I was having drinks with my friend Molly last night, and she mentioned that she once gave a speech stating “If your boyfriend keeps talking about how fake you are, break up with him immediately.”
I didn’t hug her, because we were in a public place, and I didn’t pay for her drinks, because I keep it real, but I am writing this article saying that I think that this is a great. fucking. point. Partly because I am continually pointing out that the only way you are truly being “fake” is if you are a replicant.
However, I feel like a lot of us – especially if you are someone who is a bit offbeat, and likes things done a certain way, and has a smattering of eccentricities – get labeled as “fake”. And it’s generally the wrong label, because it’s generally thrown out by people who don’t really know you.
There’s a great story about Andy Warhol, where a reporter asked him why he was such a phony (apparently this reporter went to the Holden Caulfield school of journalism) and why he couldn’t be more “real.” Andy replied “Oh, I’ve never been real a day in my life.” It sounds glib, but the thing is, when you read Andy Warhol’s diary, his private persona is exactly the same as his public one. Eerily so. He really did just spend all his time thinking everything was really glamorous and wondering about Mick Jagger’s cock and liking bad movies and money. Everything he said in public seemed to line up completely with what he thought to himself. He just had a quirky way of looking at things. He wasn’t fake. He was a weirdo.
But Andy’s response worked, because you can’t really explain that you are an authentic weirdo to someone who doesn’t know you. Besides, they wouldn’t believe you if you did.
Being told you’re fake is almost an impossible accusation to defend yourself against.
The reason this is a tough insult to respond to – and it is an insult, even though it’s couched in terms of helping you – is because you are being kind of fake right now. You are always being kind of fake, because you have adopted the tenets of society. You are not alone in a cave, drunk and masturbating and screaming for raw meat to eat, because no one gets to do that regularly except a certain kind of male author.
In general, though, the minute you started dressing to go out and asking people how they were without really caring about the response, the jig was up. You’re already fake. We’re all a little bit fake.
And not only do we accept the basic societal contract – which already rules out all the basic naked cave Hemingway fun you could be having – we accept different contracts with different people. You probably behave quite differently around your parents than you do around your friends. You behave differently with toddlers than you do with local professors. You behave differently with your boss than you do when confronted with a team of roving hobos carrying pick-axes. (Not me, though! That’s how I became the hobo Queen of the office. I have all the pick-axes, now.)
This is not a bad thing. This is actually kind of neat. At best it is proof that like America, we “contain multitudes”, and, at least, it might be a bit boring to behave the same way in every situation.
Of course, there are men and women like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady who go about bellowing “I’d treat the Queen of England the same way I’d treat a flower girl!”
Right. When people proudly proclaim that, take into account that Henry Higgins probably had Asperger’s.
In school, one guy I knew kept repeatedly telling me that he thought I put up a persona to hide my true self from the world. I never figured out quite what he was talking about, but I think I can tell you with absolute certainty – neither did he. I think mostly it had to do with the fact that I wear dresses (I like dresses) and high heels (I like high heels) and respond to all awkward situations by being back-bendingly polite (“This is a really interesting bukkake party you guys are having! I bet, as bukkake parties go, this is very well done!”). There were a lot of conversations about how he just wanted me to be free. Free to be myself. Free to let my hair down. But not in rollers. I guess because I liked it that way, too much?
It is impossible to convince someone who thinks your true self is hidden otherwise.
So, once the “No, this is me, actually,” route was exhausted, I probably tried to acknowledge that we’re all a bit fake. I probably meant to say something to the effect of “Well, gee, guy, I guess I am afraid to show my true self because of the constraints placed around me, and probably a lot of stuff to do with my upbringing, and also just I’m a very anxious person. I also try to behave in ways that don’t make other people cry! I’m not going to insult a bukkake party someone worked hard to plan just because it’s not my thing! That’s not me! And I like doing my hair in rollers and wearing high heels all the time because I really value things being beautifully done in an old fashioned way, and that, honestly, may have as much do with my obsession with films from the 40’s and 50’s as anything else.”
