I am a liar. And a hypocrite. I am not living in a Quakerly way. But I want you to think that I am.
And I understand in writing this that I will probably lie and probably be hypocritical. But as I said, I’m a liar and a hypocrite. The person to whom I lie and am hypocritical most toward is me. Rereading this, I can even see that I want to present a person to you so self-deprecating and seemingly self-aware that you will feel that I am too hard on myself, and it is very transparent.
Much of this paragraph will feel like sour grapes, and I must say it gave me a nasty feeling to think and to write these thoughts. They are distinctly un-Friendly and unfriendly thoughts, and not in keeping with the type of person I always like to pretend to be. I sat in Meeting this week contemplating my former roommate’s relationship and why it bothered me so much. He moved out of the apartment that we had shared for 6 years recently so that my girlfriend of 2.5 years could move in with me. He has for the past six months been dating a colleague and friend of mine, who lives downtown. He is a man of very comfortable means, and the plan was that he would find an apartment for himself–indeed he said several times that he was excited to live by himself for a while, something he has never done. What ended up happening was that he decided he did not want to go through the hassle of finding a place in New York, and so instead he decided he should just move in with her downtown. This bothered me, though I could never quite say why. One reason is certainly that my girlfriend and I had been very excited to move in together and were originally supposed to in 2014, but owing to logistic issues on his part, had to defer that for a year. Therefore, when we did move in, it was a very exciting time, and she relished being asked about it and getting to share what it was like cohabiting. For a woman who rarely seeks and rarely gets to be the center of attention, this was a fun time for her to get to share. Therefore, this felt a lot like her thunder being stolen, because my former roommate and his inamorata both drive conversations and dominate attention, and now they were seeking and receiving those questions that my girlfriend had relished in her brief moment in the spotlight. So that was definitely part of what bothered me. What bothered me more, though, I’ve come to realize, is that it felt to me like they were cheating, that they had skipped ahead, and that because my girlfriend and I had waited “so long” (what was actually, probably, a very standard if not short amount of time), people might think that they were more in love than we or something of the sort. I bitterly viewed it as a quick-fix, skipping the line, not putting in the work. As if we were in competition.Now, as I write this, these two are on vacation out west, and posting wonderful pictures of all of the fun things they are doing, and I felt pangs of what I took to be jealousy. I told myself that I was envious of his means, of the fact that they could go out there and do those fun things. What I think it was though, was our collection of friends viewing the pictures, and liking the pictures, and commenting on the pictures, and shining attention on them. I felt like that was taking shine away from my relationship because we don’t get that attention, by which I mean I don’t get that attention. I felt like they were trying to steal the thunder of my relationship, as if it had even crossed their minds. A petty, petty string of thought, because of course their relationship has no bearing whatsoever upon ours. “A candle loses nothing from lighting another candle.” (More on spouting wisdom of others later) And lord knows what a wonderful, incredible relationship I have with this wonderful, incredible girl.
What it brought me to realize is how concerned I am with how people view me. I want people to see me as a person who does not care what people think, and who actively eschews the spotlight. I hate seeking attention, and I feel great resentment towards those people who seek it. I have always told myself that it was because I didn’t like that kind of behavior and people should be humble, and other presumptuous, holier-than-thou types of things. The real fact is that I love attention and crave recognition for the things that I do and have done, and I believe I feel resentment because those people are willing to seek out and get that which I do not. As if they are taking away what I feel entitled to. I act in a very humble and modest way, but not because I am humble or modest. Rather, it is because I want people to think that I am humble or modest. I want them to think that I dislike when people seek the spotlight and attention because it goes against my values (which, to an extent, it does, as do my thoughts), but really it is because I have simple, ugly envy for what they are getting and what I feel I deserve but I don’t want to get because it feels dirty. Truly, though, my behavior and thought process is much dirtier ethically than attention-seeking and flash.
