Pretending to be someone else.
We all have different personalities, even from birth. Some infants are more excitable than others, some more irritable, some more placid. Some have a louder cry, eliciting responses from parents that may be different from the way they respond to a more subdued sibling. Parents and others react to all these children differently, and they in turn respond differently. And so they grow up differently. Because family members and other important people define each of us after a time as a certain kind of child and adolescent, we begin to see ourselves similarly. We come to think of ourselves as quiet or gregarious or smart, or not so smart, or athletic or any number of combinations of ways of being. It is these early experiences that carry the most weight in determining personality and character. At an early age we develop an idea of who we are. And we grow up unique.
In some people, that view becomes rigid, as if they were poured out of a mold. “This is me,” they think. “These are my strengths and weaknesses. These are the facets of personality that other people recognize in me. These are the things I like. This is the way I am. This is the way I have always been. This is the way I will always be. I cannot imagine myself doing these other things, even if it is in my interest to do them.” But sometimes we fail precisely because of the way we are and are used to doing things. So, we have to change in order to be successful, in order to meet our own goals and be happy. To be unwilling to change at all is to ensure that whatever mistakes we have made, we will continue to make. These are issues that come up most obviously in psychotherapy, which is dedicated to change; but they are present in every area of life as we strive to accomplish important goals.
Even those of us who have a formed and inflexible view of ourselves struggle to present ourselves in the best possible light. There are two situations in which we try very hard to make a good impression: going on a first date with someone especially appealing—and going on an important job interview. At such times we are more willing to behave in unfamiliar and uncharacteristic ways, if doing so promises to make our goal more achievable. So much is well-understood by everyone. But in one situation it may make more sense to dissemble than in the other.
The job interview: Start with the idea that you really want this job. It may not sound like the ideal job, but if you are bothering to go on a job interview, you should, I think, do what you can to get the job, even if later on you decide not to take it. You should not just sit back and think, “I will present myself and my record plainly, and they will either like me, or they will not.” That attitude comes from a kind of arrogance or helplessness. What you do on the interview should be designed to make the proper impression. You should not settle for just putting forward your best side, your strengths as you conceive them to be. You should present yourself as the person they are looking for! In that narrow sense, you are undertaking to be a little different than the person you have always considered yourself to be. You are pretending.
That important first date: Both men and women want to present themselves in the best light. Someone who is usually messy and disheveled will straighten up. Someone who is not usually punctual will be on time. Even those who are inclined to be irascible or withdrawn will make an effort to be friendly, clever and appealing. And interesting. There are limits, however, to what most people will do to rearrange themselves. A man inclined usually to be informal will not come to that first date in a suit. A woman will not come to a formal affair affecting a British accent—even if she thinks that is what her date would prefer.
If you are looking forward to that special date which you think –maybe, just maybe—will lead to a serious relationship, you will want to make a special impression. But within limits. I think that is sensible for a number of reasons. These are some of the differences between reaching out for a special job and trying to enter into a special relationship that might become permanent:
1. In order to get the job, you have to pretend to be self-confident, ambitious, hard-working and reliable. Also friendly. You cannot pretend to be bright, unless you really are bright; but not every job requires intelligence. But the aspects of character that I list here are very important for every sort of job. And they are desirable whether or not this particular job falls through. And someone who can successfully pretend to be ambitious and reliable, can actually learn to be that way. That is the way anyone learns to be that way.
Besides, these attitudes, that someone may have to pretend to initially, are important, primarily, at the beginning of the job. There is plenty of time to relax down the road. No one is expected to be hard-driving and hard-working all the time.
2 On the other hand, any long-term relationship, such as marriage, cannot rest on an elaborate ruse. It is too hard to pretend for any length of time to be charming or witty, or fascinating. Someone who is unenthusiastic about food cannot sustain for any length of time a pretended interest in high cuisine. The real person underneath comes through inevitably. It makes no sense to appeal to someone on the basis of a shared interest in professional football when there is no such interest. Will that person be prepared to spend every weekend watching football? Similarly, someone who really does not like partying late at night, or bicycling, or going to the theater will not be able—or willing—to pretend to such interests for any length of time.
It is reasonable on a first date to try especially to be attractive or appealing, but beyond that, I think it is not reasonable to go. It is not worth trying to be someone else. The truth comes through quickly enough. Unlike looking for a job, I think the proper attitude in looking for a partner is to present oneself pretty much without disguise. “This is the way I am,” everyone should say: “informal” (or formal), “inclined to spend time by myself” (or inclined to party), “interested in traveling” (or not) “and whatever other essential way I am. Either the person I am interested in will accept me the way I truly am, or we would both be better off with someone else.”
Successful couples have to be together for a very long time.
Looking for a job and looking for a romantic partner are different in that important respect. (c) Fredric Neuman