First off, go read this post by Carrie Cuinn. It is awesome.
She brings up the issue of how so many people define themselves by what they have to do, by their responsibilities, by how they act around others based on what they want–whether they want to repel or attract. And she talks about how, only when we are truly alone are we really ourselves. Just us. Not so and so’s mom or this guy’s wife or this other person’s friend or college professor or whatever other thing you choose as a defining point.
Who are you if you take all those defining points away? Do you know?
I’d wager that the vast majority of people don’t. Not really. Because there is this instinctive human fear of being alone in most people. I think this is particularly true for extroverts. They tend seek people out rather than wallow in the solitude of their own thoughts. But even introverts get caught up in the whole life centered around other people. I see friends get away from spouses or kids or work–and often they can’t seem to find anything else to talk about. Because that IS their life. And we’re all so freaking busy all the time, that the notion of carving out alone time to a) figure out who we are on our own or b) protect who we are on our own, is a difficult task.
Sometimes you have cases where you wind up there not of your own volition, because of divorce or loss of job or death or some other loss of one or more of those anchor points. And you’re left reeling, not only from the totally natural grief of the loss but because you don’t know who you are on your own.
I used to be a very social creature. So much so that I was, for years, under the mistaken impression that I was an extrovert. Because I actually DO like people. And when I was in college and had plenty of time to feed the muse, get enough sleep, and write to my heart’s content (all around my actual educational requirements), I used to seek them out all the time. That’s when I learned I love to cook and entertain. Those were also the years when I learned that I can’t take people all the time. I get twitchy and cranky and need my solitude (one of the reasons I fear children).
Over the last decade, I’ve trimmed down my social circle. Some of that was a natural product of folks moving on after school. We all got busy and were lousy at keeping in touch. There were some people who, once I stopped seeing on a regular basis, I just kind of forgot about. Which sounds horrifically insensitive and awful, but there you have it. They weren’t feeding any of my needs, so my limited time and effort just didn’t get expanded to chase after them again. It is what it is. I don’t wish them ill or anything, I just moved on. Some of the pruning was an effort to cut out the toxic people in my life. We’ve all got them. People who stress us out, who force us into roles that simply are not us. We don’t NEED those people. They don’t ADD to our lives. So don’t feel guilty for cutting them out.
But a great deal of the shrinkage of my social circle was because I just stopped trying to define myself by other people. I’ve learned who I am on my own and I am totally okay with that, thunder thighs and all (not that I’m not trying to shrink said thighs).
I absolutely do not see the point in being someone I’m not. I never have. It’s flat out exhausting.
Boys were flat out afraid of me in high school because I was smart (and a little oddball). I didn’t want to date them enough to compromise on that and try to hide it (and when I got to college, it was a trait that was appreciated). And as it happens I wound up in a marriage to a man who appreciates me for all my strengths and my flaws.
The friends I’ve retained love me for the same. They all add real, true, value to my life, and for that they gain my unwavering loyalty and know that if anything happens, no matter what, I will be there to help.
Does that mean I run around being 100% authentically me all the time? No. Like the other day when I totally got proselytized by some old dude in one of the electric wheelchair carts while I was standing on the shampoo aisle. I spent the whole 10 minute encounter wishing he’d just hush and go away. But this is Mississippi. He was old. I wasn’t going to be rude. I knew all the right answers to his incredibly personal religious questions (hello, buckle of the Bible belt here) and I lied through my teeth when I needed to just to speed him along. Pretty sure his brand of Christianity thinks we Episcopalians are going to hell.
Anyway all this self reflection is just to say that I’m comfortable in my own skin. I know who I am. I am a writer and foodie. I would rather give up wine than have to go without my daily cup (or more) of tea. I prefer dogs to babies. My favorite scents are saddle leather and woodsmoke. I like my towels hung on the bar in neatly folded thirds. I think life without cheese is not worth living and I will (almost) never say no to Mexican food. I believe bacon makes everything better. I have no appreciation for crude, low-brow humor, but I love LOL Cats and I Haz a Hotdog. I crave silence as much as chocolate and prefer instrumental music to that with words. I truly do like opera and jazz. I’m sick to death of vampires and want to see other creatures represented in the paranormal cannon. But I still love werewolves. I’m viciously competitive with board games (and almost everything else) and I love doing solitary things so I don’t have to compete.
Do you know who you are? If not, take some time to find out. Don’t compromise because of someone else’s expectations. Life’s too short to be anybody but you.