You’ve seen that movie Runaway Bride, right? Julia Roberts plays an adorable, but damaged woman who keeps getting engaged to “the perfect guy” and then leaving him at the altar. This is all supposedly because she morphs herself into what she thinks the guy wants her to be, but in the end, she (somewhere in her psyche) realizes she’s not being true to herself, and runs away.
I sort of wonder if that plot sounds far-fetched to some people. It doesn’t to me. Because I’ve done the same thing, many times. And it went beyond how I liked my eggs.
The Joe Me
Before I met Joe, I had consciously decided to re-invent myself. I was fourteen years old, just about to start high school, and had just moved across the country with my family. To cope with the potentially crushing change, I decided that this was my chance for a clean slate. I could be beautiful, and popular, and desired. I practiced my smile in the mirror. I convinced my mom to let me wear this pair of ridiculously tiny white shorts. I experimented with make-up.
And then Joe appeared, just at the height of my confidence in my new identity. I was coy, not shy. I was mysterious, not quiet. I was classically pretty, not frumpy. He bought it. I almost died of shock.
So, really, The Joe Me was more my construct than his, but he helped perpetuate it for the ten months we were together before he went off to college.
The Shane Me
I sort of created a construct for myself on purpose with Shane, too. Before we knew each other, really, we played a role playing game together (ugh, I know) where he was this badass Indiana Jones type and I was an even badder-ass lady smuggler with red hair and an attitude problem.
The thing is, it turned out that Shane really was kind of a badass Indiana Jones type– I mean, as much as a 15-year-old can be. I guess he just assumed that I was more like my character than not, too, so he treated me that way. He sent me a card once that he said made him think of me:
I want a sensitive man… One who’ll cry when I hit him.
This was about the time in my life, too, when I decided that most emotion was unnecessary. I stopped crying over sentimental things– and, truthfully, mostly openly scoffed at them. “Nice” became the most hated label anyone could apply to me (although it was still applied often). I desperately tried to be the badass Shane thought I was.
The Luke Me
Luke and I were best friends for a long time– like months (that is a long time in high school)– before we started dating, and I was drawn to him because he was wide-open funny. You know the type: They’ll do anything for a laugh. He was perfectly willing to make a complete fool of himself just to make you smile. He memorized full scenes of funny movies and could repeat them back verbatim, with voices. Everyone absolutely loved him.
When we started dating, I knee-jerk resisted being labeled “Luke’s girlfriend.” No. I would not be nameless girlfriend. I would be funny in my own right. So I developed my own brand of humor. Sure, I’d indulge in silly costumes and general tom-foolery with him from time to time, but my style was understated and acerbic, compared to his wild shenanigans. But I was funny. And as far as I know, I managed to avoid the “Luke’s girlfriend” label fairly successfully.
The Matt Me
Oh, dear Lord. The Matt Me is probably the me I wish I could have avoided being. By then, I was this weird mix of leftovers from the other mes (a little coy, a little badass, and a little funny) plus the real me, which was a huge dollop of awkward and insecure and a whole lot of sensitive, squishy mess. When Matt swooped in, he brought with him the drama of growing up in a dysfunctional family, where you yell and shout and call names and say horrible things to each other, all in the name of love.
In order to defend myself, I yelled back. The drama swallowed me whole. I got moody and mopey and angry, with not a small amount of argumentative thrown in for good measure. I snarled at everyone for even the smallest infractions. Imagined slights became gaping wounds that had to be avenged.
So who did I end up being?
In the movie, Julia Roberts takes a break from relationships and figures out who she really is. It’s all very neat and clean. She likes the kind of eggs she likes, and she hates all the other kinds. The end.
In real life, it’s not quite that simple, I think. Because there are parts of those versions of me that will always be me. I will always default to mysterious when I want to be desirable. I will always swing toward badass if you cross me. I will always crack a joke to try to make myself memorable. And, though I hate to admit it, I will probably always snarl defensively if you hurt my feelings, even slightly or by accident.
Does that make me Not Me? No, but I think it makes all my exes part of me– and that will never really go away.