Rule #1- Be Authentic Remember the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” in which a vain and gullible King is tricked into parading in front of his loyal subjects in his birthday suit, believing he is really wearing the latest in high fashion that only the most refined eyes will be able to see? As everyone does their best to pretend that they see him dressed in a gorgeous royal costume (because how traumatic would it be to admit they are less perceptive than their neighbors and see only a naked fat man?) it is left to a young boy to finally shout out incredulously, “Hey, that guy doesn’t have any clothes on!” and bring the facade to an embarrassing end.
Marriage and other close relationships can feel like that. Sometimes I’ve done my best to wear just the right mask or project a particular image that I hope will fool the important people in my life. This has been about as successful as if I had poked a geranium into my hatband and tried to pass as a potted plant. My attempts to “control my own spin” are even less successful than that of the latest Hollywood hottie who pays thousands of dollars for the right press and photo ops, and wonders why they keep getting lampooned in comedic Top 10 lists.
At our Marriage Retreats we often see people who have exhausted themselves and those they love by attempting to hide and keep others at arms length. The truth is that any attempts to fake out those who love and care about us are, thankfully, doomed to failure. They might play along with us for a while, but they know us too well and our costumes never fit quite as well as we might want to believe. Plus, since it is impossible to truly love an illusion, they will sooner or later tire of being in relationship with a wisp of smoke or a desert mirage and will demand something more substantial to hold on to, even if that substance includes some warts and weaknesses.
In my moments of foolish belief that I have my loved ones fooled, the inevitable collapse of my stage set has been perhaps momentarily painful, but also enormously liberating. I call these times my “Lucy Moments.” Remember the great “I Love Lucy” episodes where Lucy tried desperately to be something she wasn’t whether cabaret singer, chocolate maker, or pitch-woman for Vitameatavegamin She never could quite pull off the deception, and after embarrassing herself was soon back to being the authentic Lucy that Ricky and her friends could truly love.
In my attempts to pretend and hide behind my perfect and self-sufficient John Wayne facade I too hit bad notes, make a mess of the bon-bons and call the health drink migaveetametaman, and soon discover that the walls I have built and the masks I have worn have effectively only kept me from experiencing the exquisitely nuanced feelings and emotions of a healthy relationship.
The good news is that being “found out” isn’t nearly as bad or painful as an emperor suddenly feeling the chill in his nether regions and hearing his kingdom laughing at him. Instead, it is liberation from self-imposed chains and a new opportunity to connect with what really matters. In my experience, those who care about me only love me more when they know the real and vulnerable me. From that safe and firm foundation I can then move on to building a better me and a better relationship.
It is easiest to be our authentic selves when we feel safe in our relationships, knowing that we are not being judged or being offered only conditional love. We will talk about creating that safety in later postings.