When I married my husband I didn’t just enter a wedlock. I entered a new culture, a new family, a new social circle, a new neighborhood, and a new house. I even had a new grocery store. I started eating different foods, wearing different clothes, engaging in different pastimes, and speaking a different language. Somewhere in the midst of all the changes I felt I had lost the sense of who I was.
I hadn’t intentionally suppressed myself or tried to change. I still knew what I liked and didn’t like, I still had my friends and talked to my family. But when it came to my daily routine and the people I interacted with most, I realized they didn’t really know who I was and it was because I wasn’t communicating it to them. And I wasn’t communicating it to them because, according to the standards of the culture, as I interpreted them, if I was myself, I wouldn’t be acceptable. So I acted like someone else. I tried to act like one of them.
I began to dread these unconscious performances. It’s the sort of thing you think you’ve gotten over once you get out of grade school; trying to “fit in” and being afraid to “just be yourself” went against a lot of my core beliefs as I entered adulthood. And so I began to see the people I was performing for as the Bully, or the Popular Crowd you never quite fit in with. I became bitter, resentful, and negative. But there was one flaw in my logic:
Why can’t they just accept me for who I am? Why do they treat me this way? Can’t they see that I’m worth knowing as I am on the inside?
I was attributing blame to them.
They refused to accept me; they were treating me badly. Now, it was true that, culturally speaking, I didn’t fit in with the social norms. They were ultra-polite, genteel, soft-spoken, preferred conversation to games, never played music at parties or danced, and always seemed perfect. But I was the one who had stopped acting like myself in an effort to be what they expected; I was the one who was sure that I wouldn’t be liked if I acted like myself.
And it’s tough. It’s hard to be true to yourself when everyone around you is moving in a very different direction. I love being loud, playing games, singing hard rock in the car, and dancing at parties. These are shocking traits to them. But not so shocking that they wouldn’t love me in spite of them, not so shocking that they couldn’t enjoy these things with me if I gave them a chance.
So, I’m struggling with it. I’m a bit of an enigma to them, still. I can’t remember having to work hard to be myself before! And I never feel adequate. I just pulled a quiche out of the oven which probably tastes fine but has a crumbled, cracked crust and doesn’t look pretty at all. I’m afraid to bring it to a party we’re attending tonight. I’m anticipating the reaction already: Oh, how cute, she tried to make something. Actually, it’s rather daring, isn’t it? She’s a young, American newlywed, and doesn’t actually know how to cook or take care of her own husband.
Well, ok, now that I have it written down, I know it looks ridiculous. But this is how I feel, these are the negative thoughts I’ve conditioned myself with. But the point is I can’t keep blaming other people. I can’t keep assuming I don’t measure up to their standards. Ultimately, I’m in control of how I act, and if I want things to change, only I can do that. Besides, I’m giving them way to much power over me by thinking this way (and since I’m bright Red, you understand how distasteful this is). If I want to be accepted, I have to be myself first. If I want to be respected, I have to act responsible first.
The question is how. How do I embrace myself and communicate who I am to a group of adults that don’t seem to appreciate or understand my uniqueness? Here’s some of the advice I’ve received and conclusions I’ve made:
- Focus on the people who do appreciate me. There are plenty. I’ve just chosen to focus on those that don’t. Who is this “they” I keep talking about anyway? Are all people in this culture the way I’ve described? Certainly not. Stop thinking like that.
- Cultivate my uniqueness. Embrace my hobbies, pastimes, music – anything that makes me happy and makes me who I am. I love to write, so I started a blog. I love to play games, so I sit down in front of my Wii more often.
- Display my uniqueness. I love to sing, so I’m going to break out into song more often, just because. I love to cook fancy foods, so I’m going to invite people over to try my creations. I’m going to bring games I like to parties and enlist players. I like taking the lead, so I’m not going to wait for someone else to start something and then complain that I’m bored.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the people who love you and have taken the time to cultivate truly deep and intimate relationships with you are the people who love who you are inside. For me, that’s primarily my husband. He happens to be of this unwelcoming culture I’ve been ranting about. And he loves me, unconditionally, because of who I am, because of my unique identity. What more reason do I need to cultivate and embrace that person within me? And the more I embrace and encourage my inner-self, the more the person that my husband loves will come to the forefront, and the more he’ll love… me. 🙂