The Rule of Interest
My best friend and I have a rule of interest.
It started when I realized that, although we shared many common interests, the biggest of which being the Pokemon video games, there were some things that we didn’t have in common. My best friend, who speaks Japanese, is a big fan of anime and Japanese video games in the original language, which I can’t play. And they’re not a particularly big fan of Tolkien and other fantasy writers.
Both of us love talking about our interests, but after a childhood of learning from my therapist how to gauge if I was going overboard and if my conversation partner was interested in the topic at hand, I didn’t want to risk letting my guard down and messing up the best friendship I’d ever had.
Then, we came to an agreement. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we agreed that we’re free to share with each other whatever might be on our minds, whatever’s piquing our interest at the time, even if the other person has no idea what to say back. We can say whatever we want, however much we want, and at the end, we’ll still be friends.
It felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could share things with my best friend that I wanted to share for such a long time, that might not mean anything to them, but would mean the world to me that they would still care to be my friend afterwards.
They tell me about the games they play, the shows they watch, and the jokes I’d never understand because of the language barrier. And in return, I tell them about the story ideas I’m tossing around for the latest Tolkien writing challenge, the fanfiction I read with a new theory about a favorite character, and my cosplay progress.
Even if their response is just a smiley face or a thumbs up, it makes me feel like I’m not being a burden as a friend, like I’m not my childhood self who would ramble about whatever held my interest until the other person could escape.
I’d always feel terribly guilty after this was pointed out to me. What was wrong with me, I wondered, that even my happiness was too much to handle? Was that why I had so much trouble making friends, or was it that I wasn’t hiding my childhood compulsions well enough? As an adult, I think it’s a combination of both, but either way, it made me feel like I had to hide who I was and what I enjoyed in order to fit in.
Nowadays, most people know that, at the very least, I’m a Tolkien fan. Some people see my phone case with my favorite elf on the back or notice the special New Zealand envelopes and stamps I hung up in my office with characters from The Hobbit. Others have seen my collection of badges from conventions across four states that I’ve attended since my best friend introduced me to anime conventions - their favorite kind - in 2015.
But there’s always a line. It’s normal to express some interest, but it’s far harder to express a deeper interest. At minimum, I’d be weird. Some people might even consider it creepy.
This week, I was really excited about the sign-ups for the art prompts for the Tolkien Reverse Summer Bang. This will be my second year participating in the challenge, where I’ll work with an artist to write a story 5,000 words or longer about a piece of art they’ve made. For me, that was something I was thrilled to wake up to on Sunday morning, something that got me out of bed unusually early on a weekend and had me running over to my computer before I could even think of anything else. I started a Word document where I began to document my favorite prompts. I was so thrilled to go through all the slides of options and form my opinions.
But then, I realized I had very few people to share my happiness with.
My joy is as intense as the negative obsessions that plagued my childhood. Sometimes, it’s something that I feel the need to share just bursting out of me and I can barely wait to find the closest person who I think might care. Sometimes, I feel the need to share it more than once. Sometimes, it comes out in a rush of words and happiness and it takes all my training to notice if the other person might not care.
Sometimes, I’m faced with a blunt “I don’t care.” My interactions with that person are never quite the same afterwards, even if I can outwardly pretend like nothing’s happened.
Sometimes, it’s the opposite - at a convention last year, I had the immense pleasure of spending a day with other people who loved Tolkien and other high fantasy writers as much as me, and everything seemed to make me smile bigger, whether it was someone understanding a joke in my cosplay or even just knowing the name of my favorite character.
I’d love to have this “rule of interest” with more people. It’s such a great feeling to share the things I care about and learn more about what my friends care about, and I find that it makes for a deeper and more fulfilling friendship if neither of us have to censor ourselves. Everyone has things they love, and for some people, it’s a way to get through harder times. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be functioning like I am today - I might not even be alive - if not for the strength and enjoyment I drew from my positive obsessions.
Talking about my interests helps me beyond measure, and I never know when the same can be said of anyone I interact with in my daily life. Even if it’s someone I don’t know well, I try to follow the rule of interest - even if I know it isn’t mutual. It’s a small and easy way to be an ally to people living with mental illness, and it’s appreciated more than you’ll know.
Ellie, a writer new to the Chicago area, was diagnosed with OCD at age 3. She hopes to educate others about her condition and end the stigma against mental illness.