“Love takes off masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” – James Baldwin
Sadly, I believe that very few of us ever reach true intimacy. I believe most of us have enjoyed the temporary joys of dating and making out and other conventions of relationships. But so few of us will ever reach true intimacy. And the reason is simple. God has given each of us memories and emotions. And when those memories are painful and those emotions are hurt by people that we love, we make a decision – consciously or subconsciously – to never let anyone hurt us like that again. Unfortunately for us, making that decision does absolutely nothing to our stronger desire to connect with others.
After watching different movies about life in the penitentiary, I discovered that a man would rather be in general population where he is in danger of being shanked (stabbed) or violently sodomized against his will than to be locked up in solitary confinement. It is the worst punishment for even the most hardened criminal to be locked away from others – even though those others may have and may continue to hurt them. This goes to show that all humans were made for connection with other human beings despite how hurt they’ve been in times past.
So how do we cope with that cognitive dissonance? How do we love WITHOUT risking hurt? This post does not attempt to answer that question. The previous paragraph just goes to show that humans want connection in spite of pain. Yet despite our desperate need and desire to connect, why come so few of us achieve it?
I believe the reason we cannot achieve true intimacy is because our past hurts “force” us to put on masks. They don’t actually force us, but they terrify us enough to put them on because we fear what could happen if we do not don our masks. Our memories remind us how painful it was the last time we loved as we truly were. Maybe as a child, you reached out to Mommy for a hug and she pushed you away. Maybe you waited hours for Daddy to come home to show him a card you made just for him, only for him to wave you away and lock himself in his room without any greeting or acknowledgement. These simple examples represent profound experiences that shape us. They make us question ourselves as to why our parents don’t like or appreciate us as we are. So we try to alter our real, “unlovable” selves so as to prevent being rejected again for who we really are. We’d rather be loved for we are not than to face the pain of being rejected for who we are.
One thing about masks is that we continue to wear them because they work. If they didn’t work in getting us what we wanted, we would no longer wear them. So masks are effective in a sense. Another thing about masks is that they can be changed at any time – even several times in an hour. So if you meet four different people in an hour, you could act four different ways to make all of them pleased with them. If you felt your Mommy liked you smarter, skinnier, neater, and cuter, you worked on that mask and presented it to her. You saw it made her smile at, compliment, and hug you. If you felt that your Daddy liked you more accomplished, you worked on that mask and presented to your Dad a new you that was a star quarterback, a great tennis player, or a straight A student. And that made Daddy show you off and give you attention. While it is sad that some parents do not love their children unconditionally, it is a reality that must be accepted. And once you accept that you had demanding, perfectionistic parents, you have another choice to make.
You can choose to be disliked for who you are or loved for who you’re not.
And if you make the right decision, you will remove those masks and say, “HERE I AM! LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, BUT I WILL NOT HIDE ANYMORE!”
Now let me explain some things. I am not suggesting that you don’t change anything negative about yourself and command others to love you as you are if who you are is abusive, offensive, and criminal. Don’t molest children, beat up people on the street, and call people outside of their names and then say, “Love me for who I am because I refuse to hide under my mask anymore!” By no means! But what I am saying is that you have to understand that if you are not intentionally hurting anyone, you do not have to change to make people except you.
Another disclaimer is that you also have to understand that people have expectations of adults. A newborn baby is expected to do absolutely nothing but eat, sleep, and poop. No one is disappointed in them for not knowing the alphabet. No one is shaking their head in shame because they are not walking. No one is scolding them for not changing their own diaper. So you must know that when you are an adult – especially a male – people expect you to work a job. Also, as an adult, people expect you to obey laws. Don’t be a lazy slob using welfare when you are able to work and then say, “Take me as I am!I refuse to work, and I will continue to rob and steal!” (If this is your attitude about not wearing a mask, I personally don’t expect anyone to like you.) But if you are a person who does not hurt others deliberately, who works a job to pay bills and whatnot, and who does not intentionally break laws or biblical commands, then you should not have to put on a mask to make people like you. Just doing those things makes you enough.
So back to what I was saying about intimacy. One cannot be intimate with a mask. You cannot feel someone’s face who is wearing a mask. You cannot know someone who is constantly lying to you. You cannot be intimate with someone who refuses to get close to you. That is because INTIMACY IS THE REMOVAL OF DISTANCE.
Think of intercourse. Intercourse is considered intimate because it is the removal of space between two physical bodies. In fact, not only is space removed outside of the body, but with the woman, the space inside is also removed. There is no distance between two people engaging in intercourse. The same goes for tongue kissing. There is no space left there. So it is intimate.
Well, that was speaking physically. Now let’s think emotionally. When you are truly intimate with someone, you remove all distance between their emotions for you and your emotions for them. They know how you feel about them, and you know how they feel about you. But if you hide your true feelings behind a mask, they do not truly know your emotions. So there is still distance. So there is no true intimacy.
Again, the reason we do not tell them our true feelings is because we fear they will stop loving us. But think of children and their parents. Younger children will tell their parent that their breath stinks because kids are brutally honest. But it doesn’t mean that they will stop loving the parent. We have to stop equating truth with abandonment. And if you do, just understand that those you were honest with who abandoned you were simply unwilling to be close to you. Doubtless, they’ve heard worse things from others that they continued to be in relationship with because they WANTED to be in relationship with them. But don’t let their rejection of you make you redefine the lovability of you. Just take their rejection as redirection to someone who WANTS relationship and intimacy with you.
We want so badly to be loved for who we are, but we learn to hate who we really are because who we really are – flawed – resulted in someone rejecting us. So we hate ourselves so much so that we forget who we are and begin to truly think this mask is the real us. But we must do the thing we think we cannot do. We must remove these masks and dare to be loved for who we truly are. The people who God has for us, will love us without them.
However, if you so decide that life with a mask is preferable to being loved as you are, carry on as you were. But just know that you are not in a real relationship. You are in a dance, an arrangement between a person and a mask.