There is no option of being authentic; the masks are there for a reason, and should be left there. Occasionally you get tricked into taking them off, and you learn your lesson all over again.
A friend tells you there is nothing you could possibly do to make her sick of you; no act that would make her pull back, shut down, walk away. And you look into her eyes and you believe her and you let yourself take the mask off for her. And you depend on her and rely on her and trust her and become closer than you have to most people in a long time. And three months later she says she needs space and time apart, and she shuts down and pulls back. And the mask is in your hand, useless, not on your face, protecting.
And, at a previous job, you join a new group and they tell you there is nothing you could possibly say that would be offensive; that this group is fun and sarcastic and pick on each other all the time. And you wait and watch and you trick yourself into believing that you can be like them and join them and you drop the mask and join in. And the same person who invited you in takes offense to a joke and gets you in trouble with the manager, less than a month after you’ve joined the team. Again, the mask that would have stopped this and protected you is no longer there.
And you join a new company, and you’re told there’s a big drinking culture in this company and that there’s nothing you could possibly do while drunk that would be shaming, because they’ve all done it before. You’re told there is no ‘walk of shame’ the next day because each member of the company is too preoccupied with their own walk of shame to even notice you over there in the corner. And you wait longer this time. You observe every week at the bar, you take notes and listen to stories of past parties. And five months in, there’s a party, and you’ve listened to them and you’ve dropped the mask and felt accepted and you start drinking. And you witness people doing things ten times worse than the stuff you’ve pulled on the night and you convince yourself you’re going to be ok, because isn’t that what they said? And then on Monday morning the rumours in the office aren’t about everyone else, or anyone else, they’re about you. And the mask is gone and is too hard to fit back on. The tight control has been lost and you have to scramble with everything you’ve got to get it back, or you’re left looking for another job when you know you have no chance of getting one.
And you look at these examples, and more, and you survey your life and you make a decision. And next time a friend says that of course you’re not bothering them and they really don’t mind giving you advice, you think twice and smile from behind the mask. And anything you’re told about being accepted for who you are or being able to be comfortable or safe or maskless is a lie and you know it now. And this time you use superglue to put the masks on, because those lies are so sweet and ones that you desperately wanted to hear in the first place, and you know you’ll fall for them again if you have the chance.
And no matter how exhausting and lonely and isolating it is to wear the masks and keep control – it’s better than this.