I was hanging out with some friends the other night and one of them, whom I’ve only known a couple of years, said to me and my best friend, “I’m glad I finally got to know you. It took a while since you were so intimidating at first with your knowing people and doing things.”

My best friend snarked, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore. We’re lame and old now, and stay home most of the time.”

The other friend said, “That may be, but you’re still cool.”

This was far from the first time I’ve heard the words “cool” and “intimidating” regarding first impressions of my best friend and me. In fact, in the more than twenty years we’ve been friends, I’ve heard it over and over again from almost everyone I’ve known as more than a passing acquaintance.

My best friend and I make a great pair. She is the friendlier, more approachable one of the two of us, but both of us have been described as on some sort of pedestal of cool before people really get to know us. Then, they find out just what tremendous dorks we are. Yet, the cool thing always seems to stick, and more so in my case, intimidating is the most frequent word used to describe first impressions.

It wasn’t always that way. I have never, ever thought of myself as cool. In fact, for the first fifteen years of my life, I was terribly uncool. I had big, bug eye glasses, bad hair, and no fashion sense. I was so incredibly shy that I wouldn’t talk to anyone unless they talked to me first. And even then, I would mold my personality to fit whatever I thought people wanted to hear. Oh, you like that band? So do I! Even if it was untrue. I had no opinions of my own, at least, none that I expressed openly. I was a mirror reflecting whatever people wanted to see, because people were terrifying.

When I was fifteen, that all changed. Someone introduced me to punk. It was liberating. I purposefully set out to not give two craps what people thought of me. People aren’t scary; they’re just lame. Why should I care what anyone thinks of me?

At first, it was just a mantra I recited to myself, but it eventually became truth to the extreme. I really, honestly don’t care what 99% of people think of me now. It’s only the 1%, the people I care about, whose opinions matter.

Instead of being shy and waiting for people to talk to me, I went to the other extreme and carefully crafted an intimidating veneer that screamed that I didn’t want to be talked to. Instead of molding myself into what I thought people wanted to see of me, I went to the other extreme of peacocking and purposely not fitting in. Somehow, all this shedding of pretense made me cool, not in my eyes, but in everyone else’s. I was the same dorky kid I had always been, but with a new intimidating armor.

I’ve never thought of myself as cool, and the older I get, the less cool I am. It was surprising to hear that someone I’ve only known in the past few years would find me cool, since I don’t even peacock anymore. I don’t carefully maintain my veneer. I just really couldn’t give two craps anymore, and not in a trying to hide my shyness way. Yet, somehow, people still tell me that I’m cool.

No one knows how to achieve cool. It’s intangible. There’s not one quality or thing that makes you cool; you just are or you aren’t. Perhaps cool is simply just not caring. If that’s the case, well, then I am very cool.

Are you cool? What do you think “cool” is?