Frankly Speaking is a monthly column that explores Gainesville’s social scenes and cultural mores by examining our generation’s behaviors.

Inside a dark, crowded bar, a band starts up with a raucous number. They’re playing your favorite song! There’s a moment of pause: you look around and see that everyone in the crowd is either nodding their heads lazily or sipping their drinks. But there’s a storm of dance brewing inside you. Do you go crazy like you want to, limbs flailing and mouth wide open? Or do you play it off like the sophisticated cool cat you are and submit to just tapping your foot to the beat?

The pressure to conform to what everyone else is doing can freeze us up inside. It keeps us still when we’d rather be moving. It makes us stay silent when we have something to say. No one else is showing any sign of emotion on their faces, so we stifle our laughs or smiles.

It’s a popular misconception we hold—if we act in unconventional ways, we won’t be liked, popular or attractive. Thinking like this breeds pack mentality, in which no one is saying or doing anything new, because if it’s new then it’s not currently being said or done. Which means it must be weird, or it would’ve already been done, right?

We’ve all seen it. A group of five dudes line up at the bar, and each one has that same bleached blonde, high-on-the-sides, Bieber ‘do. A group of ladies goes out to lunch, and when one pulls out her lip gloss, a chain reaction of purse grabbing ensues. A pair of friends reunites after a long separation, and the first two questions asked are inevitably, where do you work, and who are you seeing? (Because what else could define this time in your life?)

Is there no other way to live?

As twenty-somethings, we’re told what our acceptable life choices are based on two criteria: gender and age. Let’s dismantle these pressures to look and act right, one at a time.

As women, we’re told we must appear presentable to be taken seriously. This is often interpreted as: I need a full face of makeup and form-fitting—yet modest—clothing to be accepted by my peers. If a woman’s hair has too much personality, the assumption follows that she’s a mess in her personal life too. Here is where I face the most pressure to conform. I was raised by a mother who wore little more than eyeliner, so I never felt like I needed to wear makeup to be a real woman. I decided to start slapping some paint on my face to appear grown upon entering the post-grad void. Excuse me, I meant the professional sphere.

Throughout my early twenties, I refused to leave the house unless I wore eyeliner, mascara, concealer and lip color. I ran a cheap straightener through my wavy hair, constraining it into tight buns and slick ponytails. Yet, when I interviewed sources for the newspaper and they would still ask me, “What class is this for?” I would show up at a house party in full regalia, and my guy friends would ask me, “When did you join the circus?” So today, in my twenty-eighth year, I choose not to wear makeup if I’m not feeling it. I’m not scared that my coworkers will find me unprofessional or that men will find me unattractive for looking how I truly am. As a wise woman once said, I woke up like this.

I have been repeatedly told that I’ll never keep a man long-term if I continue swearing, shouting and acting aggressively when they’re present. If I like a guy, I’m advised to make myself just the right amount of available for him to call me. I should wait by the phone, praying to God that it rings, because picking it up and dialing the number myself would be too manly of a move. If a man makes eye contact with me across a crowded room, I should coquettishly look away, because my direct gaze is too forward. I should agree with the things my date says, even if I think they’re ignorant or incorrect, because arguing would make me a difficult, undateable woman. I call poppycock.

No matter your gender or sexuality, you’ve definitely experienced expectations tied to your age, inherited from the conservative old fogies of yesteryear. These are the pressures that strike fear into even the wildest hearts. When we reach our mid-twenties, the Western man’s timetable says it’s time to settle down and introduce some structure into our lives. Have a long-term relationship, buy a car, work full-time. Why are we so afraid to live our lives day by day, to allow events to unfold on their own time? Is success a race in which the first few to reach the finish line are the only ones living fulfilling existences? Surely not.

The pressure to conform to what everyone else is doing can freeze us up inside. It keeps us still when we’d rather be moving. It makes us stay silent when we have something to say. No one else is showing any sign of emotion on their faces, so we stifle our laughs or smiles.

I’ve been called weird for choosing a job in the service industry after college instead of a desk job. I’ve been called weird for expressing the claustrophobia my current desk job gives me. I’ve been called weird for choosing to go to events alone instead of searching for a date. I’ve been called weird for never having seen any films of the adventure saga variety. Hell, I’ve been called weird my whole life for having a huge head of unrefined curls and a man’s first name. It used to bother me, but it never bothered me enough to try to fit myself into any existing mold. Being the weird girl in class or at work is just fine with me.

We must not feel confined by the illusion that we only have a few choices. Just because something isn’t currently being done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. During this second, revisionist decade of our lives, it’s our duty to challenge conventions in order to find the most True versions of ourselves. Innovation only comes from experimentation. Be weird, be original and express yourself as fully as you want. And most importantly, surround yourself with people who encourage you to be as free as you as you want to be. When life asks you what box you fit in, check “other.” •

This month’s article is an edited reprint of an essay that originally appeared on Tyler’s website.

Tyler Francischine is a writer, event planner and audiophile who would rather be floating on her back in the Atlantic.

You can find more of her writing here or on her blog.