The Hundreds of Ways We're All Just Pretending
Many years ago I was in a relationship with a man who had a close female friend. I felt incredibly uncomfortable around her. Not just because of the usual jealousy a male-female friendship can bring up, but because there was something completely inaccessible about her. She was aloof, cold even. And yet in my attempts to get closer to said man, I put in the effort to get to know her better.
It wasn’t easy. And if I was in the same situation now, I doubt I would have bothered. But, self-serving intentions aside, I agreed to try and spend a bit of time with her. Just the two of us. A forced little friendship, if you will.
I remember a particular mild winter’s day in Durban. We were sitting together on a couch in a local cafe, attempting to make conversation. And for a reason I can’t recall right now, I admitted to her how I was feeling about something going on in my life. Maybe it was intution. Maybe it was my subconscious telling me to change gears. But for whatever reason, I opened up to her. I was brutally honest about my life. I suppose you could say I chose to expose my humanness.
And with that, everything changed.
She opened up. Cracked open, would probably be a better description of how extreme the shift felt. She started sharing her own stories. Describing her own challenges. And the next thing I knew, we were laughing together. There was a lightness and ease. The kind that comes from a shared experience. The relief that comes with knowing you aren’t alone, and yes, all of us are just bumbling through life, hoping we figure it out somewhere along the way.
So many of us live this way. Portraying a version of ourselves we think is acceptable. We’re taught to fake it ’til we make it. Put our best foot forward. Behave in a way that’s becoming of a lady. There are so many belief systems entrenched in us from a young age that we’ve almost forgotten what’s true to us vs. something we’ve just been led to believe.
And even after many years of personal growth work, learning to undertand ourselves a little better, figuring out the difference between our real feelings and the ones imposed on us by someone else, how often are we wearing masks of acceptability?
Sometimes they’re thick masks, ones that render us completely unrecognisable, shut off , blocked and veneered. But many times, it’s the lighter masks that sneak up on us. They’re so subtle we can’t really feel them. And it becomes even harder to distinguish them from our realness.
I’ve dived deeply into this topic over the years. Observing people’s behaviour. Listening to the stories they tell. And there are so, so many of them:
“I pretend I have it all together but I actually don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”
“Keeping a mask on at work is so tiring but I have to do what I have to do.”
“I’m pretending to be happy but I know underneath it all, I’m not”
“I constantly find myself deferring to other people’s opinions without checking in on myself”
“I pretend I don’t need help when I could really do with extra support.”
“People think I have it all under control but they don’t know about the anxiety I’m dealing with”
“I mask how I really feel about people because I think it’s easier to keep the peace”
“I find myself adjusting who I am a little bit so that I’m someone others feel comfortable with.”
“I don’t admit when I’m hurt or sad and I to be ok.”
“I pretend I’m okay with what’s been agreed instead of just voicing my opinion”
The list goes on. So many of us pretending. Pretending that this is okay. That we’re okay. That life is okay.
We end up editing our responses, numbing ourselves out to our emotions and conforming to other people’s expectations.
We feel resentful towards people and circumstances. Irritable and drained. Disappointed and joyless. We feel stuck, frustrated and over-stretched.
But the truth is, all we’ve been doing is pretending to ourselves.
And with that, holding ourselves back from what it is that we really want, need and desire.
Holding ourselves back from expressing ourselves as we truly are.
And stopping ourselves from living our lives on our own terms.
Might we be able to start admitting to ourselves where we’ve been compromising ourselves?
Is it possible that we’d start unlocking our own needs?
Accepting what’s true for us, even when it’s contradicts those around us?
Making decisions that feel more aligned with our purpose?
Feeling more certain in our choices?
More honest in our conversations?