Who Do I Think I Am Fooling?


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About a week ago, my husband and I were having some wedding-anniversary inspired downtime by a pool. We were discussing destinations we would love to travel to someday soon.

I took a deep breath, inhaling all the thoughts and feelings swirling in my heart and head that I did not want him to know.

Things like:

But what about the kids? Wouldn’t they be sad if we went these places without them?

What if we wait until they are a little older?

If we went when they were grown, wouldn’t I miss them terribly and want them to join us?

Imagine the cost of all this!

I would love to explore these cities just with my husband.

I wish we could just go.

I would feel so badly if we took off like that — what luxury, what selfishness!

What if I didn’t feel this way? Wouldn’t it be so freeing?

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could just travel to those cities, and be guilt-free, no strings, just bounce around led by our own interests?” I finally said aloud, sipping on my icy beverage.

He turned to me quickly, sharply, squaring me in his vision and smiled, tilting his head.

“Oh, honey,” he said in a tone of direct compassion, “as if you could ever travel anywhere without guilt.”

I immediately burst out laughing with relief for his insight, with joy for how well he knew me and with recognition of my own foibles: in this case, my long-term abusive relationship with guilt.

Then something else dawned on me. I have a diehard delusion that I am successfully able to hide my deepest and most persistent feelings from the people closest to me.

Here’s the dichotomous thing: I am a very expressive person. I am an openly emotional person. I have passions and I don’t hide them. I have loves and they are not obscured. I write and share these things. Yet, there is so much I have convinced myself that cannot be seen or appreciated from the outside.

I think this is one of my most grand self-delusions, recently revealed to me by this conversation and several other eye-openers that came my way in a bunch.

So now I am pondering why I practice this delusion: why I think I am keeping my dark or crazy or unconventional thoughts, ideas and emotions respectfully out of view or concern of the people closest to me. I am thinking about how I have totally convinced myself this is a good practice because it saves my dearest ones from having to deal with me. It reduces any discomfort or impact my nutty thought nuggets might have on them.

Perhaps I took this approach because I had some mild “success” with it in the past, encouraging me to continue harboring this idea.

[I recall a time early in my career, when the company I worked for was going through a restructuring. An executive was explaining how my position would be changed and the organization re-ordered.

“I can’t tell what you’re thinking!” the exec said, surprised, as I sat silently, my poker face firmly in place.

In that moment I was thrilled to have successfully been straight-faced when inside I was sobbing with anxiety.

“I’m just gathering information,” I told him. He left frustrated, and I left feeling satisfied and elated — for a moment.]

Perhaps I began doing this because being so naturally expressive can be difficult and tiring in a world that finds displays of true emotion uncomfortable.

Perhaps it gives me a sense of power to keep all my mess out of plain view and instead present something more lovely to the world.

Perhaps the dozens of times I began to cry as a child, teen and a young adult — in anger, in passion, in frustration, in delight, in honor, in fear, in hurt, while I went about life — and was ashamed of my lack of ability to control my emotions impacted my desire to reveal myself too much.

Whatever the reason, I find myself happily asking this final question: Who do I think I am fooling?

Apparently, I think I am fooling everyone. Turns out, that’s not true.

I might be fooling people at the fringes of my life. I might be fooling people I see on occasion.

But the people who I love, who I lean on, who I orbit around — the people who make up every valuable connection in my life — I am Not Fooling.

Seems like a lot of effort for not fooling.

They see me, they know me, and, somehow, they love me anyway.

That, it would seem, is the most impossibly beautiful truth to rest upon.

To accept.

To not be delusional about.