Self Versus Society

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

Today I received an e-mail from someone whose identity I shan’t reveal. She asked me the following:

“What do you do when a catholic person likes you, and you might like him? I CAN NOT do the whole god-fearing-critters thing! Help, please. You said something about the whole catholic thing with [Morah], I thought you might know. I am too rooted in my beliefs to sacritice [sic] my happiness and self. Help, please.”

Here’s my reply:

“Hey there, sounds like quite a quandary!

“The answer is actually quite simple (in my view). You don’t have to sacrifice anything. Compromise, perhaps, but not sacrifice. If he likes you and you like him, and the two of you want to explore a relationship, then let it take its course. Be yourself and never waver. If he can’t accept your beliefs, then it’s bully for him because that’s part of the deal. Likewise, if you come to find that you can’t accept his beliefs, then you had best break it off. I know that you feel quite strongly about your particular brand of faith and no one can tell you what to think or believe. You must make that choice for yourself and I know that you already have. To change or pretend to change just to gain favour with some guy is the absolute wrong thing to do (unless you really are changing because you have a new-found faith, which I know you don’t). To do so would, as you say, sacrifice your happiness. After all, if you’re being disingenuous to yourself and to him, then your relationship will suffer.

“Morah and I are an interesting coupling, because I’m Atheist and she’s Catholic. One might initially assume that problems are likely to crop up, but we’ve talked about it a lot and we both understand not only what the other believes, but why.

“In any relationship, the best thing you can do is to talk. I say this time and time again, but good, frequent, honest communication is the cornerstone to a successful relationship. You’re obviously concerned about religion being an issue, so talk to him about it and find out what he thinks of non-Catholics and people who practise alternate religions.

“And if you guys do end up hooking up and he starts pressuring you to be Catholic or he makes fun of your religion in any way, you need to defend yourself and tell him to knock it off. Remind him that asking you to change what you believe is like asking you to change the colour of your hair. Even if you dyed it black, that wouldn’t be its real colour. By that same token, even if you converted to Catholicism, that doesn’t mean it would change your true beliefs.”

Hopefully that answers her question satisfactorily. What I didn’t mention, and possibly should have (she reads my blog, so hopefully she’ll see this addition to my reply), is that I suggest breaking up or not getting involved in the first place if either of them can’t accept the other’s religious beliefs. This is much easier said than done. I know what it’s like to be enamored with someone who doesn’t treat you the way you should be treated. Even when you know you’re getting the short end of the stick, it hard to admit that to yourself.

They say love is blind and it’s sadly true. When we’re in love, we’re willing to look past those things that would otherwise turn us away. We want so badly for our love not to be in vain and not to go unrequited, that we’re often willing to ignore their faults and attempt to fit ourselves into the mold of their ideal person. We’ll do and say stupid things just to make them happy. We will cease to be true to ourselves if it means pleasing the object of our affections.

I would venture to guess that most people have, at one time or another, done this. Just a moment of weakness and we’ve hastily rewritten our personal manifestos to include what we would have snubbed just days or hours before. But when we succumb to that weakness, we begin to lose a sense of who we are. Our self image loses focus and before too long, we may end up as someone we don’t like. When the relationship inevitably ends (and it will end, if you aren’t being true to yourself), you’ll likely be left with feelings of insecurity.

A great example is of a girl I knew when I was a Sophomore in college. When I met her, she gave everyone the impression that she was the “wealthy socialite” type (this is pre-Paris Hilton). She joined a sorority and hung out with the “hot chicks” (she herself was hot). Eventually, she couldn’t keep up the act anymore. Much to my surprise, she wasn’t a wealthy, outgoing, sorority girl type of person. Instead, she was much more reserved and not particularly concerned with the vanity she had paraded just months before. I actually liked her a lot better after the transition, although she never seemed to be happy. She ended up dating and eventually getting engaged to a guy who didn’t respect her very much. I’m not sure how things ended up between them, but I hope she’s doing better now.

The point is, she had the attention of nearly every guy in the dorm. Even after her “fall from grace,” she could probably have dated any number of guys. She didn’t lose her hotness, but she did lose her self-esteem, which I suspect lead her to date the hick who chose the $49 engagement ring (sans diamond) over the $249 engagement ring (with a modest diamond), even though he could afford the better ring.

Another friend of mine (who shall again remain nameless) struggled with his identity in high school. I did what I could to support him and the decisions he made, but it wasn’t until he got into college that he realised he’s his own person. He’s allowed to make the choices that he wants to make and he’s allowed to be the person he wants to be. And now he is, and he’s much happier for it.

Being yourself isn’t always easy. Especially in the case of my friend from high school, sometimes society just doesn’t want to accept you. But even in his case, everyone I know who has stood up and declared themselves to be who they truly are is happier for it. It’s kind of like when you lie about something, but then eventually tell the truth. Even if there are some negative consequences, you always feel better about not having to carry the burden of the truth anymore.

Well, now is the time to declare yourself. Are you an Atheist? Are you gay? Are you straight? Do you hate Zydeco (bonus points for naming the reference)? Stop living a lie! Stop keeping yourself hidden from the world! Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re any less of a person. Your true friends will accept you no matter who you are, and if someone doesn’t accept you, then you probably don’t want them as a friend anyway. And yes, there will be people who don’t accept you; possibly many people. But who cares? Who are you trying to impress? Why shouldn’t you be allowed to live the life you want to live?

It’s interesting that we (in general) have such a hard time being honest with one another. Nearly every conflict in sitcoms revolves around someone trying to keep something hidden from somebody else. We think that’s funny because we can relate to the situation. Doesn’t that seem wrong to you? That everyone understands what it’s like to feel compelled to lie?

Perhaps we should take sitcoms a little more seriously. At the end of pretty much every episode of a sitcom, the secret is revealed and everything ends up working out. Even when something bad comes as a result, the cloud has a silver lining.

Some people who read this post will realise that I’m being hypocritical. Yes, there are truths about myself that I choose not to reveal. But my secrets are my cross to bear. I often think about who I am versus who I want to be, and look forward on my future with the knowledge that someday, even if I’m not accepted, at least I’ll be proud.

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  1. Truly great advice, Thomas.

  2. Wow, great post, Thomas!

  3. Wow, great post, Thomas! This time of year, I always bring up The Island of The Misfit Toys. We are all misfits in our own ways, and we just have to figure out how to work together and accept each others differences as well as our own.

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