Everything looks good from the outside. Perfect, even. The house on the end of the busy street, with its perfectly manicured lawn and its beautiful olive-green shutters. The majestic blue 1950s Corvette, its fresh coat of paint still soft to the touch.
The same logic applies to people, too. The super mom that never seems to break a sweat and always greets you with a smile and kind words. The colleague who never misses a day of work — or a deadline. And you wonder where on earth you can purchase her “happy” pills.
But if you dig a little deeper, scratching below the surface ever so slightly, things — and people — may not always come up roses. Somewhere along the way, we must have missed the memo that brought us the heartbreaking news that, no, life isn’t always perfect. No matter how much we wish it to be. No matter how much we try to make it so, or ignore all the things that make it not so perfect.
All too often, we’re so quick to say, “Wow, that’s perfect. Aren’t those people perfect?” But like the beauty on the outside, looks — and of course attitudes — can be deceiving, and I can’t help but question: Does a pretty outside serve to hide the not-so-pretty, ugly inside? And, why is it so hard to tell people how we really feel? Why do we feel like we have to hide? And, if we’re always putting on an act for people, doesn’t it become that much har der to truly know someone?
I’ll be the first to admit the last year of my life hasn’t exactly been my favorite — one catastrophe seemed to follow another like the domino effect. You wouldn’t know that from the outside, though. My cheery personality masked all those falling dominos. Whenever anyone asked the all-too-popular question, “How are you,” I’d reply like I usually do.
“Oh I’m fine.”
“I can’t complain.”
“I’m good. And you?”
I got really good at it too. I half felt like a talking puppet. Pull a string, and I’ll whip out one of many stock phrases programmed into me
Isn’t that what people want to hear, I thought? I certainly didn’t want to burden them with my problems, and frankly, if I told them how I really felt (those gut-wrenching, pounding-a-pillow thoughts we keep tucked deep in our hearts — they’d probably ask me if I got that info from some Lifetime movie of the week. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.
Or maybe I’ve grown to like the cheery response because it’s safe. I could keep my guard up and keep my secrets to myself. I feared that if I said exactly how I felt (that my world felt like it was crumbling, that I missed my dad more and more every day and that, well, you know what, sometimes it IS hard to be physically handicapped), all the floodgates would open and I’d become unhinged — a bubbling mess right there in the middle of aisle four of the grocery store. My image would be shattered. Forever.
Come to think of it, it’s a little ironic that my dad was the only one who never seemed to expect those stock answers. My mom’s friend, Cheryl, who she’s known since high school, is the same way. You can let your guard down with her because she lets her guard down with you. She listens. No matter how whiny you are or no matter how grumpy you become. And she knows we’ll do the same for her. Any time. Any where.
Maybe in the end, that’s all any of us ever wants. A world and an ear without judgment. A safe haven for our weary heads and hearts.
But that’s not what people want to hear. They want to see how well we’re doing, so out of habit, we put on our “party face” wherever we go: the smiling, glowing, “I’m-in-control” face. Pretty soon, the face is blended with our true selves and we begin to wonder which is which. We’ve lost ourselves in the process of trying to “present” ourselves to the world.
It’s not anyone’s fault. No one is to blame, of course; it’s just that we’re a product of our culture, whether we like it or not. We expect people to “pull themselves up by their boot straps,” to be the strong, silent type. Any hint of emotion and we get scared.
Sadly, though, there has to be some point where we realize that’s not healthy. We can’t get to know someone, really know them, if we’re not willing to get to know all of them. Scars and flaws and problems included.
What would our world look like if, instead of soldiering our emotions, we laid them out. Not because we want sympathy (OK, maybe sometimes we do), but because we can’t go through life alone. We need people. No one is an island, contrary to that pesky rumor Simon and Garkfunkel started.
I challenge you this week to shred those stock answers you give — and get. Dig a little deeper. You just might realize you’re not so scared of what you find after all.
[Photos via Breakdown!]