People are rarely up front about who they really are, what they’re really about, and what they really want from others.
This applies to more than just dating relationships: it applies to all relationships and it applies to everyone.
And it applies even more so—and more importantly—to ourselves.
How well do we know ourselves? How well do we really know what, in a moment of crisis, we’re made of and what we’re actually capable of—the good, the bad, even possibly the ugly? And how well do we or can we really know another person?
And how can we come to better know ourselves and others—especially those closest to us?
In the beginning of most relationships—especially dating relationships—most people enter into those relationships pretending to be someone they’re really not—or really not yet. They try to give off the impression that they are a better and more intact and more interesting and less flawed (and when it comes to dating, a more sexually open and interesting) version of themselves. They enter into a relationship displaying an inflated version of themselves, over-promising on who they are and what they’re bringing to the table. (See especially minute 2:10 – 2:45 of the following clip)—
“Relationships, easy to get into, hard to maintain. Why are they so hard to maintain? Because it’s hard to keep up the lie! ‘Cause you can’t get nobody being you. You got to lie to get somebody. You can’t get nobody looking like you look, acting like you act, sounding like you sound. When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.”
In the beginning of a dating relationship, the deception (including what is omitted and left out) is almost always deliberate. We tidy ourselves up. The unsightly stuff about ourselves is swept away, broomed under the carpet, stuffed into the closet, etc. That’s just the way the dating game is played. We hide the negatives, accentuate the positives, give ourselves as much sheen and curb appeal as possible, airbrushing and PhotoShopping all parts of ourselves and our life—our place in life, our social status, our hopes and dreams, our interests, our past, our past relationships (—it’s always the other person’s fault that the last relationship we were in didn’t work out, same with the relationship before that and the relationship before that, et cetera. but the reality is that it’s rarely ever just mostly one person’s fault that a relationship doesn’t work out). All parts of ourselves are open for revising, retouching, and cosmetic enhancement.
In the beginning of a relationship, women typically try to oversell (or misrepresent) themselves by being more sexual and more willing to sexually try new things than they actually are and will be down the road.
Women may also initially appear to be more interested in watching football and NASCAR as well.
Men, on the other hand—the majority of them—tend to falsify themselves by initially showing up to a relationship being more interested in a woman as a human being and a person and in what she has to say than they actually are.
Men also tend to downplay their interest in sports (especially football and basketball), as well as action movies. In fact, many a man has subjected himself to a chick-flick or a romantic-comedy in order to get in bed with a woman.
And both men and women initially tend to do a very good job of concealing their temper and neediness and the various ways in which they tend to be uncivil (meaning that while on a date most people try to be very polite to cashiers, wait staff, et cetera—the little men and women. The logic being, “Look how nice and polite I am to strangers while I’m trying to impress you and get you to sleep with me”).
Of course, it’s not all a put on. Women sometimes are more sexual in the beginning because the sex is new, plus it’s heightened and more intense because of all of the attraction and novelty.
And most men actually are better listeners in the beginning because the material (the stories, the info) that they’re hearing is in fact new (reruns haven’t yet begun; patterns aren’t yet obvious, questions of character and victimizing oneself aren’t prominent). Plus their ability to listen is indeed better because of how sexually motivated they are. Their desire to have sex with a new and attractive partner is a very motivating. A guy will listen like a therapist when the possibility of sex is hanging in the balance.
That’s the typical dating game—two people trying to get as much sex and affection and fun and emotional titillation/fueling as possible while trying to get a sense of who the other person really is beneath all the spin, curb appeal, glossing over, missing information, character flaws, bad things they might have done, et cetera, and of what life might be like 6 months, 2 years, 10 years, et cetera, down the road with this person—i.e., how much of what the other person is doing that seems novel and or cute now will be irritating and irksome in the future? Each person is trying to work out for themselves how trustworthy the other person really is, and how much the other person—and all his or her oddities and peccadilloes—is ultimately going to get on their nerves.
And it’s not just in the dating game where people conceal and retouch themselves in order to mislead others or at least try to control others’ impressions of them. People (we) also do it on job applications and job interviews, social settings—anywhere where making a good first impression counts.
Sending out our representative—or wearing a mask and putting on a false self—is part of life and it’s something that we as human being learn to do—and do well—fairly early on in life. We learn to conceal this and feign this. And not because of any deep understanding, but because it’s just how the social game of life is played—we don’t to let too much of our real self out for fear of it being held against us or used against us. If people knew who we really were and what we stood for, they would reject us, not trust us, be suspicious of us. So we hedge our bets and play it safe and hide the controversial and or abrasive and or bad (even ugly) parts of ourselves—and our past.
