Sunday, July 13, 2008


“Authenticity" in psychology refers to the courage to live one's life according to the needs of one's inner being, rather than the demands of society or one's early conditioning.

This topic bonked me in the brain a couple of times lately. Erica Orloff did a post July 9th about what we dreamed about becoming when we were young – did we really want to be writers and did we do it.

When I was young I dreamed of being a great actress and standing on the stage to accept my Academy Award thanking all the little people who made it possible. No, I didn’t become a great actress, but I spent a lot of my life acting like I was interested, amused, happy, caring and so on. I was an actress. I just didn’t get paid or win any awards for it. Erica responded that she always tried to live her life authentically. Uh, Oh!

Then I was at a wedding reception recently where of 10 people at the table, I knew 2. I’m not very outgoing unless I know people and am comfortable in a situation. This was not one of those times. I’m almost 60 and I was the youngest person at the table by about 10 years. The woman sitting next to me was from Scotland and only wanted to talk about golf. When she learned I play golf infrequently – last time was about 5 years ago – she quickly turned to the person on her other side.

I engaged in some conversations, smiled, ate, and got the hell out of there as soon as appropriate. As I was getting ready to leave the table, the woman on the other side of golf lady (who was in the loo) smiled at me and asked, “Are you authentic?”

I must have looked puzzled because she said, “You’ve been sitting here for almost 2 hours, smiling, laughing, nodding and talking, but I don’t think you’ve really been here. Was your participation authentic?”

Wow! I hesitated for a moment unsure of how to respond. I said, “I hope I haven’t offended you. I’m not very good at social interactions with strangers. This isn’t my forte. Am I authentic? I’m not sure. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

She said, “The fact that you didn’t have a ready answer means you’re probably more authentic than many people. At least you’re willing to consider it.”

Am I authentic? With my friends and in most areas of my everyday life, I am. I’m very honest and straightforward – tactfully so (usually). I like the truth and believe being true to myself is as important as being truthful with others.

However, in social situations I’m an actress. The truth is I’d rather be home or with close friends, but that isn’t always possible so I pretend. Normally I’m a very good actress. The lady at the reception is the first person to ever question me. It was odd because I’m the one who is usually accused of being hyper aware – of practically being able to read people’s minds.

So, the answer to her question is yes and no. Yes about 80% of the time and no the rest.

Are you authentic?


Ello said...

I'm actually very authentic in social situations because I am quite antisocial, unless I feel social = which is not very often, and so I sit and don't talk and daydream. Even when I know people sometimes I just don't feel like talking. Sometimes in work situations I do put on the polite face - but it is a pretty thin veneer!

The Anti-Wife said...

I think we're sisters.

ORION said...

And my response to that question?
"How rude!" lol
If she was authentic herself she would have never put someone on the spot like that...but then I'm an official antiwife fan...she makes a MEAN cup of tea and is available to entertain traveling authors for an afternoon lol!
As for me?
Well take me as I am cuz I don't change whether I'm in front of an audience or one on yes I think I could be considered authentic.

Robin said...

That woman needs to be shot. What a bitch. Her pseudo-intellectual pretentiousness makes me want to blow cookies. And that's an authentic response.

Anonymous said...

She had been watching you for 2 hours and this was the way she chose to connect on an emotional level? Yuck.

How manipulative. Is she related to us?

I might have responded in a way that was considered authentically impolite to elderly golfer ladies.

-Anonymous Sister of AntiWife

Polly Kahl said...

I'm totally with the other gals on this one. That was incredibly presumptuous of her.

The Anti-Wife said...

Actually, I didn't think she was rude. She was a very nice person and intelligent and thoughtful. I think she sensed my discomfort in the situation even though I was trying to hide it.

The point of the post was that she made me think about my own authenticity and realize that often I'm not. I don't believe that's a bad thing. There are times in social or work situations when discretion and tact or even downright acting are better responses. It wouldn't have served any purpose for me to sit at the table and proclaim how bored and uncomfortable I was. In situations like that I always remind myself it's only a couple hours out of my life and sometimes it's good to get me out of my comfort zone.

I raised the question about authenticity because I believe many of us are actors in social gatherings - some better than others, and I wanted to know how you all handle yourselves in these situations.

Sheri said...

WOW! Strange! Maybe the universe is speaking to you through this lady. You had authenticity on your mind and then she asked you this very odd and brazen question.

I think most of us are just like you in those awkward social settings. Polite, maybe distant... We've all been there. I think you handled both the setting and situation spot on.

Am I authentic? I like to think so. I am very honest - for most... too honest. I don't think I am rude, but I don't like pretending and I'm not that good at it. AND i don't like others pretending with me either. Because of this I am not for everyone. I am what I am...

As for living an authentic life, I think that is something else entirely. I am trying to live life as a writer - my authentic self - but I don't make any real money, which makes living life as a writer very challenging. I want to be authentic to myself, but sometimes I find I am pulled to return to teaching so I can have a steady income. But honestly, the longer I live life authentically, the less I want to ever return to teaching...

Bernita said...

I'm with the majority on this one.
Am afraid that I'm "authentic" and it confuses people.

kyknoord said...

"...are you authentic?"
"Of course I am! Didn't you see the little Microsoft hologram tattooed on the back of my neck?"

Doreen Orion said...

Did they serve fish at this thing? 'Cause I would have bitch-slapped her with that trout we've been bandying about on our blogs.

