I once read somewhere that if you met yourself on the street you wouldn’t recognize yourself. Because you’ve only ever seen you through a mirror, your perception of yourself is so distorted that you would appear to yourself as a complete stranger. Although I’ve found no scientific evidence that this is true, it’s something I think about a lot: If I saw myself, would I even recognize me?
I suppose it would depend on the situation. See, I’m a different version of myself in different environments. When I serve customers at work, I sound different. My voice hits a register that I’m not altogether comfortable with, coming off high-pitched and grating. Perhaps it’s because I’m nervous, feel pressure to be kind and considerate, or because of the dullness of the interaction, but in any case– I sound different.
When I hang out with old friends, I laugh differently than with new friends. I throw my head back, my eyes turn to slits, and I cackle with my old friends. It’s an ugly laugh. With my new friends, I take on a deep-throated cuckle that shakes my shoulders. Both are genuine, but nuanced.
I think I sound more intelligent through text message. In cyberspace, you have more time to think. You can let words breathe. You can go back and correct grammar mistakes. You are not allowed these conveniences in real life. I am often afraid that those who take part in digital correspondence with me are underwhelmed when they meet me in person. Digita- me and real-me are different people.
I tell more jokes when I am in the company of mostly men. I am nicer when I am lying, that’s my tell. I feel more powerful with my hair up, more feminine with my hair down. Sometimes during formal interviews, due to nerves, I forget simple words like “gloves” and substitute them for overly-complicated terms like “hand coverings.” Sometimes I tell friends I’m claustrophobic so that I don’t have to have an awkward elevator ride with them up to their apartment– I take the stairs and meet them there. I once convinced a Chinese taxi driver that I was British so I had to attempt to speak Mandarin with a slight English affect. I’ve never had a genuine conversation with my grandmother.
In our lives, we’re meant to wear many different masks. We shift from group to group, environment to environment, friends to friends, putting on and removing different masks for each situation we encounter. At the end of the day, we end the charade as we take off our makeup and stare at our naked faces in the mirror.
We are different when we are with different people, in different places, wearing different clothes. Everyone is a kaleidoscope of personalities. We act happy when you’re sad. We sometimes have to laugh when we would like to cry. Constantly trying on different personalities is a side effect of the human condition.
I think love is the person who knows you for who you really are, maskless and alone. You don’t have to construct a false facade with them. You don’t have to change to fit in. You can laugh as you like. They not only know you without a mask, but they know each of your masks as well. With them, your puzzle piece personas integrate, and you are one complete being.
Love is never asking someone to construct a mask for you. Love is recognizing someone, even if they can’t. Love is getting in the elevator together and enjoying the ride.