The problem with this is that after doing this long enough and becoming adept enough at doing all of this—donning masks, pretending to be someone we’re not, accommodating others, compromising our principles in order to avoid conflict or cause waves, rewriting and revising our own personal histories, concealing the unsavory parts of our character—we begin to lose ourselves, we begin to get lost in the acting and the roles and the performances we’re always giving and the all the insincere talk that’s part of those performances.
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
“We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” – Andre Berthiaume
But facing ourselves and getting rid of our masks is something we have to do (or ought to do) if we want to lead a deeper and more meaningful and more examined life. We will need to separate our false self (selves) from our real self. And we will likely have layers and layers of false selves to unmask and discard.
In “Passionate Marriage” Schnarch talks about “borrowed functioning.” Borrowed functioning is also known as emotional and psychological support—it’s the fueling and stability and boost we get from others, including our support system. We all borrow functioning from others. Unless we’re living alone in the middle of nowhere and cutting our own lumber and firewood, hunting our own food, sewing our own stitches, and taking out our own appendix Rambo-style, then we’re borrowing functioning. So there’s nothing inherently wrong about borrowing functioning. What’s wrong with it is the way most of us tend to do it—unconsciously, without trying to be mutual or interdependent and fair about it. Borrowed functioning in the sense that Schnarch is using it takes the form of emotional and psychological support (and perhaps even financial support and even enhanced social standing/status) that we get from others. It’s all of the validation, affirmations, psychological mirroring, reflected sense of self that we get from those around us and that makes us function better, live with less anxiety and more stability, more comfort, et cetera. And this borrowed functioning is what our performances, our masks, our false self/selves thrive on—it fuels them and is intended to gain us more emotional fueling.
And this fuel (or functioning) is “borrowed” or owed to others because it is externally derived; it doesn’t come from within us because it is dependent on others, hence it’s “borrowed,” as is the increase in functioning that it gives us. Which means that those parts of our “self” that exist in response to this and even in order to attract this fueling are not really our own. They’re not really us either, because if you take away that fueling or the need for it, then those parts of ourselves will decrease or slough off. In one sense, we are the actors we are in order to conceal all of the unsightly things about us and our past that would lead others to reject us. And on the other hand, we are the actors that we are, in order to try and get what we want and to have an easier and less isolated and less independent life.
The concept of “borrowed functioning” is essentially an idea of Murray Bowen that Schnarch has re-framed and elaborated on. Bowen concluded that each of our selves is made up of two parts—a core or solid self, on the one hand, and a pseudo- chameleon-like actor/impostor self, on the other hand. Our pseudo-self is composed of all of the ideas and values we’ve adopted uncritically and that we adopt or use just to fit in and or to get us what we want and need. Thus the pseudo-self is the chameleon within us that adapts, accommodates, blends in, plays down, even manipulates. In relationships, it’s the part or parts of ourselves that we’re willing to trade with others in order to get us what we want—sex, friendship, companionship, support, validation, comfort. It’s the social climber part of ourselves—the gold-digging part or the part that wants the trophy wife.
And in some (many?) people this pseudo-self or false self or superficial self comprises the vast majority of their self—of who they are. They (that is to say, we, or at least many of us) spend most of their (our) time and energy and life direction is the service of maintaining this self—this persona (or these personas), this façade, this posturing, this imposter. It can be rightly thought of in a way as our “ego”—our false or inflated sense of self.
The other part of our self is our solid self. It’s not inflated, instead it’s grounded in reality. It can be thought of as our core self or even our authentic self. In a way this self can be thought of as the self we would be or become across conditions and regardless of what culture or society we grew up in if we were to take up the task of becoming who we truly are. It’s our fundamental self. It’s our baseline level of functioning. (Which for most of us means, that in order to function well, we need to borrow functioning—we need a support system, a community—in order to function adequately at all and not be overwhelmed and deteriorate into one form of mental illness or another.)
But this self is also very deeply embedded and derived from the culture live and grow up in because in large part it’s comprised of all of the values, ideals, principles that we have deeply deliberated over and internalized—that have become blood in us, to use Rilke’s phrase—and that we organize our lives around. Our solid self is the part of ourselves that we won’t trade on, negotiate over, or violate. And the hallmark of ideals and values and principles that actually belong to (or comprise) our solid self is that we can freely and fearlessly discuss and debate about them. They’re not based on ignorance, ego, fitting in; they’re not half-thought through; we didn’t adopt these ideals or principles in order to fit into some movement and gain a sense of identity (reflected sense of self) through that movement or get to wear some label (feminist, republican, democrat, conservative, et cetera). The ideals and principles do not exist as rhetoric or as dogma (what John Stuart Mill termed “dead dogma”), but instead they exist as living breathing truths that we have deeply mulled over and reflected on.
