I remember very distinctly lying to an actor while I was working as a wardrobe crew member years ago.
“Where are you from?” I asked, putting on his wig. “Hububsmalltownublah, Massachusetts,” he said. Very coolly, nonchalantly, as though this was a small fête in Paris (say it like this- “pao-weeeee”-because it’s fun), as though I had a cigarette holder in one hand and a shallow glass of champagne in the other, I replied, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got some family there.”
Why? Why did I say this?
He said, “Really? You have family in Hububsmalltownublah? Hububsmalltownublah, Massachusetts? Wow. That’s- that’s unbelievable. It’s a really, really small town. I know almost everyone there. What’s your family name?” Folks, as soon as he used that phrase- family name- I knew I was a goner. I was able to keep up the lie for the rest of the summer, using Google search to help me figure out what towns Hububsmalltownublah was near and what the local attractions were, but every time I saw him, I was panicked that today would be the day I would blow my cover and he would find out that I had only ever been to Massachusetts once, on a trip to Boston with my dad. Beyond that, I’m positive that he knew I was lying, which just made him feel bad for me- and where genuine fondness and mutual respect could have blossomed, that space was now filled with shame and pity.
So why did I do it? Easy. I wanted him to like me. I had so little self-confidence that instead of being able to say, “Where in the world is Hububsmalltownublah? It sounds nifty,” I made up a story. I felt I had to have something in common with this actor in order to be valuable to him.
Jack Mclaughlin-Gray, one of the greatest acting professors I have ever had, once gave this piece of advice to my acting class: “You don’t have to move around on stage to be interesting. Stand still. Just be. You are interesting because you’re there.”
That’s the thing- you are intrinsically interesting. And valuable.You are, just because you are alive, a worthwhile and awesome person. Where you come from, what you think, what you do and don’t like, what you’re allergic to and what songs you sing to yourself in the mirror when you’re alone in your room- these things are all okay. These little bits combine to make up the magnificence that is you. I didn't understand this at 19 years old- in fact, at nearly 25, I still have trouble with it, but it is a conscious decision and a continuous effort to be honest about myself.
I processed all of this this morning when I was reminded of a situation with Jake from a few years ago. Before we were dating, he and I, separate of each other, both had quarrels with the same person during the exact same time frame. He handled his situation one way, I handled mine another. My issue was resolved, his was not. These scenarios played out very differently- my relationship with this person has remained one of the most nurturing, uplifting and supportive relationships of my adult life. Jake, while no longer upset about how his half played out, has chosen not to pursue or rebuild the connection, a decision which I fully support and understand. It took me such a long time to be able to say to Jake, “Listen, I really like this person, and I want to continue my friendship with them.” I think a lot of people were really surprised by that- as if somehow, being part of a couple meant that I should ignore all that this other person had done for me, how I genuinely felt about this person, my truth- just to make Jake like me more, even if it wasn't something that was actually part of me. But you know what? As it turns out, Jake has not asked me to end, hide, or alter my relationship- or even tried to make me feel bad or wrong for loving this person (which speaks to his character immeasurably). The point is that to lie and say, “Yeah, I don’t really like so-and-so, I totally agree with you,” just to feel like you’re on the right team- well, that does bad by all parties involved: the person you lied about not liking, because you aren't being honest about what you think their redeeming qualities are; yourself, because you’re having to lie about something you really feel; and your partner, because they’re not getting you, they’re getting please-like-me-robot-Barbie you. And if that’s what they want, they’re not what you need.
So how does this translate to real life? No, you don’t have to walk up to a stranger on the street and be all like, “I HAVE A YEAST INFECTION THAT IS THE EQUIVALENT OF AN F-5 TORNADO TOUCHING DOWN IN HOO-HAH VILLE,” for the sake of revealing your truth. No, no, no- what I’m saying is that it’s okay- in fact, just better- to be you. To be okay with being you. The calm, boring, reads “Good Housekeeping” in secret, didn't do anything fun this weekend, doesn't really like jelly beans or Van Halen, puts mayonnaise on everything, has never been skydiving or skinny-dipping you. If they don’t dig it, their loss. Seriously. You don’t want someone around who’s too much of a douche to admit that they didn't understand Inception either, anyhow. And, if in sharing things about yourself, you genuinely feel like you’re unhappy with your life and what you've done, if you genuinely wish you had better stories to tell, go out and do more- but do it for yourself. Not to impress someone who, especially if you are just getting to know them (not to be harsh here, folks), is probably not going to be your soul mate and also probably not worth your best stories.
It’s easy to play the “Please Like Me” game. Everybody knows it. The trouble is that no matter how good you get at it, you still always lose. Instead, arm yourself with you-ness. Be proud of your beliefs, your quirks, and your ridiculousness. And remember- just being alive makes you valuable.