Why are we so afraid to show who we really are? That genuine, real, full-bodied person we fear will be rejected if shown in all our glory?
I remember watching a series that was set in the 1960s. The central character was a young woman married for a few years with a baby and a toddler. Her goal in life was to support her husband, stay home and take care of the children. At one point, her husband decides he wants to become a stand up comedian, so she follows him to every show, cheering him on. Through a convoluted set of circumstances, they find out she is actually the true comedian in the family. The one with an innate knack at making people laugh.
It wasn’t the cause, but certainly the tipping point for their ultimate separation. They later reconnect and he is shocked when he awakens next to a woman who looks like she’d been sleeping all night, not the one he had grown accustomed to seeing for years. It turns out she had been getting up an hour early in order to fix her hair and put on her make up. She then went back to “sleep” to awaken perfect in his eyes. This was a time honored ritual passed down among the women in the family for generations. Heaven forbid anyone, even a spouse, should see you as you really are.
Her husband was clearly surprised by the revelation, but it didn’t change how he felt about her. Instead it did brought to the foreground all the subterfuge and effort she had taken to present a certain image at all times. They finally were seeing the real dynamics of their marriage and the subconscious and external forces that impacted it.
Another woman never allowed her husband to see her naked. They always made love in the dark. She dressed and undressed on her own for fear that what she truly looked like would scare him off or end their relationship.
Sadly in decades of practice these are not uncommon concerns. It affects men and women equally.
One man feared his straggly half grow beard looked so awful by morning he had to shave before his wife awoke and then pretend to sleep until the alarm sounded.
Another, fearful his new CPAP machine would be a turn off, stopped using it altogether to maintain his relationship. A devastating consequence to his health.
And these are long-term relationships- imagine what we’re doing to people we just meet or casual acquaintances, friends, and coworkers. The toll it takes to hide what we believe are flaws is devastating. We are all active participants, judging each other, sure no one can possibly accept us for who we are. Equally convinced everyone else’s life is perfect. Especially when all we see are touched up, manipulated pictures on social media that only present what we want the world to see.
We all need protection to some degree. Opening ourselves up before trust is established isn’t healthy either. But a brick walk is never the answer. A more permeable bubble that allows some things to enter while stopping others is better. That way we choose the filter settings and what can pass. It’s not relegated to all or nothing.
No one is perfect. We all have issues we’d like to change. It’s learning which ones we need to work on and which ones we need to let go and accept that’s important. Setting goals and working towards them is great. Feeling good about ourselves as we pursue them is imperative.
We are all afraid to feel vulnerable and exposed. But if we don’t have someone in our life we can truly be ourselves with, truly speak our minds to, truly relate to and let go with when the tension and stressors of life overwhelm us.
No matter who we are, what we look like, or the idiosyncrasies we bring to our relationships we all have to be able to strip down and bare our real selves. In all our glory. Only through the comfort of knowing we are accepted no matter what, can we achieve true intimacy. It takes time. Baby steps. Exposing ourselves slowly and confirming we are still accepted and loved. But it’s a path well worth taking.