Our solid self is also comprised of all of the parts of us that have survived trial by fire or baptism by fire. Our core or solid self is not flimsy, it’s granite; it’s been forged, it’s been tried and tested and survived both.
Our solid self may and does change over time—but only after careful deliberation or some sort of deep and profound revelation, and only by our own choice—not simply by environmental pressure or persuasion.
Our solid self is also the part of us that helps us maintain our cool and stay calm when we get anxious or nervous. The more solid self we have and have developed, then the more solid or consistent and unwavering we will be as persons; the less solid self that we have and have developed, then the more easily swayable and changeable we are as persons (the more chameleon-like we are)—one moment we believe in this cause and we’re all amped up about this, then the next moment or week or month we’re all onboard with this cause while the other cause has completely faded, et cetera. The solid self is also what allows us to keep our wits when tensions get high and not get emotionally hijacked or derailed by stress.
Most people (most of us) are comprised much more of pseudo-self than solid self. Solid self is difficult to develop and gain in—it takes a lot of testing, grit, endurance. Pseudo-self is easier to develop—it’s what we get from taking the path of least resistance again and again. Solid self usually requires that we take the road less traveled.
Our solid self can also be thought of as our level of depth. If we don’t have much solid self, we don’t have much depth, instead we likely flit along the surface of things and life and relationships.
“A decent man will behave decently even if he thinks that he has been treated unjustly or wrongly. But many people in such circumstances show a side of their nature which otherwise they would never show. And at times it is a necessary means for exposing a man’s nature. So long as you are good to a man he is good to you. But what will he be like if you scratch him a little?” – G. I. Gurdjieff
The point of all of this is that it’s very difficult—nah, impossible—for us to truly know ourselves unless we expose ourselves (or allow ourselves to be exposed) to adversity as well as to novel and unknown situations. Most of the time we live in a comfort zone, meaning most of the time we are comfortable because we are doing what we know, engaging with what we know, and dealing with what is more or less familiar and is occurring more or less on our terms. When we step outside our comfort zone (or when we’re forced outside of it), then (and by definition) life is no longer taking place on our terms, instead we’re having to live on life’s terms and deal with life as it is. Life outside the comfort zone is inherently (and again by definition) uncomfortable; it’s uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar, strange, unknown, stressful, fearful. If we’re doing something new and difficult and it’s not making us uncomfortable, then we’re really not being stretched outside our comfort zone (—either that, or we’ve reach enlightenment!). Generally speaking, whenever we’re really staring down and facing one of our fears, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re learning something new and important, we’re outside our comfort zone. Whenever we’re stretching ourselves or our mind or even our emotions, we’re outside our comfort zone. And it’s only to the extent that we go past the boundaries and limits of our own comfort—or allow ourselves to be pushed past some of our own perceived and assumed limits—do/can we as human beings grow and differentiate.
But this process of truly growing and differentiating is very difficult—and rare. Most human growth is not real growth in terms of goodness, depth, nobility, and courage; most of is faux growth, most of it is not an increase in solid self but in pseudo-self. Which is the point of what Montaigne was saying when he wrote—
“The tranquility and contentment of a well-born spirit and the resolution and assurance of a well-ordered soul should never be attributed to a person until he has been seen to play the last, and beyond a doubt the hardest, act of this comedy. In everything else there may be sham: fine reasonings of philosophy may be mere posturing in us; our trials by not testing us all the way to the quick and pressing us to our last limits, may give us a chance to keep our face composed—and falsely so. But in our last scene, between death and ourselves, there is no more pretending, no more posturing. We must talk plainly, show what is good and clean at the bottom of the pot, if anything:
. ‘At last true words surge up from deep within our breast,
. The mask is snatched away, reality is left.’ — Lucretius
That is why all the other actions of our life must be tried and tested by this act. It is the penultimate and master day, the day that is the judge of all others. ‘It is the day,’ says Seneca, ‘that must judge all my past years.’ And as Cicero says, ‘to philosophize is nothing else but to prepare for death.’ I leave it to death to test the fruit of all of my studies and learning. We shall see then, at that moment, whether my reasonings come from my mouth or from my heart.” (Montaigne, “The Complete Essays of Montaigne,” pg. 55.)
And here’s the Joker’s take on what Montaigne wrote—
In their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way I knew your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?
