When I was younger, I used most of my energy to protect myself from all genuine interaction with the world around me. I was private, and held most personal things close to the chest. As I got older, I learned proper social cues and realized if I ever wanted to have friends, I had to throw them a bone every once and a while. So I would carefully and calculatingly consider which truths were ok to declassify from my own mind vault for the general public. It was a rigorous process, but I had a list. There was always a list of personal information I was willing to share if the opportunity ever presented itself. By my early 20s, I would have considered my life to be full of “close” friends, but none of them really knew me. This being because I’m an excellent liar. If you give just a little truth, it’s actually fairly easy to insulate that nugget of truth with lies, distracting the recipient of said lie, and no one is the wiser. I played this game for years. That is, until I got caught.
I suddenly realized I had a problem. I couldn’t keep sprinkling truth on top of lies to make it more palatable, because for 1. It was too much work. And 2. Once someone realizes you’ve done it once, it takes way more effort than it’s worth to try to make them believe the ruse any longer.
It was in the struggle between the fear of being found out, and the much greater fear of being honest with myself and everyone else, that I discovered a very important thing about myself…And it’s not that surprising.
Longing for Genuine Connection
I found that I needed to feel like I was genuinely connecting with another human being. It took me getting married to someone who is unashamedly honest, sincere, and authentic to all whom she comes into contact with to teach me that I also wanted that and longed for it deep down in my soul. But I had no idea how to be that way, not even with her. I had spent my entire life reinforcing the walls around myself. It was all I had ever known. How do I truly let someone in? How do I ever really let the real me out? It seemed a reality too far to reach, a goal too lofty to achieve.
But I knew I needed to try if I was ever going to grow and be better.
I started with the people in my immediate vicinity. This included my wife, and about four close friends. With my wife, I just decided one day that I wasn’t going to hold back or pretend anymore. I gave her a heads up, and just went from there. It turned out to be so much better than I could’ve imagined. I thought she would reject me. I thought she wouldn’t like me. But to my amazement, she loved me more and fully accepted every bit of me. This seems silly when I say it now. But you don’t really know me. You don’t know the dark parts of my personality. There truly aren’t many in the world that would not only not accept me, but would actually probably be afraid of me. And yet, here was someone who fully accepted, loved, embraced, and encouraged the real me. It was a feeling I never thought I was worthy to experience.
The next step was close friends. I didn’t make a thing of it with them. I just started being honest about how I felt. I began telling them how much they meant to me and how much I appreciated them. It was baby steps, but it was something. I wanted to be encouraging and positive, but I also wanted to be genuine. After I got this down, I started pursuing deeper things. If I was going through something emotionally, spiritually, or mentally that I was wrestling with, I shared it with them. It gives them an opportunity to choose to be there for me, and also forces me to rely on other people for guidance, accountability, and deeper connection through experience. This was something that terrified me and still does to this day.
Where The Battle Begins
The battle was far from over. I find that the battle to be genuine is a daily one. Every moment of every day, I am actively aware of the voice in my head telling me that it’s too much, that I’m too exposed, that it’s too dangerous. I constantly feel the urge to pull back into myself and close off again. It’s almost like an addict who struggles with the desire to use. I constantly want to be fake again. I want to be unreadable again. It’s so much safer there. Or at least it’s easy to believe it is safer.
But is it safe to be alone? To constantly be fighting life’s battles with an army of one? It’s not so safe when I think about it that way. Strength in numbers. It’s a real thing. When you have the right group of people in your life, you feel almost invincible. Like you can handle anything. I wanted to feel that way.
Eventually I realized there was no turning back and I had to pursue an authentic life at all costs.
Winning The War On Relationships
Culture constantly tells us that authenticity stops at friends you can call when you’re wasted, or the people you get wasted with. Culture feeds us this idea that friends are nothing more than the people you get coffee with to catch up, the people you get a beer with when you’ve had a bad day, or the people you see on Sunday morning in church once a week. The problem with this is there is no real connection that happens. It’s all surface level, and people are buying into this! It’s no wonder there is a serious disconnect with people and relationships.
I think the reason social media is becoming such an epidemic of negative mental health and behaviors is because deep down most people are relationally parched, in need of the thirst quenching, life giving intimacy that only honest, genuine face to face relationship can give. We are missing an element of companionship that comes from people being in the trenches with one another, rather than sharing about it on Facebook while others “like” it from afar in an attempt to express distant, cold, impersonal solidarity. We get addicted to more and more “likes”, shares, reposts, etc. We are addicted because for one very brief fleeting moment we feel like we aren’t alone, but that deep emptiness comes rushing back in, and we must have more.
This is not sustainable connection by any means.
Being down in the trenches, getting your knees and hands and face dirty with the mud of life’s circumstances is what builds true connection. And sharing that mess with someone else is what builds authenticity. It’s good for your character, and for theirs. It helps us grow, learn, and feel empowered to do the impossible. We need this in a way no words can actually express.
I know this because I know now that I need this. And I was the least likely candidate to ever accept or admit such a fact.
Learning To Live Authentically
One thing that I feel can be hard to deal with at first is the repercussions of being in an authentic relationship with someone. Sometimes you’ll have to deal with hard truths that are uncomfortable and often painful to you or someone else. Authenticity requires an especially enormous amount of grace to be given from both parties involved. Authenticity demands acceptance and love to be lavished on the other person for being themselves. Most importantly when you are going to need to correct or hold someone accountable for being themselves when they are in the wrong. Love will be key. You can be a good friend and reprimand in love without being disrespectful or hurtful to the other person, and careful not to discourage their boldness to be honest and straight forward with who they are.
I say all of this because I have been on both sides. I have been harsh to someone who was too honest or straightforward, and I have been the recipient of harsh, discouraging words that made me feel like I couldn’t be myself around someone, or that I felt judged and condemned by them.
Authenticity is extremely risky. We desire it, but we’re afraid of it. We want to be real with other people, but we don’t want them to be real with us. We want to “tell it like it is” but don’t want people to treat us the same. But this isn’t authenticity at all. It’s selfishness, insensitivity, and immaturity. We have to be better than this. We have to be secure enough with ourselves to be able to take what we can dish. We have to be able to be better than the rest. To love and forgive, to give grace upon grace, to live with people, rather than to hear about people’s lives from afar.
Let’s get past the facebook statuses, the tweets, the meticulously fabricated fantasy instagram life, and get to the real person behind it all. The one who hides behind the curtain pulling all the levers and pushing all the buttons. The person who is flawed, scared, and alone, just trying to find their way on this pale blue dot. You are that person. I am that person. And we need each other more than we need the curtain.