There were other, far less rude ways for her to engage you, including trying to help you join in a conversation/help you feel more comfortable waaaay before the end of the thing if she were, indeed, a "very nice person."

I used to be painfully shy in social situations and for various reasons, that got much better during my residency and again over the past decade or so, but I still remember what that feels like and frankly, her question would have made me feel worse.

It probably says a lot (in a positive way) about you as a person that you didn't have that response. As to what it says exactly... I'll need to do a wallet biopsy, first. :)

The Anti-Wife said...

A friend of mine is substitute teaching now after years of full time because she wants to determine her own schedule. She's an actress and now wants to pursue that so she needs time for auditions, classes and rehearsals. She says when she starts getting paying jobs acting she'll stop subbing.

Ask yourself what you would do with the extra money and then decide if that's more important than writing full-time.

The Anti-Wife said...

I love confusing people. It makes me happy.

The Anti-Wife said...

Very clever!

The Anti-Wife said...

I told you, NO TROUT. We only do salmon and halibut out here. And listen, Queenie, I'm not opening my wallet to you for any unnecessary therapy cause I know the only reason you want to do it is to keep me poor so I can't afford more new shoes. I'm on to you!

Sheri said...

I have been subbing in schools to make extra money for two years. I hate it. The kids are so rude and obnoxious to subs. They always put me in Middle School and then I think, I write for this age group? Why?

I am a copy writer by trade these days. I freelance for a local real estate company. It is the coolest gig ever. My job is to see the houses newly listed and then write the sales pitch online or in the newspaper, brochures, etc. The bad thing is I don't get paid a heck of a lot and it is terribly seasonal. But I do what I must so I can do what I have to.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, BTW

Mary Witzl said...

I have to agree that if this woman wanted to get to the nitty-gritty with you, perhaps she should have started earlier. Why did she make you sit like a bump on a log for all that time before engaging you in conversation? Still, I'd love to be asked that question.

When I was younger, I tried to put on an act, but it never worked. I tend to be a little inept socially, though I love listening and talking -- I have trouble making the kind of small talk that so many people seem able to generate effortlessly. So I gave up fairly early and, like Ello, sat and day-dreamed. When I do feel like talking, though, I can hold forth with the best of them.

Polly Kahl said...

To answer your original question, no, I'm not always authentic. Sometimes I choose not to be because it would be socially inappropriate. We've all been in situations like boring wedding receptions and done exactly what you did. If I have to go to things like that, I just put my time in as politely as I can and then cut out asap to get back to doing things I enjoy. If given a choice, I always prefer to be with people and in situations that allow me to be authentic, but that's just not possible.

I think it would've been really cool if that woman had turned to you and quietly said something like "Don't you just hate these boring social obligations?" That would have broken the ice and included you. But since she handled it the way she did, I have to give you credit for responding with more grace than I would have. I honestly would've felt condescended to but you were able to pull something positive out of it so kudos to you.

Merry Monteleone said...

Oy, my comment got eaten by blogger!

My first reaction was similiar to a lot of others here - that she was a twit for being so rude... but I think it's really impressive that you took the opportunity to learn and grow rather than get annoyed by her question.

I think we all have certain situations where we're less ourselves for various reasons... and then, we each have more than one aspect to our personalities and, depending on who we're around, different characteristics come out more clearly... I don't know if that's authentic or compartmentalization... but I think it's part and parcel of being human... then again, maybe I'm a little nuts.

Polly Kahl said...

"we each have more than one aspect to our personalities and, depending on who we're around, different characteristics come out more clearly"

Good point Merry, and isn't choosing to be quiet and sit through something boring being authentic, in its own way? After all, it is our choice. It's more authentic than doing cartwheels or bringing in a portable TV and watching All My Children would be under those circumstances.

Robin said...

Spy, you are way nicer than I am, to take lemons and make them lemonade. OK, giving this stranger the benefit of doubt (which I find really difficult), I'll answer the question.
I agree with people who feel observing social niceties or sucking up one's natural inclinations so as not to hurt others, is not necessarily being inauthentic. If I acted exactly how I wanted to all the time, and told people exactly what was on my mind, it would be hurtful. Plus, someone might put me in a mental institution.
I tend to be authentic with my family and friends. I'm also authentic with what I'm doing with my life. I'm cool with that.

wordtryst said...

I avoid many social situations for that very reason. The older I get the harder it is to pretend - and I was never very good at pretending anyway. I do the polite thing when it's called for, and around people I know and trust I'm fully authentic, sometimes too much so.

Reading Sheri's response was like reading my own bio. I did a bit of subbing last year and turned down the offer this year because I was doing the same work as when I was full time for half the money. Plus, I don't need the aggravation.

I'm working hard at living authentically, and it's a WIP. The writing is taking off, but the money is non existent. So - part time job, little money, bunking in mother's house - but working towards as authentic a life as I can make it.

Another thought provoking post.

Britta Coleman said...

I think it's an excellent question, but I do wonder about her timing. Too bad she didn't ask it earlier in the party or you might have had a better time exploring the answers.

Demon Hunter said...

I'm authentic because I just cannot be fake. I try not to be too authentic at work because I'd lose my job by telling folks what I really think. ;-)

I'm a very socialable person, so social situations work well for me, even with strangers. Since I was a kid, I've been used to people just talking to me. I just have that persona apparently. :-)I like people and I chatter away about anything.