Facing our fears, taking on new and difficult challenges, making friends with adversity, and even striking up a relationship with our own mortality—the granddaddy of all fears—is what helps us to pull back the curtains on our own existence and actually get to know ourselves a bit better for who and what we are and see ourselves (and others) more clearly. But only if we’re willing to take the hit to our pride and narcissism. If we’re not willing to be humble, then we’ll just talk tough, posture, be lending weapons to a thief, fooling ourselves even more. None of us is as well-differentiated as we think we are. All of us are borrowing more functioning than we’d care to admit; all of us (likely) have much more pseudo-self than real self. But we likely won’t know the extent of this—how false we are—until we come face to face with our own mortality in some way that we can’t easily wiggle or con our way out of. Until then, we’ll go through life with a lot of false ideas about ourselves, assuming ourselves to be nicer, kinder, more noble and stable and virtuous than we really are. We may even think we’re bad in a few ways, but at least we’re not that bad. And we can assume all of this about ourselves all because we haven’t been tested—or allowed ourselves to be tested. All because we’ve concluded that who we are in our comfort zone is who we truly are, and who we are outside of our comfort zone is an aberration; it’s not us.
But what if we’re wrong about this?
What if the truest measure of us as person is who we are outside the comfort zone? What if who we are in difficult times *IS* who we are—it’s who we are stripped of any pretense, posturing, faulty errant ideas we may have about ourselves.
“Sigmund Freud once asserted, “Let one attempt to expose a number of the most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.” Thank heaven, Sigmund Freud was spared knowing the concentration camps from the inside. His subjects lay on a couch designed in the plush style of Victorian culture, not in the filth of Auschwitz. There, the “individual differences” did not “blur” but, on the contrary, people became more different; people unmasked themselves, both the swine and the saints.” (Viktor Frankl, from the last pages of “Man’s Search For Meaning”)
And see min 6:33 to 6:53 of the following clip—
“I didn’t make you do anything that wasn’t in you already. . . . People are such hypocrites. They go through their lives thinking they’re innocent till the day they die, but they’re not innocent. I showed you that.” – from the motion picture “Bad Influence”
Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place—or the wrong time and wrong place—they’re capable of just about anything—
“Most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they’re capable of anything.” – from the motion picture “Chinatown”
“The being of man is situated behind a curtain. . . . What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstance. My ‘I’ is hidden from me (and from others).” – Simone Weil, “Gravity and Grace,” pg. 85
“Our shortcomings are concealed from us as long as luck helps us.” – Hadrat Ali, “Living and Dying with Grace,” pg. 8.
“I have no doubt whatever that most people live, whether physically, intellectually, or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger. We all have reservoirs of life to draw upon, of which we do not dream.”—William James
You must realize that each human being has a set repertoire of roles which he plays in ordinary circumstances. He has a role for every kind of circumstance in which he ordinarily finds himself in life.
But put him into even only slightly different circumstances and he is unable to find a suitable role—if only for a short time—and for that short time he becomes completely himself.
The study of the roles of a person plays represents a very necessary part of self-knowledge.
Each person’s repertoire is very limited. And each person is not one “I” or role; each person has at least five or six I’s or roles—one or two for his family, one or two at the office (one for his subordinates, one for his superiors), one for his friends when he’s out on the town with them, and perhaps one who is interested in high-minded ideas and likes intellectual conversations.
And at different times the person is fully identified with one of these I’s and is unable to separate himself from it.
To see the roles, to know one’s repertoire—particularly to know its limitedness—is to know a great deal.
But the more important point is that, outside his repertoire, a person feels very uncomfortable should something push him, if only temporarily, out of his usual routine or accustomed ways, and he tries his hardest to return to any one of his usual roles.
Eventually, and sooner rather than later, he falls back into the rut, everything at once goes smoothly again, and the feeling of awkwardness and tension disappears.
This is how it is in life.
But in order to grow, one must become reconciled to this awkwardness and tension and to the feeling of discomfort and helplessness. Only by allowing oneself to experience this discomfort can a person begin to really observe himself.
And it is clear why this is so. When a person is not playing any of his usual roles, when he cannot find a suitable role in his repertoire, he feels that he is naked, undressed. He is cold and ashamed, vulnerable and exposed, and he wants to run away from everybody. But the question arises: what does he want? A quiet life? Or to work on himself?
If he wants a quiet, comfortable life, it’s clear what he must do: he must certainly first of all never move out of his repertoire. Because in his usual roles he feels comfortable and at peace.
But if he wants to work on himself, he must forsake his own comfort and destroy his own peace. Because to have them both together—a quiet life and to work comfortably on oneself—is in no way possible.
A person must make a choice.
(G. I. Gurdjieff, quoted in P. D. Ouspensky “In Search of the Miraculous,” pp. 239-40.)