A little embarrassed by how thrown I've been by my little brush with fame. I knew it would pass, leaving hardly a wrack, but every time something like that happens it takes me weeks to recover from the sense of exposure. It's so destabilizing. There's a wild hope that rises: this might be it, this might be when it all comes true, when everyone realizes my brilliance, when all the fascinating people want to sit at my table and all the beautiful woman want to lie in my bed.
What would I do? I already know more fascinating people than I can find dinner-date time for, and there are already as many beautiful women in my bed as I will ever be able to cope with. People already tell me I'm brilliant, with embarrassing frequency: if I don't believe it now, what makes me think I would believe it then?
Its promise of a different life is as obviously bogus as the (deeply Christian) Nigerian widow's plea that I let her park eight million dollars in my bank account: yet that doesn't diminish its force, its almost wholly baleful force. I eat anxiously, forget to exercise, haunt the social media. I go to check the preternatural run of the page-view counter. All those people are reading me. It must mean –
Well, you know, it means only that I hit a nerve, this once: it was short, sweet, believable, and inoffensive, and it said something that people badly wanted to hear. It was true, too, which is nice, but that's not why it's popular. And my point here is not to fish up compliments about it being well-written: sure, it is well-written, but so are hundreds of others of my posts. No, my point is that it's very peculiar that it should matter to me, in quite this way, with quite this much force. Perhaps I am of a uniquely, squalidly weak character, but actually I don't think there's anything unusual about this response. When I ask, who cares what strangers think of you? The answer that comes back is, I do. And so does everybody.
And really, you know, it's odd that it should be so. Of course you care what the other primates in your troop think of you: the people at work, the people in your family. Your economic and psychological security depend on their approval. There's nothing mysterious about that. But why care what the others think?
I suppose it's because we don't stay put all our lives. Almost all of us eventually move out of our parents' basement, eventually get a new job. And every time we shift, or are forced to shift, we are at a moment of high vulnerability. Are we still wanted? Do we still matter? And that's why we care what strangers think of us. Because somewhere, in the back of our little primate brains, is the dread and desire of the new troop. Maybe we'd be more important there. Maybe we'd even be alpha there. Or maybe we'd be the cringing, scrounging, perpetual outsider. We don't know. But there's a piece of us that never, never stops wondering.