“Some time after I’d left my husband, I was at a party and a guy I barely knew said to me, “You know, you seem like a completely different person, now that you’re with this new boyfriend. You used to look like your husband, but now you look like David. You even dress like him and talk like him. You know how some people look like their dogs? I think maybe you always look like your men.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)
I like to blend.
I become on the outside what I think people want to see. It’s not something I’m proud of at all. My authenticity hangs by a thread and after a lifetime of being a chameleon I have tended to forget the real me. I have brushed so many metaphorical different colours onto my personality and appearance – bold, red lines for that one boyfriend, soft pastel hues for my mom. Sometimes I chip away at the dried paint, curious to see what originally lay beneath. It’s like facing a stranger.
A friend recently looked at me quizzically when I quietly admitted that I’m 39 and still have no idea who I am. He answered, “Just be true to yourself, Mich. You know deep down who that is.”
I stared blankly.
My entire life I’ve been so true to everyone else that I’ve lost ME.
I will say what I think you want to hear, wear the dress the man in my life loves (even if I hate it), and smile when I’ve actually just been hurt. As I’ve grown over the past few months, I’ve been trying to make my flimsy string of authenticity a little more rope-like – after all, my reputation is hanging on this thing. It’s forced me to question my behaviour. If I show my colours I want them to be all mine, not the ones I think everyone else wants to see.
I came across a quote by Judy Klipin that made a whole lot of sense to me:
“All the time we are doing things we don’t want to do, or not doing things that we do want to do, we tell ourselves that it is because we don’t want to hurt anyone.
Which is partly true; nobody who is healthy and rational wants to knowingly hurt another person.
I think that what is more true, however, is that not wanting to hurt others is only half of the story. What we really want to avoid, is being hurt ourselves. If we hurt someone else – by not giving them what they want or, as is more often the case, what we think they want – we run the risk of being rejected by them.
And what could be more hurtful than rejection?
Rejection is scary and the threat of rejection is even scarier.
But when we aren’t true to ourselves, when we don’t honour our own desires, all we do is short circuit the process and, instead of starting at the beginning, we go straight to rejection. We don’t need anyone else to reject us – we are rejecting ourselves.”
I realised two things:
- By not saying no to others I automatically said no to myself. I feared rejection, and I got it anyway – from the person who is meant to love me most – ME.
- People may love all the colours I project, but that doesn’t mean they love me for who I am – how could they when they have never met her? So what I want most – acceptance – I will never have. My bright shades of pink might be adored, but the invisible truth underneath that – never known, never accepted.
It reminds me of the movie, “Runaway Bride,” starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. With each fiancé, Julia’s character moulds herself around his wants and needs, likes and dislikes. Then, just as she walks down the aisle she runs scared and leaves him at the altar, only to repeat the cycle. With one guy she’s the mountaineering omelette eater, with the next she’s a fried egg loving insect enthusiast. Towards the end of the movie she is forced to learn who she is without a man and without the need to please anyone in order to feel valuable enough to love herself. She lines up a plate of eggs made in different ways and determines what SHE likes most. Poached.
Perhaps in my own life I need to line up some plates and go on a discovery quest. Before saying yes to a date, consider… “Hmmm, do I really want to go? Or would I rather stay home and read my book? Heck, do I even like this guy at all?” – where before it would be an instant yes, because shame, I couldn’t reject the poor oke.
Maybe, instead of lending a friend money that I don’t have (I have created long excel columns of debt for others) I could say…dare I venture…No. They might be disappointed. They might feel rejected. They might decide they don’t like me anymore. The way that makes me feel afterwards might be uncomfortable. I expect guilt to tap me on my shoulder a few times. But at least I won’t feel like a fake. The mist of white lies will start clearing and the image of who I truly am will start to become visible.
I will always have a massive heart. I’m the girl who brings home the strays and I love the seemingly unlovable. I don’t think saying no will ever come easily to me. I also know that the fear of the real Michelle being rejected will always be there, but I’d rather be rejected for who I am than accepted for who I am not.
Stripping down to our naked selves without camouflage is scary. No masks, no sugar-coating, just us. Yet, the people I love and respect the most are the ones that do just that. You always know where you stand and you know that if they are with you they really want to be. They don’t change depending on who they are with, and what you see is what you get.
Maybe being vulnerable with the big reveal is not so scary when you accept that not everyone will like you, but there will be special people who do. Then they get the gift of knowing who you really are and you have the pleasure of being known. Which, in turn, means you can give more and more of yourself without being afraid.
I want to give more of ME to the world. The real me.
And I really want to see the real YOU. Let’s toss the pretense.
Love me, love me not. All I can do is offer you the flower.