Halloween was always my favorite holiday. It was never about the candy for me-I just loved that I could be anyone I wanted to be. And I took that very seriously, enlisting my mom in sewing me elaborate costumes from things I found around the house. When I was five, I dressed up as a clown in a suit made entirely out of old curtains-it was awesome. Then I was a witch. Then a cat. Then I went through a moody phase and insisted on being a Little Red Riding Hood vampire (things kind of went progressively downhill from there). And through it all, I remember being obsessed with the feeling of putting on a mask and being somebody else for a night.
I guess that should have been a red flag, because as an adult, I find that being myself is hard. Yes, I have a personality. But I’m not sure whose personality I have. I find it extraordinarily difficult to tell people, “No”; I often make decisions based on fear of disappointing others; and I go to great lengths constructing a public image for myself that I think will be pleasing to as many people as possible-the perfect combination of funny, social and confident-even if that means compromising what I really want to do (sometimes I don’t WANT to smile). And the most frightening thing of all is that this masquerade has been going on for so long, I am now scared to take off the mask.
I was talking about this to my friend, Rebecca, the other day. Rebecca is beautiful and powerful and intelligent (and reminds me a little of Xena: Warrior Princess). She met me at our favorite coffee shop in Venice to catch up on life. Two almond milk lattes and a cryptic text from a potential suitor later, we started talking about men.
She and I are both going through some…challenges. Rebecca is having a lot of difficulty communicating with her boyfriend. They’ve been together for a long time, and she is sure she wants to spend the rest of her life with him. When Rebecca loves, she loves to the fullest, so she is willing to sacrifice and adjust to his needs.
But her issue is this: because she wants him to be happy, she sometimes changes who she is into who she thinks he wants her to be. For example, she knows he doesn’t like vulgarity. But her sense of humor appreciates the occasional dirty word. So she might joke around with her girlfriends one way, but will censor that playful part of herself around him. It seems trivial, but it’s actually bleeding into other areas of their relationship, and she ultimately ends up coming across as completely inauthentic. Her boyfriend senses that he’s not dating the “real” Rebecca, which frustrates him. So they fight.
Listening to all this, it occurs to me how often people-and it seems women, especially-are afraid of unleashing their real selves in relationships. We are absolutely convinced that somehow the raw versions of ourselves aren’t glamorous, sexy, captivating enough. So we become selectively vulnerable, sometimes constructing an entirely false personality, believing this is the way we will earn love.
I’m sitting across from Rebecca, taking all of this in, coffee cup in one hand, iPhone in the other. My phone is out because as we’re dissecting Rebecca’s love life, we’re preparing for battle with mine. It’s an annoyingly familiar scenario: I’m dating this guy, and things are still very new. So every time I pick up the phone to send him a message, I stop myself, thinking, “I should wait for him to text first.”
I mean, come on. I am an empowered independent woman, writing a column for other empowered independent women, and I don’t have the balls (yes, I said “balls”) to send a text message to a man. I’m so tired of feeling like nobody wants to see all of who I am. And we can sit here and talk about social constructs and the systematized oppression of women-all of which is valid-but here in this moment, I am responsible for myself. I am the one with my phone out and my mask on.
And it’s painfully banal and simple at the end of the day, isn’t it? The girl under the mask is just afraid of rejection or abandonment. I am afraid of rejection, so I’m afraid to be myself. Rebecca is afraid of being abandoned, so she’s afraid to be herself.
So here we were, two clichés at a coffee shop.
We recognize it immediately and stop talking for a moment. I even put my phone down. Through the silence, we feel the weight of the lies we tell ourselves and believe.
So our conversation changes. Suddenly, there’s something greater at stake than whether or not a couple of men – or even the rest of the world – likes who we are. Do WE like who we are? Are we, first and foremost, being authentic with ourselves? Do we know what we want? Are we honest about what we’re afraid of? Are we willing to face the parts of ourselves we don’t like? It can be hard to take our masks off in public. Are we first willing to take them off for ourselves?
Are you in your current career because it’s your empowered choice, or because you are afraid of the responsibility of following your real dreams? Are you about to have sex with this man because you want to, or because the attention validates your existence (or even better, because you shaved your legs this morning and you might as well at this point)?
I always thought authenticity meant sharing everything you feel with everyone you meet. That’s not authenticity- that’s just having no boundaries. Authenticity is knowing your truth and living from it powerfully. It’s not denying that we are afraid of rejection and abandonment – it’s admitting that we are. And still having the courage to be the beautiful, uninteresting, sexy, vulgar, ugly, pushy, enigmatic women – human beings – we are.
This Halloween, I’m going as myself. I’m still dressing up though. I’m thinking Xena.
Join the movement
– Margarita Rozenbaoum