Shedding the Mask
Making ourselves vulnerable with the relationships in our lives.
A friend of mine who has been dating for years told me that she had finally found the perfect guy. He was smart, kind, successful, good looking, and serious about their relationship! “But there is one problem,” she told me. “I don’t like him.”
“How can that be?” I asked her. He was everything she is looking for and yet for some reason she was not able to fully invest in the relationship.
I thought about it and suggested, “If this man truly matches everything you have been praying for and there is no real reason to end the relationship, then maybe you are afraid to let your guard down and get too close. Perhaps you are afraid that if Mr. Perfect got to know the real you, he may reject you. So rather than be rejected, you reject him first as a defense mechanism.”
It was clear from her face that I struck a chord with her. She was afraid to make herself vulnerable.
Ironically, vulnerability is the one thing that is necessary for a fulfilling relationship, but we all run away from it. One of our biggest fears is rejection, and this fear is particularly present after opening up and creating vulnerability. In order to avoid this potential pain and embarrassment, we create blocks; we construct masks to hide our true selves from the world.
The preponderance of technology and social media makes it easy to open up and display our lives to the world in a controlled and contrived manner. People are happy to post “selfies” up close and personal as long as their makeup is flawless, the lighting is phenomenal, and the filter is particularly flattering. People are more comfortable texting intimate thoughts or conversations that can be awkward, as there is time to construct responses without giving your true self away with facial expressions or body language.
In the era of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, with the tap of a finger, we can portray ourselves as living celebrity-esque lives; the skewed reality portrayed online can make real life seem dull and unsatisfying. These technologies do have their upside, but they can also be detrimental to our psyche and our ability to develop deep relationships. The key to true happiness is to develop deep, loving, meaningful and lasting relationships. In order to get to that point one needs to shed the masks that we construct to hide ourselves. You have to be real.
Which relationships in our lives are free of masks? Relationships with our families. Our families are chosen for us and are given to us by God. We do not choose the family that we are born into. Parents, siblings, and children are all given to us and there is no separating from them – ever! The only relationship that requires complete honesty and vulnerability that we choose for ourselves is marriage. The relationship with a spouse contains the most potential for love and the most fear. Marriage is hard. Being in a forever relationship takes a tremendous amount of work. The flip side is that there is nothing like the joy of marriage. It is unmatched by anything else. Marriage creates a space where you can truly be yourself and be accepted. Marriage partners share in all of each other’s highs and lows.
Adam and Eve and Nakedness
The first time that we learn about human vulnerability in the Torah is after the sin of Adam and Eve. In Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree of life. After eating from the tree, the Torah exclaims that “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” Nakedness is often used to describe vulnerability. Words associated with vulnerability are bare, raw or naked. In fact, a classic anxiety dream is finding oneself undressed and exposed in front of a large fully clothed crowd.
Adam and Eve are banished from the garden as punishment for their sin .The Torah then describes that, “the man knew his wife Eve.” Rashi explains that knowledge in the Torah is a euphemism for love and intimacy.
The sequence of events described in the Torah seems strange. After they sin and are kicked out of the Garden of Eden, wouldn’t their next reaction be “and they fought” or “they were angry”? Rashi is puzzled by this juxtaposition and explains that in this instance the Torah is not in chronological order. He “had known her” means that they were intimate before the sin. Why would God take these phrases out of order in the Torah? Why would their love for each other be mentioned after the sin? What is the message?
The message is clear: Adam and Eve loved each other even after they saw the good and bad in each other. In order to achieve true intimacy you must appreciate the good and the bad in each other. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and suddenly they were exposed to all parts of each other.
Adam and Eve didn’t love each other despite their vulnerabilities but rather because of it. It brought them closer and made them love each other even more. You don’t have to be perfect to be loveable. Our true, unedited self will ultimately be able to give and receive the most love.
This article is based on a lecture given by Sarah Pachter