I really want people to like me. That may not seem like something that warrants a confession, however in my case it needs to be where I begin. Wanting to be liked may not seem anywhere near as salacious as some of the more provocative confessions that are sure to follow, but I believe, more than any of them, this is the secret that most defines me. Those who know me best will laugh at the idea that I even consider this overwhelming desire to be liked, a secret. After many years of watching me contort in any number of ways to try and make myself likeable at any cost, those who really know me may be on to me by now. Past me even. If you are one of those handful, please feel free to skip ahead. No, on second thought don’t. I may mention your name, say something funny, or, more likely, claim something that you’ll need to call me out on later.
First, in my defense, let me say that I believe that I was made this way; that I come by it naturally. I was born an affection whore, if you will. There, I used the word whore. My first lexical step on the road to something more salacious. We will get there soon enough in earnest, I promise. As long as I can remember, this desire to be liked by others has motivated me; informed my decisions. It also often required that I hold certain information back in given situations for fear of alienating someone. It may well be true that my upbringing and environment helped to exacerbate this innate tendency, but the inclination for likability was always there. This holding back, or contorting as I referred to it earlier, very seldom took the form of blatant dishonesty. The technique I developed relied much more on the skillful use of tools like avoidance and omission. Facts, personality traits, desires, personal history, anything that might give a person reason to not feel some kind of easy connection with me was relegated to some other place. Hidden.
And so it was that I became a master compartmentalizer. This need to be liked forced me to edit truths, or limit parts of myself in various circumstances and for a variety of people. My life became like a large house with a series of specialized rooms where I could entertain certain groups or individuals: friends, classmates, coworkers, employers, family, strangers, waiters, girlfriends, boyfriends, lovers, landlords, one night stands, and the list goes on and on. Every occasion and acquaintance had a specific place in this house; a place where only the fragments of me that I deemed suitable for the circumstance were present. Needless to say, the effort to maintain this construct was exhausting, and the square footage required for such a complex and ever growing structure came at a price. Eventually, I lost any sense of a true whole self.
Somewhere, scattered throughout the massive sectioned off floor plan I’d created, were the true parts of me; segmented to such an extent that I was not even sure where some of them resided anymore. Many were locked away in dark spaces that I had erected for special occasions; long past and some forgotten: my first day of school, Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house, the evening I lost my virginity, my sister’s wedding, the day I got my HIV diagnosis, the opening night of a play I wrote, my grandmother’s funeral, and again the list goes on and on. My true joy, my true passion, my true sorrow, my true humor, my true hate, my true love and desire, my true sex and spirit, my true God, and fear, and failure, and dreams, and hope, and pain, and power – all the truth of me; scattered, disconnected, and walled up. The irony that finally hit me some time back was that this dysfunctional structure did not really make people like me at all. What they liked was the room that I had created for them in my life, because it was a place void of anything that they would perceive as uncomfortable or disruptive. How could they truly like me, when most of me wasn’t even truly there.
To my credit, I have in recent years managed a few minor updates to this house of mine. No new walls for the most part, and some partitions have actually been removed. Doors were added to allow the passage of people and light to interior spaces that were previously dark and rarely visited. These changes have sometimes been of my own design, but more often than not I was forced by some unavoidable situation, or convinced by someone that I trusted, to open things up a bit. Now, however, I am faced with a new renovation challenge. There is child in my house. My child. I have no doubt; this will require a gut job. So, I begin the work of clearing the interior space back to the outside walls and windows. Everything goes, so a bright and shining truth can pass right through and scorch the whole of it. Don’t misunderstand; I still desperately want my son to like me, but far more than that…