On Wearing Running Shoes (All the Time)

by Smiley Poswolsky

Last weekend, my younger sister schooled me. We were home visiting our parents, taking a walk to the bookstore, and I told her the girl I was (kind of) seeing broke up with me. She seemed disappointed, put an arm around my shoulder in consolation, and, looking down at my feet, stopped suddenly.

“Wait, Adam,” my sister hesitated, “were you wearing those shoes when she broke up with you?”

“Yes,” I said, looking down at my worn running shoes, dirt stains covering the sky blue Nike Free Run label, “yes of course I was wearing these. They’re my shoes.”

“Adam — you can’t wear running shoes with girls — it’s not hot. Period.”

I remembered hearing this once in high school. I ran cross-country back then (read: I was a dork), and a female friend pulled me aside once after class and told me to stop wearing old running shoes to school if I wanted to make out with girls. “At least wear those cool New Balance shoes with the big “N” on them — those are okay.” She saved my adolescent life. After I started wearing “cooler” shoes — understanding the difference between kicks (you are cool) and running shoes (you are a loser) — Nike and Adidas and Saucony and New Balance and Asics all make both kicksand running shoes, don’t get them twisted — girls actually did talk to me more.

I felt so enlightened by my discovery — it was like I had sipped from the fountain of life — I saw it as my duty to share the love with other unfortunate losers still in the dark. Anytime I saw a guy wearing running shoes not running or at the gym or on the way to the gym, I politely dropped some knowledge. “Yo man, here’s the deal. You can’t wear those beat-up running shoes out and about. You need to get yourself some kicks if you want girls to like you.”

And so it went through college and into the real world; I paid attention to the shoes I wore, and paid more attention when a girl came to class in fresh kicks or badass knee-high boots or suede Wallabees or cool Chucks or cuter-than-cute Toms (say what you will about the degree to which Toms is or isn’t making an impact in the developing world, if I see a girl in a room wearing Toms, I talk to her — shit, if I see a dude in a room wearing Toms, he looks so cool, I talk to him).

Ten years after my high school awakening, my sister made me realize that, at the age of 29, a good five or even ten years earlier than most men, I had officially crossed the line between young adult and adult, between dude and man, between kicks and running shoes. This is the line where comfort outweighs looking cool or picking someone up. This the line that says, “my knees kind of hurt so I’m wearing whatever fucking kind of shoes I want to.” When’s the last time you tried on a pair of Nike Frees? You feel like a nimble gazelle, gliding through the universe. Every time I try on a pair of Toms or Chucks or Vans or Keds or any other “cool” kicks with barely any arch support or cushioning that are all the rage these days, my feet cringe and my knees start to buckle in pain — it’s not like it used to be.

As I join the ranks of so many good men who have come before me, men like my dad and dads everywhere, men who, without batting an eye, without giving a shit, wear old running shoes from 1991 everywhere they go, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with shorts and jeans and khakis and dress pants, to bars and restaurants and parties and the office — I can’t help but feel some sense of maturity, some sense of wisdom, like I’ve completed a sacred rite of passage, like I’ve become a real man, free of the adolescent pressure of caring about appearances.

Single or (single), it feels good to wear running shoes all the time, it really does.

Smiley Poswolsky is a writer, and lover of life and people. You can follow him on Twitter.