv.

Maybe you like your comedy free of curse words. If that’s the case then ComedySportz is your #1 by far. It’s always a clean show. Maybe you love long form improv way more than sketch or short form. If that’s true, then iO and The Playground are in your top spots.

My point is that I took for granted that there was a clear objective hierarchy with a top and a bottom. And I now look back and realize I was incorrect. I live in L.A. now and a lot of people (like casting directors) believe there is a clear hierarchy of improv theatres here where UCB & The Groundlings are top dawgs while Second City is clearly third. However, your goal for taking improv classes may have nothing to do with casting directors. If that’s the case, then their hierarchy (which is subjective to them) has nothing to do with you.

Some things are objective. I have a higher body fat percentage than Taylor Lautner. That’s a fact. And more women find him attractive than find me attractive. I have no evidence to back that claim, but I’m guessing you’re not asking for any. So, let’s just call that a fact too. But that doesn’t mean that he’s better than me. Which one of us is ‘better’ is based solely on the criteria of the person judging us. There are some women who think I’m a better catch than him. I grant you that those women make up a small minority, but what it does NOT do is devalue their opinion

A good friend once told me there are two types of women: 1. Women he finds attractive who don’t want to date him and 2. women who want to date him that he doesn’t find attractive. Well, I disagreed with him. I believe there is a third option – women who want to date him that he’s attracted to. He doesn’t see it. Or at least he didn’t at the time. But the only thing preventing him from seeing that was his refusal to admit it was possibly true. If you go around telling yourself that there are only two colors and refuse to see a third when someone shows it to you, then it’s not the color’s fault, but your own.

One lesson to take away from this whoe thing is for those people out there with body issues and low self esteem. If you don’t like yourself it’s probably because you see the world as objective and you’re low on the totem poll. However, I say just be you. You’re beautiful. Like yourself. I dare you. Don’t fall into the illusion that there’s a hierarchy. There are facts. You may be shorter than most. But that’s just a trait that makes you who you are. Peter Dinklage is short and he’s awesome. Own your ‘flaws’ and look at them as traits to be judged subjectively as opposed to flaws judged objectively. Someone if not several someones out there are into you or would be if they knew about you. That’s definitely a good lesson to come out of this. However, there’s another lesson I wanna highlight from this line of though:

Stop dating people because you think they’re higher up on the ladder than someone else. Seriously, be true to your subjective criteria. Is having a hot body what you need in a mate? If so, then you’re in luck. There are a lot of people with in shape bodies out there. And if you truly don’t prioritize things like sense of humor, intelligence, gentleness, thoughtfulness, etc, then you’ll do just fine. However, what if having a ‘hot’ body isn’t actually that high on your priority? What if you care about other things way more? If that’s the case, then would you date someone with an out of shape body? If not, is it because you don’t like it or is it because you’re afraid others will see you as ‘dating down?’ That phrase implies that we’re all on this objective ladder and some of us are lower than others.

I hate the phrase, ‘out of your league.’ I hate it because it sounds true even though it’s not. And because it sounds true it makes a lot of us feel it is. And when we feel we’re out of someone’s league then we judge ourself for being a worse league than others. It’s awful. Stop it. What if the person in question sees you as amazing? Does that make them crazy? I hope you don’t believe that. Woody Allen famously said, “I don’t want to join any club that would have me as a member.” That statement implies that accepting him by definition makes the club a place he doesn’t want to be part of. What a horrible way to live life. That makes it literally impossible to be satisfied with joining any club (or whatever you put in place of that metaphor).

Well, I say, ‘do you.’ And if you really like someone then that means subjectively to you they are ‘better’ than others. And don’t you want someone who’s better? The only way to get that is to know what it is you want. And being honest about it. If you look at the world as objective then you might not ask out a girl because you see her as ‘beneath’ you. But if she’s someone you might really have a good time with then she might be perfect for you. Why would you deny that to be with someone who has traits that you don’t actually necessarily value as much?

The minute you look at the world and see objective hierarchies of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ you risk sacrificing what you really want for what you perceive is ‘better,’ but is actually an illusion from which you should free yourself. You can apply this to jobs, dating, places you live, stuff you own, vacations you take, etc. Do what makes you happy as opposed to what you think is the right thing. Don’t vacation at Monte Carlo and eat caviar unless that’s what you really want to do. But if you’d rather go to New Orleans and eat crawdads, do that. Don’t judge others or yourself as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ by any standard other than your honest desires.

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