My son is reading a book where one of the characters has the ability to change their appearance and identity, and he said he’d like to be able to do that. Having tried to be other people unsuccessfully myself, I suggested that he just focus on being an excellent him. I tried to explain my missteps to him, to hopefully save him from the same discomfort.
I have always felt that I was a bit socially awkward, and would definitely describe myself as an introvert. I prefer the safety and comfort of my couch over crowded rooms of friends and/or strangers. I prefer intimate conversations with one or two people about deep and meaningful ideas and concepts over the surface-skimming conversations about fluffy topics, including the latest gossip.
That said, when forced into a social situation, I do my utmost to make the best of it.
Growing up, I’d have called myself a bit of a chameleon, even taking on some of the mannerisms of those around me, so that I did not stand out. Americans often were astonished when I said I was Canadian, because they said that I didn’t have an accent, but that’s because I would alter my pronunciation of certain words to reflect their utterances.
It was because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, so I would try on the skin of others. I didn’t feel like I was good enough, and so I’d mimic those who seemed good enough to me. I’d be me, but amped up … let’s call it a socially caffeinated version of myself.
When in a relationship, I’d also bury me and be a reflection of what they wanted to see. If they liked bookworms, I talked about the books I loved. If they were couch quarterbacks, I’d talk more about my love of football and make sure to learn some stats about their favourite players and teams. If they loved going to concerts, I’d seem equally interested and talk about my favourite music lyrics and live shows, even though the idea of crowds would make my knees shake.
As relationships got more serious, I’d have a problem, because I’d have to decide how much of the real me would be allowed to bubble to the surface. I’d let others make decisions about what I wanted to do, what I would wear, eat, listen to, where I wanted to go, etc. If they needed a mother figure, I’d step in and nurture more. If they needed to be needed, I’d be needy. If they needed a push, I was their cheerleader. If they were independent, I’d give them space. Regardless of what I needed, I gave them what they needed.
I studied what I was told would be good to study. I got jobs at the places people said were the best places to work. I followed the path carved out by so many before me: go to school, get a job, meet a man, get married, buy a house, have babies, work hard, pay down the mortgage, etc. Even when things didn’t feel right, like I was wearing someone else’s shoes that were at least a half size too small or large, I kept on, because it was what “one” was “supposed” to do.
The more walking that I did down other peoples’ paths to achieve a work/life balance that was not my own, my feet metaphorically cramped and blistered. I became disenchanted and depressed, the more I appeared to be fitting in. I found myself buried under the expectations of those around me.
It wasn’t until I decided to take off the ill-fitting shoes that I’d accepted as societal hand-me-downs that my footwear became more comfortable. Even if no one else liked/likes my shoes, as long as they are comfortable to me, that should be all that matters.
Not surprisingly, once I started walking in a less stiff and awkward manner, I attracted someone who thought that my shoes and the person in them are beautiful. That’s all I can wish for my son, that he find shoes that he loves and that he not try to fill someone else’s.