I was 19 years old and ~3 cheap whiskeys deep when I bragged to my cousin about something that still makes me cringe:
“I don’t even give a fuck about giving a fuck!”I crowed into the thick midnight air.
We probably high-fived.
But reflecting on that moment almost always merits a well-deserved facepalm from me.
Why? Well… because it wasn’t true in the slightest.
Like many of my fellow humans, my loose-lipped brassiness was a blazingly bright mask hiding insecurities of various textures and temperatures; concerns about boys liking me, or being smarter than whoever I worried was competition, or fearing I’d graduate college only to retreat back to my hometown to work a decidedly unsexy job.
“I don’t really give a fuck,” I’d say — about pretty much anything — with the dismissive authority that comes naturally to most young adults.
Because here was the power: Each time I uttered the phase, in that instant it become nearly true.
That’s the thing about “not giving a fuck” — it makes you feel (and perhaps even look) un-fuck-withable.
Even the word “fuck” itself is satisfying to say; the consonants form a spit of verbal violence warning predators to stay away, the way a cat’s fur
does when it stands on end.
The phrase also gives conversations you’re having about personal drama or stress a clear conclusion at will, and makes you appear strong and resolute when you aren’t.
This is perhaps the most powerful benefit of claiming to “give no fucks”: It keeps you from having to dig further into the things you don’t want to, or are embarrassed to, discuss.
It’s anti-vulnerability armor — and my god, it works.
As time went on, the “give no fucks” movement became a call to arms for women on the internet in particular, painting the absence of fucks as a road to a tier of self-actualization and absolution.
The pitch was made, and the world bought in fast.
There was at least one book about it (none of which I’ve read).
Memes and webcomics galore began to praise its virtues and mock fuck-giving in general.
Friends talked at length about exactly how few fucks they had to offer the various frenemies, family members, shitty bosses and clients, and ex boyfriends and girlfriends.
The fuck-free revolution began to seep into the business world too, with business owners encouraging each other to “give no/fewer fucks” as a way to mitigate the stress of entrepreneurship, money, blogging, unsubscribe counts, and all the assorted perils of showing up in the digital space.
Blog posts, social shares, graphics, and videos appeared, dedicated to the constant dissection of what it really meant to not give a fuck, and the paradise promised once you’d achieve fuckless nirvana like some foul-mouthed monk.
While I rolled along with it for many years “You go girl!”, “Yep, fuck him/her/that, you deserve better”, “No fucks 2009/10/11/12/13.14…”, I was, all the while, shamefully cloaking the realities of my own deep, constant, occasionally-excessive fuck-giving.
That’s probably why, even as I used and encouraged use of the phrase, I was eventually forced to examine what it really meant.
It’s like that quip from Margaret Thatcher (whose internalized misogyny in this overall idea will be briefly ignored for the sake of this single point):
“Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are… you aren’t.”
By the same token — were the actual no-fucks-givers the ones discussing their fuck deficit most?
Survey says… probably not.
Granted, not everyone shares my story or perspective. But it still began to needle at me. (And occasionally make me roll my eyes so hard I saw my frontal lobe.)
I began to wonder: What does it mean to genuinely give no fucks?
Does it mean anything at all?
Was it even possible?
The “no fucks woman” was being painted as independent, invulnerable, single minded, and yet somehow still wholly unattached to her ambitions and desires.
That was something I could get behind (and it was a little more fun than the traditional Buddhist ideal of non-attachment).
However, I worried the concept was adding fuel to the with the “not like the other girls” stereotype that’s plagued popular culture since decades before Garden State and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind served up the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girls: Uncool girls cared too much, cool girls don’t care at all.
I worried it was yet another way the extra-empathetic among us were encouraged to clam up at risk of appearing weak, or putting too much value in the world around us… whatever that meant.
On the flip side I was also beginning to notice: The more fucks I gave about my work, my creativity, and my life? The better I became.
I think it’s a normal step on the journey of maturity to realize that numbness does not necessarily equal power, and neutrality is not necessarily strength.
While the definition of what “give no fucks” means varies, I think it nudges a little too close to the the adolescent shrug that “You shouldn’t care about anything, because caring is pressure, and pressure, like, sucks, man.”
However, as the saying goes: “No pressure, no diamonds”.
If we truly want to grow, it cannot serve us long term to never invest emotionally in anything.
Eventually I began to chew over the idea that maybe my fucks weren’tactually something to be dismissed completely.
After all: When I gave fucks about the right things, my work, my creativity, and my relationships all improved.
Maybe caring and genuinely giving a fuck is precious and valuable, and not meant to be resisted entirely — because it means you’re invested in the outcome of something greater than yourself.
But what nuance can this offer the sexy duality of the fuck haves an the ultra-cool fuck have-nots?
Maybe it’s never been about “giving no fucks” — but rather choosing to prioritize your fucks, a.k.a. your energy.
Yes, of course it is possible to give too many fucks around unnecessary things (i.e. my personal petty insecurities).
But when you decide to channel those excess fucks into something positive (like being kinder to yourself and those around you, crushing your professional goals, or making more stuff you love making)?
So, a decade after that initial cringey whiskey-driven “IDGAF” quip, I changed my tune:
I made a quip on Facebook about only offering small batch, organic, farm raised, grass fed, free range fucks — but I had them to give, always, and I was proud and happy to offer them.
And I think that’s the metaphor I’ll stick to for a while.
“I only give selective and intentional fucks, but I give them with pride and joy all the same” may not pack the same punch as “give no fucks”— but it’ll keep you from flattening yourself, avoiding the vulnerability of growth, and muting yourself in the long run.
So just in case you felt you needed permission…
Give fucks. Spread love. Get comfy with the vulnerability of visibly offering your energy to things.
Care the way you want to care, as often and as much as you wish — because that’s the only way you can really create the world and life you want most.
It’s what you deserve.