I’ve been thinking a lot about estrangement lately. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been reading books in which characters are estranged, or because I’ve been ruminating over personal situations…or both. One thing seems certain, though…it isn’t always what it looks like.
When people are described as being estranged, I always conjure this mental picture of two (or however many) individuals not speaking or interacting in any way, living in places that ensure they will not come into contact with each other, and having very negative attitudes & feelings toward each other. Here’s the thing…this is not an accurate portrayal of estrangement. From the outside looking in, so many relationships can seem completely normal and functional. The interaction seems warm, everyone appears comfortable and happy. But to those in the relationships, it is anything but. There is a picture presented to the public that is completely at odds with the personal dynamics. What is happening when no one can see would, even if only the barest hint were visible in public, astonish & sadden outsiders.
I have seen this scenario played out in my own family & with my friends. I have experienced it personally. I have wrestled with the frustration of this duplicity more times than I can count. I want to be my true self all the time, in every relationship, with every person I know, with every person I love, with every person who loves me. That (to me) is what strength of character and confidence look like. I don’t want to feel like I have to protect myself, my family, my opinions, my choices, my parenting strategies, my politics, my values, my convictions, my weaknesses, my choice of nail polish, etc. etc. in order to maintain an appearance of strength and stability. I don’t like knowing that there are those with whom I carry on relationships that would see a chink in the armor and seek to capitalize on that weakness. I also don’t like having to present a facade of faultlessness (for lack of a better word) when I just want to present myself.
“Our character is what we do when we think no one is looking.” This, or a variation of it, has been attributed to a number of different sources, and it is as true a statement as I have ever heard. Mark Twain also had an understanding of how we measure character. He said “always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” This is the type of person I want to be…consistently. I don’t want to be found wanting when I am measured by my actions when I think no one is looking. I don’t want to be estranged from the person I want to be.