In general, I avoid the romance genre. I don’t have anything against it, exactly, but it really isn’t my thing. I like fantasy, science fiction, character studies, and procedurals. Maybe romance doesn’t appeal to me because I’m not generally a romantic person myself, or maybe I’m just a bit too cynical to really get into them.
That all changes the moment I get sick.
In my early twenties, my roommate and I both came down with a terrible flu. She had a huge collection of feel-good romance novels, and since I had a lack of new reading material in that pre-Kindle age, I picked one up and started reading. During the week we were home sick, I read two of those books every day. When I recovered, I wasn’t really interested anymore. The next time I got sick, though, I dug into my roommate’s DVD collection and spent a couple days watching rom-coms. The pattern has continued-for some reason, when I’m really under the weather, romance becomes my guilty pleasure. This past week, I spent several days sick in bed (recovered now, thankfully). Partway through the illness, my friend Mike asked me how I was doing, and I responded by telling him what I was watching on Netflix (and because he knows me well, that told him all he needed to know about how I was doing).
When I thought about it later, I considered the fact that I felt a need to justify the fact that I was watching, and enjoying, something outside of my norm. The subtext was clearly, “This is silly, but don’t make fun of me…it’s ok because I’m sick”. It’s strange, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with romance; it’s just not something I’m into, and doesn’t fit into the way people usually see me, or the way I see myself. That got me thinking about the term “guilty pleasures”, informally defined by dictionary.com as “an activity or piece of media that someone enjoys but would be embarrassed by if other people found out about it”.
I think it’s time for a good hard look at guilty pleasures, and how we engage with them. Let’s start with:
Should you feel guilty?
Before you decide whether you are going to embrace your guilty pleasure, you should ask yourself if there is a good reason to feel guilty about it. Set aside the cultural or social baggage that comes with certain things and ask yourself a few key questions.
- Is it irresponsible?
- Is it hurting someone?
- Is it hurting you?
- Can you afford to spend the money or time on it?
To use an absolutely extreme example, if your guilty pleasure is drug abuse, that is a problem. You are harming yourself and others by taking an addictive substance, and odds are you are going to spend far too much money on it. For a less extreme example, let’s say your guilty pleasure is video games. Those have become pretty acceptable in recent years, so why do you feel guilty about it? Is it because you’re in a situation where you are overdoing it, to the neglect of family, friends, and work? If that’s the case, any guilt you feel makes sense, because you probably need to adjust how you spend your time until you’ve reached a balance.
If your guilty pleasure isn’t causing any harm, you should ask yourself…
Why am I embarrassed?
If there aren’t any problems associated with your interest or activity, why are you embarrassed by it? Usually that comes down to two problems: you feel it’s wasting time or there’s a negative perception.
If it’s a matter of wasting time, ask yourself if there’s something you need to be doing during that time. If your guilty pleasure is taking time away from things that must get done, take another look at the previous section. If, on the other hand, you could spare the time, but keep thinking you could/should instead be doing non-critical productive things instead, give yourself a break. Rest, relaxation, and fun are all important parts of life.
The other problem is negative perception. Perhaps your hobby is viewed as being immature, or not being serious enough. Maybe it’s low-brow entertainment, or, like in my case, it doesn’t fit into your ordinary life or self-concept. Maybe you, or others, see it as selfish. That last one might really trip you up, because you feel like you should have taken the two hundred dollars you spent on getting your hair done and donated it to charity, or maybe you think the two hours you spent watching a movie could have been better spent on upgrading your next presentation at work. However, there’s nothing wrong with spending time and money on something that makes you happy.
Of course, guilty pleasures get the name because of how people see them, which leads to the third question…
Should you talk about it?
A lot of times we apply the term “guilty pleasures” because of how people respond when we talk about them. The first thing to realize is that you don’t have to tell anybody anything. The most important thing is accepting it for yourself, and then it’s your business if you want to talk about it. Being a person who usually really enjoys telling the world about how ridiculous I am, I tend to go with talk about them.
Most of the time. I am the opposite of ashamed of my love of cheesy 80’s horror films. However, I’m very uncomfortable telling people how much money I spent on any kind of salon or spa treatment, and, as previously mentioned, I always feel like I have to justify a foray into the romance genre. Talking about your interests and activities is your call. If you do, try to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to include a de facto apology (something I’m going to be working on in the future). It’s possible that someone will tease you, but if they do so in a way that’s fun and not hurtful, enjoy the camaraderie. On the other hand, if you have legitimate reason to believe that someone will judge you, or diminish your pleasure or something, don’t tell them about it.
Personally, I think we should be thinking of these less as guilty pleasures but more like we think about anything we enjoy, period. I’ll get us started by admitting that even though I’m feeling better, I’m still going to finish the show I was binging while I was sick, because I’m legitimately invested in seeing the characters get their happily ever after. And I’m not ashamed of that.
How about you? What are your so-called guilty pleasures?