Several months ago a new acquaintance asked me “have you always been this way?”. I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about but I think I referred to past banking scandals as a game of fiduciary slap and tickle. I think I also might have been telling her about a presentation I was developing about Job and Job being a guy who was shit out of luck.
The question caught me off guard. I don’t think of myself as being ‘a way’. I am me and me is who I am. I couldn’t be any more me-ier if I tried. But I started thinking on it. On the difference between me now and me twenty years ago.
At twenty-five, I was still me. But I was also a lot of other things that were not me. For one thing, I went to country bars. For another, I was heavily invested in the idea that I had to be a size six in order for anyone to love me. I didn’t really want to be married but I was pretty sure being married would fix a lot of my problems. And by being married, I mean marrying money. I was positive I wasn’t a competent parent because I preferred watching Saturday morning cartoons with my daughter over housework. But what it came down to is anyone else’s opinion of me was more valid than my own. Failing was a confirmation of my unworthiness. I hid my intelligence. I sat in the back pew at church and cried most Sunday mornings.
At thirty-five, I was still me. But I was, unfortunately, still a lot of other things that were not me, though less than a decade before. This time, I was sure my value was a person was directly tied to my net worth. I was sure a larger house in a nicer neighborhood would not only make me a better person but a better parent and make my daughter happier. I joined The Rotary Club and The Chamber of Commerce. Being unorganized and dust bunnies in the corner meant I wasn’t a good person. I thought being pretty was the rent I owed the world for taking up space on the planet. Failure was inevitable because everything turned to shit eventually. I let my intelligence show to a few. I was sure spending all my spare time doing work at the church would earn me more of God’s love and in turn, make me less of a disappointment.
Now, I’m me all the time. I don’t spend time trying to meet the expectations of others. And when I find myself doing it again, I stop. I wear lipstick because I like it. The ritual of performative gender norms makes me happy. And when I don’t feel like doing it, I don’t do it. I don’t hang out in bars I don’t like, playing music I don’t want to listen to, with uninteresting people, on the off chance an aging car salesman might find me fuckable enough. I dropped The Rotary Club, too.
Both sides of my sink are piled with dirty dishes. There is enough dog hair on the floor, not even in my house, but just around the chair I’m sitting in, to knit me another dog. I’m in my pajamas and it is past lunch time. Other things interest me more right now. I am doing those things. When those things don’t interest me or when I am looking to procrastinate on a writing project, I’ll wash the dishes. When my intellect is engaged, everything else takes a back seat.
I know failure is a part of life. It is an intrinsic part of a good life. There is no moving forward without setback. All of those things I failed at? At least I was in the game. I was trying. And each failure, each time it all went to shit, it became a part of my story. It became a part of the story I can tell myself now about the time I thought everything was over and it turned out not to be the case.
I care if you like me. But not in a way that privileges your opinions of me over my own opinions. I am an introspective person. I am constantly examining my relationships with others. If I feel like I’ve made a mistake, I will apologize. If I feel like I could do better, I will. But I can’t make myself be an extrovert if I am not. I’m not going to pretend to care about landscaping suburbia or spray tans.This is qualitatively different than walking through the world willing to turn yourself inside out in order to earn the love of another.
There is nothing I can do to earn more of the Love which is available to us all. All I can do is orient my life and my thoughts in such a way as to experience more fully the Love that has always been and always will be. I still sit in the back pew and cry but for different, better, reasons.
I like being me. It is fun being me, all day long, every day. If I had known how much fun it would be to be me all the time, I would have taken it up much, much, sooner. I’ve shed all of those other ideas, all those other selves that were not authentic. It feels so good being me, I do it all the time now.
I tell you, be more you. Be all the you you can be. Don’t be other people. Let those other people work on being themselves. You work on being you.
So, to answer my friend’s question, yes. I’ve always been like this.