“People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.” – Don Draper, Mad Men
I sabotaged the last serious relationship I had prior to dating my ex-wife because I didn’t think my girlfriend was good “wife material.”
We couldn’t make it because we were too philosophically different.
We couldn’t make it because we had different ideas about how to raise children.
We couldn’t make it because I was too scared of what my family would say.
In other words, I was a know-nothing asshole.
I was 20 and 21 years old and knew as much as my five-year-old son about taking responsibility for my choices and what it means to be an adult.
She was brilliant. Thoughtful. Liked (maybe even loved) and respected me. We never ran out of things to discuss. We were both passionate about writing. She used to credit me for teaching her how to write news stories even though she’s always been more talented, and to prove it she’s been writing for one of the five largest U.S. daily newspapers for nearly a decade.
Most importantly, she was cool under fire. During challenging times (me being a dick), she was always kind.
If good communication is the key to making a relationship work, she gave me every opportunity.
Despite being nearly three years younger than me, she was almost always more adult.
Because I was scared of my family rejecting us for being together; and because I was “right” and she was “wrong” about certain things, and thus, could never be the mother of my children (I believed), I used a summer apart during college to break up with her like a coward.
Two months later, I entered a relationship with the girl of my dreams.
The perfect partner.
Three years later, we were married.
How’d that work out for everybody?
People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.
We believe the stories we’re told (or that we tell ourselves) because we want to believe them.
We don’t believe the stories that make us uncomfortable because they don’t align with our deeply held cultural beliefs.
It’s why some people believe in God and others do not.
It’s why supporters of President Obama believe he’s a messiah while his detractors call him a terrorist.
It’s why same-sex marriage is both loved and hated.
It’s why one mother’s beloved unborn child can be considered an inconvenient parasitic fetus by another.
Otherwise sane and reasonable people can lose both sanity and reason debating these things—both sides equally convinced they’re correct.
Opposing viewpoints sometimes make us uncomfortable. They challenge our deeply held beliefs. Frighten us.
So we believe what we want to believe. To feel less scared. To feel more safe.
No matter what the truth is.
I have a bad case of strep throat. This is my third day on antibiotics which is the only reason I’m among the living.
I think I may have written this same thing in January when I had a much milder case of strep, but it bears repeating: you never feel quite as alone as you do when you’re sick in a house by yourself.
It forces you to think and think and think and think, and if you don’t want to think—you watch television because your brain doesn’t work well enough to read.
So, I binged on Mad Men on Netflix for two straight days—consuming more television than I ever have in a two-day window. It was simultaneously awesome and pathetic.
Only Tony Soprano and Walter White (Breaking Bad) are more interesting characters than Don Draper, and Draper pulls it off without being part of organized crime. Amazing show, particularly for those (like me) who work in marketing and advertising.
Aspects of Draper’s personal life are applicable to mine, especially in the middle of the show’s story arc where I am now.
To deal with what’s going on his life (in 1965-ish) Draper has begun keeping a journal with pen and paper. He was reflecting on all of the messiness and complications in our lives when he wrote: “People tell you who they are. But we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
It felt important.
And I believe it’s true.
We choose where to eat, shop, party and worship.
We choose what to drive, wear, do and believe.
We choose who to listen to, spend time with, kiss and love.
We choose all of these things based on the stories we believe about the life we perceive happening around us.
The same life that looks and feels different to each one of us.
And I wonder about the stories people believe about me.
In the end, everyone believes what they want to believe.
Maybe being more mindful can protect our hearts from those who want to hurt us because they want and need to believe the stories they tell themselves.
Maybe being more mindful can keep us from hurting or alienating others who aren’t who we believe they are.
Maybe we grow with each mistake.
And maybe with enough growth we start telling authentic new stories.
The truth and a bit of kindness is an effective form of persuasion.
When we’re alone with our reflection, our eyes tell us who we are.
But we ignore it because we want the person in the mirror to be whoever we want them to be. Who we need them to be.
And that’s good news.
Because that’s the one story we get to write.