Put Away the Mask

“Do you think you wear a mask?’
‘I’m wearing one right now.’ Valentino smiled softly. ‘We both are.’
‘It’s a sad thought.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘But sometimes I wonder about the alternative. Imagine if we had no secrets, no respite from the truth. What if everything was laid bare the moment we introduced ourselves?” 

~ Catherine Doyle

My birthday came and went with much fanfare from my loves and a fantastic trip to Chicago to celebrate.  On the night of my birthday, my BFF took me to dinner and over bourbon and roasted bone marrow, we had a heart to heart about the last year.  I become so emotionally fragile during my birthday and was wondering why.  My husband, being as observant and intuitive as he is, informed me that I take my own inventory during that time every year and frequently that is a painful thing- looking at the past year and trying to figure out what the next year looks like.  When my friend and I started talking about that, I began to delve deeper into my discomfort. 

When my husband and I started dating years ago, we had a conversation early on about how we were conscious to do this relationship different.  It seemed to both of us that we had spent a great deal of time in previous relationships sending out our "personal representative" of ourselves to date.  Meaning, we were not always entirely honest about who we were from the beginning for fear of the other person leaving when they were able to see the real us- all the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Our personal representatives were charming, funny, easy to be with- the consummate diplomat.  They were a mask we wore to not only prevent disappointment, but to prevent ourselves from ever really experiencing an honest no-holds-barred relationship.  We were both kind of sick to death of that and wanted a completely honest relationship from the word go.  That is an easy thing to decide, but something altogether different to practice.  

Over the years I have come to realize that I have worn a mask for almost all of my personal dealings in my life.  I wear my charming mask in my workplace (and when dealing with men in general) so that I am not too intimidating, not too pushy, not "too much".  I have worn it in my love relationships so that I am not too disappointing, not too selfish, not too high maintenance.  A significant amount of therapy, soul searching, and- quite frankly- age,  has inspired me to begin to speak with a more authentic voice.  My masks exhaust me.

My BFF is currently redefining what her life looks like.  She has been so unhappy for so many years and is in the middle of an overhaul of epic proportions.  It is a painful, messy process (emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially) that has left her feeling untethered, undone, and unsure.  In her struggle to find herself again, she has become committed to total honesty with herself and her love relationships.  It has been a magnificent and humbling thing to watch.  As she searches for where to anchor her life, the only thing to which she can do that reliably is her own truth, her own heart, her own path ( "I may not know what I want, but I sure in the hell know what I don't want").   Her courage has inspired me to drop my own masks more and more.

I have another dear friend turning forty in just a few days.  She has reached out to her vast and varied tribe of women for answers and advice on aging and what that means to each of us.  If there is one thing I can impart to her from this point in my life, it is that telling the story of who you truly are is the scariest and most vital thing in the world.  Being vulnerable in that deep, soul baring way is terrifying and also completely empowering.  I am sick to death of dialing myself back.  I am sick to death of meeting others expectations instead of my own.  I am sick to death of not speaking my truth for fear of upsetting someone so I am trying in earnest to be done with that now.  My masks are beginning to come off and I don't really give a shit if that makes others uncomfortable.

The question becomes who has the courage to be in that place with me?  Who will tell me their unvarnished truth, even when it pisses me off or hurts me?  Will I have the courage to look deeper and go deeper with them?  The answer from my husband was a resounding yes, though there are times it is terrible and painful.  The answer from my other love relationships has been just as promising (though just as terrible and painful at times).  In all honesty, those are the only relationships I am any longer interested in investing. 

I challenge you to decide which relationships are worth investing.  I challenge you to put away your own masks.  I challenge you to live out loud, with your most authentic voice, as trite and "Oprah" as that sounds.  What would that look like for us all, to have our true selves laid bare from the beginning?  I have no idea, but I sure would love to know.

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