Video Source: WWE
Every time I tell someone that I watch professional wrestling (and have in fact been a fan for over 20 years), I relish in the look on their face. Jaws have dropped, eyes have widened, and I get my statement repeated back to me. “You watch wrestling?”
The shock pleases me, because there aren’t a lot of things about me that I feel will inflict such a notable reaction. I’m not a big talker; I usually keep little “points” of conversation starters around to remind people that I’m not just a mannequin in the corner. And, unless I’m given a reason to burst out into a monologue or a song, I’m not going to do that, either.
But I digress. The wrestling thing.
What usually follows the shock is one of two questions: the Captain Obvious question (“You know it’s fake, right?” Me: “Nah, really???”), or the honestly curious question. “Why?”
The irony to such a short question is the fact that the answer has evolved as I have aged. And yet, at 33 years old, things have also, strangely enough, come full circle.
When I was nine year old, one of the first wrestling images I saw was of a man using one of the oversized championship belts as a mirror to fix his long, blond hair. He was colorful, he was loud — he used words like “flamboyant” and “charismatic” in normal conversation — and he had personalized music play when he entered a room.
When the wrestlers were angry, they showed it. When they were happy, they showed it. They were so loose and open with their emotions.
For a nine-year-old from a traveling military family who found it harder and harder to find and keep friends, they were one of the few constants in my life.
Every week, three days a week (reduced to one hour when I got in trouble for sneaking and watching too much one evening), these Superstars were here for me. When they were insulted, they didn’t cry in a corner and back off. They fought. They fought hard. And in the end, they triumphed. Everyone was happy for them.
For an adolescent who went to a middle school where the majority of her female grade bullied or ignored her for getting straight A’s, this was what I clung to.
On the days that were especially bad, when family life fared just as poorly as school life, wrestling was there. It was always there. Towards the end, when my family moved again in the middle of high school, I needed wrestling to be there for me. I imagined the wrestlers cheering on every little thing I did, to make me feel better about myself. I fantasized that, when they weren’t wrestling, they were worried about me, how I was doing in school, and hoping I was doing alright.
By the time college came around, my main reason for loving wrestling changed. Now an “adult,” I could resume watching as much wrestling as I liked — and boy, did I. Again, it comforted me in ways that not much else did, but by then I had realized that the actions and the plot lines were no more realistic than a daytime soap opera.
Did that stop me from watching? Not for a wink.
I was studying psychology at the time when I learned how much gestures and body language played such an integral part in social interactions. It was only a matter of time before I caught on to the subtle gestures and body languages — and the not-so-subtle gestures — that wrestlers used while in the middle of a match. My eyes and ears (thank you, hypersensitivity) picked up the whispered calls and the way one hand would touch the other’s shoulders to either prompt a scoop slam, or for the person to duck while the bad guy hit the other bad buy “by accident.”
I learned that pairs of Superstars, while displayed as mortal enemies in the ring, were in fact best of friends in real life. The dichotomy was astounding. And yet, so, so cool.
This led to some embarrassing fan fiction. This also led to some awesome fan fiction that one reader called “the best thing she had ever read.”
Wrestling walked with me through college as I lost my “freshman 15.” It waited for me after my first date, after my first alcoholic drink. When I had a (very, very slight, really) pregnancy fear, it calmed me down. Even just looking at the empty arena after seeing my first local wrestling show live, I felt calm, safe. I felt at home.
Fast-forward to now.
As I finish typing this post, wrestler Austin Aries’s most recent theme song blares on my Chromebook. I check my Hulu account and am pleased to see that there is a new episode of WWE NXT in my queue. Vintage WWE (then-WWF) magazines lay stacked next to my writing desk. Somewhere downstairs are a few sealed boxes of VHS tapes and DVDs of interviews, matches, vignettes, promos.
I should be asleep, but I’m left drained and lost after a conversation with an extroverted friend who chatted about her day and her endeavors and all the positive things in her life. It’s a friend whom I’ve always felt compelled to compete with, even though she doesn’t see it like that. But by the time I hang up, I’m feeling jittery, frightened, and a little worthless at the mundane nature of my everyday life, my social struggles. How it takes me hours to go one step when everyone else has gone twenty.
As I prepare for bed, I think about the severe differences between myself and my family, and myself and my co-workers. I think about how easily they talk about themselves and the events in their lives, and how content I am to answer any questions with simply, “It’s fine.” The details I give are forced, timid to sound stupid and hating the sound of my voice when it drones on and on. I wonder if anything really exciting happened to me.
With the vibrant guitars and drums on repeat, I think back on my day.
I joked with colleges and made them laugh, and they made me laugh in return. I acted as an instructor for a college student who was giving his first presentation ever using teleconference software. I spoke lightly with the several extremely prestigious executives, and they teased me back. When a coworker scoffed at something I did, I shoved it right back in her face, and it passed without much further incident. I went to an impromptu meeting with IT, which melted into friendly conversation as I walked him to the company shuttle bus. I even took initiative to invite a friend to go out to eat.
I remember now.
Today was a good day.
During the times I feel sorry for myself, or I feel massively overshadowed by a world of extroverts…wrestling is here. The psychology of its link to my youth and the support it lent during difficult times, continues to give me the simplistic comfort that it always did. It’s a sweet respite knowing that something bigger than me will not look down on me should I ever decide to break out and throw all caution to the wind.
In my silly, childlike mind, I’ll always remember the joy I felt as a nine-year-old, posing in the mirror like Shawn Michaels or the Rock or Booker T or Finn Balor or Shinsuke Nakamura.
(Or, were those last two yesterday…?)
I’ll remember the joy that, in this silly, varied world (even if that world is in my own mind), I am loud, I am bold, I am flamboyant, and I am charismatic.
And dang it if me don’t love some sweet pro wrestling.