I like to pretend to myself to be a fan of wisdom. I keep a notebook of quotes and thoughts that I like that other people say, and I convinced myself that it was to expand my mind. However, as I look over them, they are just thoughts that I already believed and didn’t put in as pretty words as the famous minds that I’m quoting. So really, they are just a form of recognition for me. “Hey, these thoughts I always believed were put into words by this person famous for their wit or wisdom!” As if that, in some way, would give confirmation that I am wise or somehow on their level. Because that’s how I want to be seen, though I don’t want to actually do anything.
Even as I write this, I am conscious that I am assuaging these feelings by saying something along the lines of “Hey, look at me! Look how self-actualized I am by recognizing the flaws in my perspective, and how conscious I am of my faults!” I recognize that it rings of sanctimony and pretension, and that this explanatory paragraph does even more so. I would love to say that I feel shame in it, except I really wouldn’t. Several times in this, I wrote “Like many others”, “like most people”, or “just like everyone else”, because in some way it made me able to deflect away from the uncomfortable thing that I was actually addressing in myself. It was, just like with my roommate and his girlfriend, me putting myself in a group and measuring to try to feel better. As if other people having these thoughts and feelings took away from the negative fact that I do. I don’t know if there is a way around it because the hard truth is that I am pretentious, I do view myself as special and holier-than-thou. (I would love to say wrongly, but I would be lying). I even started going to Meeting for the wrong reasons. When I first came to NYC and began going to Meeting, I was going because I wanted people to know and to see me going to Meeting. I still go to Meeting to keep up appearances. I still go because of how I want people to view me. I wanted to be seen as a Quaker. “Honestly”, I just wanted to be seen. I am incredibly self-centered, and the worst kind. I like to “modestly brag” about the things that I do that I think make me a good person without it sounding like a big deal. I want to shrug off accolades and recognition when I do get them, as if I don’t want them when really I crave them. When I’m not talking about myself, I am silently desperately hoping someone else will.
Modesty for me (at first I wrote “for Quakers” not “for me”) is a tricky thing. I’ve always understood modesty to mean not drawing attention to oneself, but I crave attention (I wrote “we” there at first, not “I”–I’m telling you, the worst). I felt that by appearing modest to others, that would sort of check-the-box in the modesty column, but to do so goes against a more important virtue, that of honesty. I’m not a modest person. I am a petty person. I am envious of those people that are better than me. I am envious of people who get recognition that I feel like I want, whether I actually deserve it or not (most of the time I probably do not–though as I write that, I can feel in my head that I actually think that I do). I am not a gracious, resent-less, good person. I may never be any of those things. I won’t ever be any of those things because the person whose opinion of me I care about most is me, and to do so would be to lower myself in my eyes. So I know that I will never fully confront these failings (I wrote foibles at first to minimize them). I would love to say that I’m going to begin to be honest with myself and others, but that would be an ironic lie. What I did commit to, though, was telling you where I polished this up in trying to present to you the person I want you to think I am.
I would love for you to think that I feel shame and contrition, but really it is some mix of morose and sobriety. I want you to think that I had a breakthrough, realized something I didn’t know and that I could now close with a pledge to do better. But really, I’ll probably close my computer and continue being the same person. I would love to live closer to the way that God and Quakerism has come to understand life, but I know that I don’t want to be that honest with myself or put in the work in order to do that.
I posted this to get attention, but I did write this mostly for myself, truly. I would love to say that I don’t want to hear from people who feel the same way. I would love to say that I don’t want people to say that I’m a good person, and truly I don’t–as nice as it is to hear, I’ve heard it enough from all of my hollow and shameless braggadocio. I would love to say that I want people to rake me over the coals and say what a petulant and childish person I am, then I’d love to say that I will take your comments to heart and change them. But I won’t. I’m pretty sure that I wrote this because it was a very sobering Meeting, and I felt the need for recognition for this realization that I’ve had, as if that will be done now. As if there was a quick-fix, a way to skip the line without putting in the work. If I’m being honest, I don’t want the attention or the comments, because this is for me.
If I’m being more honest, I do want the attention and the comments, because this is for me.