When it comes to personal style, isn’t it normal to be influenced by your friends?
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I have a problem – it feels extremely juvenile but it’s not going away so maybe it would be good to hash it out here: I want to get a facial piercing. I really want to do it! I’m soft looking, often erring on mumsy. I don’t have any other piercings and I think it would be cool!
But… one of my friends has the exact piercing I want. She has expressed annoyance with me for copying her before (similar sneakers, wanting to cut my hair short) and even though I didn’t think I was copying her, to some extent it’s probably true – I get ideas for my life from my friends, doesn’t everyone? The whole business gave me the yips and whenever I think about it I feel sort of disgusted with myself.
We chatted about the piercing again recently and it turned into a bit of an argument. She said she didn’t feel she had her own ‘thing’, but then also said ‘obviously I don’t care if you get one!’ She called me later to say that I should do it, because even though it would piss her off, that would be fine, because maybe I should have some practice dealing with her being pissed off with me. I think she meant this kindly – I think she’s trying to say I can get one? But she also has said that she doesn’t want me to.
I don’t want to put something on my face that’s going to make her not pleased to see me when she sees me again! But it’s not going away, because now the only reason I’m not getting one is because of her, and I still do really want to get one. Why do I want one so much? Can’t I let it go? Or do I only want one now because I feel like I can’t have one? Maybe I’m just a gross copycat who can’t be stopped.
We’ve had our ups and downs as friends but she’s really important to me and I know she loves me, this whole thing just has me feeling crazy. What do you think?
Someone with an as yet unpierced face
No offence to your friend, but this is a children’s problem. People are especially weird about the project of identity curation when they’ve just left high school, and are valiantly trying to rise on the stepping stones of their dead selves to higher things. Older people don’t care about their identity, because it’s already calcified deep within their hearts, like a horrible piece of gum.
Your friend has put you in an annoying position. She’s named an unspoken and potentially imaginary dynamic between the two of you, and now you’re both eternally beholden to its narrative power. No matter what you do, it will be seen as a response to her. You have to weigh the joy of every aesthetic decision against the possibility of her future displeasure, which is NOT a fun or girlishly carefree way to shop for espadrilles online.
If I were in your position, I’d immediately acquiesce to her demands, because I have a wet breadstick for a spine. But that doesn’t mean you should. For one thing, giving up your piercing isn’t going to solve the underlying issue. It might only serve to validate her theory that she’s the wellspring from which true individuality emanates, and further embolden her to claim every tassled cowboy vest and ribboned bonnet as her specific intellectual property.
When it comes to fashion, there’s no such thing as originality. Trying to call first dibs on short hair or a frankly ubiquitous facial piercing in 2023 is like trying to file a patent for the colour of the sky. You graciously admit you get ideas from your friends. We all do. And our enemies. And AI generated images of the Pope. Our culture is an echo of an echo of an echo of some guy sketching a wonky horse on the wall of some bygone cave. We learn to live through imitation. The trick is to imitate widely.
There are absolutely cases of pathological copying, which border on stalking. But unless you’ve got a secret scrapbook with archived photos of your friend’s old haircuts, buying similar shoes hardly seems to meet the threshold for creepy behaviour. We can chalk it up to a case of multiple discovery, like how everyone woke up in the seventeenth century and simultaneously invented calculus.
Either you can bend over backwards trying to prove how much you aren’t copying her, inadvertently making her the secret heart of all your decisions, or you can get your piercing and make her mad.
Because she will be mad. She’s already mad. Nobody starts sentences with “obviously I don’t care” unless they’re already fuming. Telling someone to do something you don’t want them to do, because it will be character building for them to experience your anger, is emotionally torturous advice. But perhaps, in a passive-aggressive way, she’s hit upon a deeper truth. Maybe you care too much about what she thinks, and the best way forward is to bravely incur her displeasure.
You seem like you’ve already discussed this issue, multiple times, at length. Who keeps exhuming the conversation? Something about your letter makes me wonder if it’s you? Do you keep trying to revisit the subject, because you have a horror of upsetting your friend, and don’t feel right getting the piercing without her enthusiastic permission? Do you secretly feel that any problem, discussed with an open heart and a foundation of mutual love, will ultimately lead to a positive resolution? Regrettably, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the more we belabour a topic, the more contentious and emotionally overwrought the subject under advisement becomes. Even if you love each other. Especially if you love each other. Some discussions you automatically lose, just by participating in them.
I say, get your piercing and wear the consequences with a smile. I think your anxiety about this situation is giving your friend’s annoyance a lot more gravitas than it deserves, and perhaps in future if you take a more cavalier and cutthroat attitude towards ruthlessly pursuing your desires instead of submitting them for peer review, your friend will find you much harder to criticise.
Just because this is a children’s problem, doesn’t mean it’s not a serious one. But it hopefully won’t persist for long. In the meantime, don’t let this put a damper on things. Your twenties should be a time of reckless scavenging, dubious experimentation and extravagantly bad haircuts. These are inalienable rights of passage, and should be a source of joy and freedom to one and all. There are plenty of mistakes to go around, and everyone deserves a chance to make them.