Whatever age it is you can be labelled a fanboy (or girl) I think, and I'm glad, I've passed it
So I could possibly care less, but it would be difficult !
Best I can tell you as a newcomer is read up on the distros that take your interest, download and run them live from a USB (ideally) and see what YOU think and what YOU like.
If it runs well on your machine and is stable and you like the look and feel of it, you're on a winner.
I've been using mint since Lisa/8 and have tried more distros than I can remember, the only ones (for me) that have made any impression and grabbed me recently have been Zorin OS and Knoppix, Knoppix being the only debian/lxde combo i've liked the look of, Zorin being the only other ubuntu based edition that's impressed me as much as mint did, and does, I always stick with mint though either way, and it remains my No1 Linux distro. Ubuntu may well get a some flack, but the bottom line is it's a great edition but unity's not to everyones taste, that doesn't make it laughable.
You sound experienced and savvy enough to make your own mind up, have fun, don't worry what the 'elitists' might think of you, it doesn't mean they're having more fun
Lenovo ThinkPad T61 LM16-64 bit Intel T7500/2.2GHz/Cinammon 1.8 Intel GM965. Toshiba Satellite M70: LM16-32bit. Desktop:LM13 Maya 64 bit, on new Intel 3.2ghz proc/asus MB/8gb RAM