Since it’s hard to articulate all that, and also frankly, because this guy was really good looking and I wanted him to like me so I could sleep with him (this failed; don’t bother) I usually actually ended up saying “Umm, I guess I’m just scared. For my heart.” Endless talk about how I was “scared” and “self-loathing” and – Jesus Christ. Jesus Fucking Christ.
This is an answer men seem to accept. If you need to know, this is the “right” answer.
That was also the fakest I have ever been.
And you know when you’re being fake. You’re the only person who really does. You will know by the way it makes you feel terrible.
What I should have said was “You are a man saying this as you walk around in a fedora.”
Alternatively – “Your affectation of authenticity is no different than anything I do.” I should have gotten this printed on business cards.
Ashley wants to know why I didn’t just yell, “Why are you are being a jerk!?”
The part about wanting to sleep with him! And again, this business of “wanting you to be real” is never said as a criticism. The men or women saying it are only trying to help you. So you can be truer to yourself than you were actually being before they came in like a wise fedora wearing angel to help you understand yourself.
Except you’ve already told them who you are. You’ve told them by behaving the way you normally behave. They just don’t believe you. And there is no way in the world to make them. The only way to keep the relationship going and make them happy is to adopt an elaborately fake persona which will make you very, very angry, because no matter how much you are praised for it, you will know it is not how you’d naturally behave.
Don Draper said it pretty well when he noted that “People tell you who they are, but we don’t believe them because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
These people who think you are fake do not think you are lying about your values. They are not saying that you are lifelong Democrat who is pretending to be a Republican to impress someone, and that is going to be problematic. That is something friends of many years can do. They are not friends of many years. They don’t know you well enough for that.
They do think that you’re behaving in a way they’re unfamiliar with, and they would rather you behaved in a way that they immediately understood. They are not interested in asking you questions to figure out your motivations. They are interested in you behaving in the way they want you to behave.
This is dumb. Don’t try to do that. You’ll end up writing some deliberately badly spelt letters about how you’re a fragile Dresden figurine who needs someone to show you the light or something. There’ll be a lot of mixed metaphors in those letters. You’ll keep them in deliberately to make it seem more authentic, and you’ll hate yourself for that most of all.
There, are, of course, specific instances where you’ll behave in a way that goes against what you actually feel. There are a lot of ways that could manifest. You could be an asshole to someone you actually like to seem tough. You could act like a bigot to impress people. Those are legitimate instances of you being an asshole, and your good friends and family will point out that your behavior – in this instance, not as a whole – doesn’t seem consistent with the way you usually behave. (If you’re one of our asshole bigot readers, replace those words with “kind”, “harmless” and “tolerant”.)
In those times, when people you trust tell you you’re being inauthentic, consider how right they are. Who will know if they are right? You will know. You hang out with yourself every minute of every damn day. You know your every move. You will know if you are behaving in a way where you are saying things that you really don’t believe to make people like you. If your brain has trouble processing this, your stomach will help you out by producing waves of nausea.
They might be right. And you can tell them if they are or not, and they will trust you on that, because they respect you enough to know that you know yourself (although they might point out that when you say “No, I’m a bigot, now” that that is not a very nice thing to be).
But when someone tells you that you retreat behind a persona and you know that they are actually wrong, well, at the very least, do not worry about that too much. Odds are – and perhaps that is why this is a criticism generally thrown up by people in their teen years – they are simply saying “I want you to behave in a way I am already familiar with.” You don’t really have to do that. And if that’s the case, well, you’re not really fake. You’re just a weirdo. That’s great. Being a weirdo works out well for a lot of people. It worked out okay for Andy, except for the whole shooting thing. Everyone who was ever interesting was a little bit weird.
You’re not fake. That person just doesn’t like you. They’re probably not going to sleep with you regardless of how well you do a bizarre kabuki dance imitating the sort of person they would like, so just let that go.
They’re gone? That’s okay. You can move on to finding fellow weirdos in the world who will fucking love you.