The Masks We Wear.
This past year has been a weird one for me in terms of relationships. I’m twenty years old and I’ve never really had a serious dating relationship. As I think about it, I’ve hardly had any experience at all with girls, dating, and even pursuing a girl. In the past, the thought of even expressing interest to a girl was absolutely frightening to me, I’d rather have gone skydiving with a garbage bag as a parachute than express how I felt.
A large part of that was due to my struggle with insecurity, false identities, and a negative self-image, but thanks be to God I’m working through that now. This year was the first year in a long time that I felt comfortable pursuing the idea of a relationship. And I did.
I asked out three girls. And they all said no.
But, here’s the thing, I still wasn’t ready. I was so worried about impressing them, when I finally mustered the courage to ask each of them to coffee or dinner I was hopelessly nervous and self-conscious. “Would I be good enough? Would I be well-received? Do they even like me? Am I even attractive?”
I remember walking up to her door and leaving the note that would ask her to dinner. I felt like a twelve-year old boy walking down the hall of adults, surrounded by my ever-more-experienced peers who would be looking down on me. And the sad thing is that I lived into that reality, I think.
The girl kind of said yes, but some complications arose that interrupted the momentum. I took the prolonging of our dinner date as an effectual ‘no’, and eventually just stopped talking to her. Well, if I’m being honest, I never was honest with her. I never expressed how I felt directly, and never brought up the nature of our situation. I would go to class and pretend like nothing was different, like I hadn’t left that note (because she wasn’t bringing it up either), and secretly I hoped and prayed she would magically throw her arms around me so we could ride off in the sunset to a wonderful dinner.
And my insecurity stopped me from acting beyond the note I left. It stopped me from communicating. I was afraid that I was already rejected by her, that she was disinterested, and wouldn’t want to date a guy like me. I was afraid that I was un-datable. Maybe she wasn’t interested, maybe some of those things were true.
About a month later, my friends and I went to a ‘conversation on dating’ at a local church, and on the way back were talking about how to pursue a girl, let alone date her or marry her.
“Yeah, but what’s acceptable?” I said. “How do I let her know I’m interested and ask her to coffee? How much do I have to know her? How many conversations prior? How should I say it? Because nothing I’ve done has worked so far.”
The people in the car talked. Some said I could ask any girl to lunch on campus, and what matters is if she is interested. Others said we should at least be friends first. And then, in the silence, my friend Michael spoke up.
“Drew, the important thing is that you just be yourself. Because if she doesn’t like you and you can’t be yourself around her, then why date her?”
At first I was tempted to laugh at him for saying something so cliché. Then, it hit me. That was why. With all my experiences so in life, I’d been disingenuous. I had this belief that I had to do something to impress the girl I wanted to date. I had to show her how macho I was, and how cool I was. I thought pursuing a girl was about showing her you were the obvious choice, the best of the litter.
Maybe this was why I had such anxiety about approaching girls. I was constantly on guard, trying to be ‘better’ than I was. The state of mind I was in is probably what made me fumble my words and sweat more than usual.
Taking off the Mask
For the next few weeks I was dwelling on the idea of being genuine to myself. I discovered most of my life so far could be characterized as trying to be something I wasn’t. Over and over, I’d tried to conform to who I thought others wanted be to be. Somewhere buried deep in the mess of my false identities was the true me, and he was barely breathing under the weight of these illusory expectations I thought I had to live up to. And it wasn’t just with girls, it was with everything. Friendships. Jobs. Pursuing my passions. All of it.
I didn’t believe I had permission to be myself. It was an unhealthy idea, the idea of my self not having a place in reality. But slowly, I started giving myself permission to just be me. Sometimes permission is all we need. We have these walls we’ve built in our own heads of how we should operate and what we ought to act like, how we ought to appear to others. And then there’s who we actually are. And that’s who we ought to actually be.
The world needs more people who can just be themselves. We need people who have taken off their masks. Please join me, take off your mask and be yourself, with all your strengths and weaknesses, and your whole humanity. Join me in being more vulnerable, genuine, and honest. Because that’s the framework for a healthy humanity, and healthy relationships. Anything else is a lie, a façade, and self-deception.
Header used under Creative Commons License Taken by:Victoria Landon