Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset: The Force of the Shrug

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Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Check out Raffles Press’ new column, Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset, and our resident Aunties and Uncles will be glad to help you with your Rafflesian troubles! Submit your confessions to and we’ll give them our best shot.

Dear Aunt Agony,
Why do people think it’s cool to pretend they don’t care about anything?

– Distressed

Hey Distressed,

It sounds like someone’s been giving you much trouble, perhaps because of their apathy or unwillingness to invest themselves in the thick and thin of the present!

Well, first off, here’s what we can say about it: apathy is something most people our age will be familiar with – whether because they’ve been at the receiving end of it, or exercised the art of not caring for themselves. We’ve all had to interact with apathy whether we recognise it or not, because it manifests itself in a diversity of forms – in your stubborn resolve not to study for a test, working in a group of lazy people on a troublesome school project, being a silent member in CCA, and the (perhaps) surprising calm you feel despite earning an S on your lecture test, just to name a few.

We’re guessing you may be feeling confounded by why people even feel the sheer need to act so dispassionately, to which we present our take.

Why Don’t People Care?
For those who haven’t been to the dark side of apathy before, you may feel anger and resentment towards those who, no matter what you do, are self-interested and refuse to care about the people around them. Still, such people are surprisingly more human, deep down, than you may think. When we spoke to a few people who fit the stereotypes associated with laidback, ironically dispassionate teens, they opined that it in fact wasn’t easy to pretend not to care about something haranguing their minds. When people do that, it is rarely not with the single-minded objective of being “cool”, but rather, to impress upon others the image that they are breezing through life, untied to the weight of living that is getting everyone else down. Nonchalance can be summed up as an effective thicket to shove your vulnerabilities behind.

Besides the usefulness of curbing one’s feelings, people may also concoct such a tall tale of emotional invincibility because of something called a superiority complex – this is when someone pretends not to care, because they fear the repercussions of caring too much, such as getting hurt. A motivation for turning apathetic is because, as we go through life, we are inevitably ever prone to injuring our hearts and facing disappointment from past episodes of trying to care. Consequently, pretending not to care becomes appealing, because it can be a shield to protect oneself from being saddled by the burden of commitments, whether emotional or professional. (It isn’t a big bedazzling offensive wielded in your face for the sake of playing it cool – don’t take it too personally if you find yourself at the receiving end of someone’s pointed indifference.)

Another point to note about pretending not to care is that such behaviour is almost always situational. Despite the preachings we hear, few people will be willing to step out of their own comfort zones, because of the thinking that they are unable to influence the situation they find themselves in. This is especially true when we cannot change what is seemingly cast-in-stone; we will withdraw into our shells, because after all, it is much easier to just let it go rather than jump in the stakes and risk change.

Nonchalance? Indifference? What’s the Difference?
Maybe you’re the kind of person to overlook small things of insignificance, then by all means, keep up the good work: the art of letting go and not leaving your mind in an unmitigated clutter is something pretty important in our hectic, bustling modern lives.

But there’s a big difference between prioritizing what’s important and what’s not, versus simply not paying enough attention to the things around you. Denial of your responsibilities and obligations (“I don’t have any essays to submit soon, do I?”) is an unhealthy way of dealing with life’s oddities; because, for the most part, it’s passive, it doesn’t help you overcome them, and it may even make matters worse when the sea of troubles starts to snowball! If you’re a little short on the side of luck (and we all know how unpredictable Lady Luck is), they might come back and haunt you later–you’ll know what I mean when you’re snaeking one week before the Common Tests. In a nutshell: not a healthy habit that we approve of!

The Harmful Consequences of Being Indifferent
Okay: now that we know pretending to be apathetic can be bad sometimes — do we know how bad it is?

Putting up a facade that isn’t reflective of your true self can be and probably is immensely emotionally taxing. For those who already do subscribe to the belief that a devil-may-care attitude might earn you brownie points for coolness, it’s time to think carefully if this identity mismatch is something you really want to carry into the future. In the worst case scenario, it could mean constantly feeling uncomfortable with yourself for an indefinite amount of time, with the additional burden of being unable to vent your stress or confide in your closest friends. Kept up for an extended period of time, shoving one’s responsibilities and emotions into a radioactive stockpile will certainly cause a lot of pressure due to pent-up emotions, eventually culminating in explosive reactions that may be undesirable and damaging to personal relationships. Some may think otherwise, but Auntie most definitely wouldn’t want to trade personal well-being for “coolness”!

Pretending not to care can also have adverse effects on your personal relationships — both existing, and potential ones! For example, your friends and family might feel upset that you’re putting on a false front even to them, and perhaps wonder if you don’t trust them enough. You’ll come across as cold and unfeeling to acquaintances or strangers to whom you don’t yet share the depth of understanding and mutual empathy for them to look past the first impressions you give off. Who knows how many people you’ve deterred from stopping by and getting to know you just because of the impression of being intimidating and aloof?

How Should I Deal with People who Pretend Not to Care?
Well, first of all, it’s important to be realistic: if you don’t know the person that well (or if it’s a complete stranger!), you’re better off leaving him alone. Telling him to stop will very likely come across as rude or inappropriate, and nobody wants to make a scene if you can help it.

If his or her behavior still irks you either ways, just remember that it’s all just a show. Nobody is perfect, everybody has their own inner struggles, and if they want to seal off and pretend to never be bothered — it’s their loss, not yours.

If you are close friends with them, however, you should try your best to be more frank and open about how you feel towards their behavior. Get talking about why they act the way they do, and if it genuinely affects your friendship in a negative way, speak up about it! It’s unlikely that your friend started to pretend not to care with the express intention to hurt you emotionally or strain your relationship. On the contrary, if they were more conscious of the implications of their actions, they may very well respect your wishes and avoid doing so. Let them know why this is becoming a problem.

We wish you luck with resolving any issues you may have with the people around you – confrontation is always daunting, but just be mature and listen to what the other party has to say, and it won’t go wrong.

Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset

If you have any queries or concerns related to the Aunt Agony/Uncle Upset column or its confessions, please direct them to, with the title ‘Questions about Aunt Agony’.

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