Who Are You When I’m Not Looking?

Shadow Sculptures


Just as the country song asks, who are you when I’m not looking? Many people wear different faces when they think nobody is looking. Especially, when they think those they love aren’t.

I’m sort of in love with a saying. Perhaps you’ve seen it on a bumper sticker or while scrolling through social media for your daily dose of inspiring anonymous stock photo memes with bright Sans Serif font splashed across the center of a sunset; you know, a piece worthy of hanging framed in your house, or at least copying to your camera roll, to cherish for all time.

“Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

I’ve always liked that one. It speaks to the honesty about ourselves. The real us we only show when we think nobody but Sparky is around to see. And maybe he’s the only one who sees, and who will still love us regardless. Its also a pretty stark reminder that when we aren’t right in front of those loved ones who’s opinions we care most about, we may not be the same person we put forth before them, and so how do we ever know if they really love us for us?

Why do we hide part of ourselves from even the closest to us?  Insecurity, bad habits, loyalty-abandonment issues, addictions, weird perceived flaws maybe?  For reasons big and small, once we decide not to be the person all the time that we are in private, I have to begin to wonder which one is the “real” person anyway?

I spent a segment of my life getting really good at splitting myself. One me was just for outside use. This me was who I presented to my first husband, my children, my coworkers, clients, extended family and friends. The other me, was for inside only. That is, she was the me when you weren’t looking. And she was not pretty. She was a liar, a cheater, and a person who didn’t think very much of me at all. She was selfish, thoughtless, careless, and ugly. She was not the real me, but at the time I convinced myself that she must be; to come out only in the shadows, when those I cared about wouldn’t see her to judge her. I am thankful today that she was given her marching orders by a much stronger person than she ever was, and that strong, fed up gal to my surprise, turned out to be the real me. It just took some time to work out who was who. I now no longer worry what my actions in the shadows might be thought of by those I love, if ever they found me there, because they are the same actions in any lighting. No hiding. No secret me. I am no longer anyone else when your not looking, and I am proud to say that.

Its an unfortunate truth, some people in your life really won’t turn out to be who you thought they were. When you aren’t looking, or they think you aren’t, they will disappoint you, devastate you, even nearly ruin you. But the truth is, if they can do all of that to you while thinking they are hiding, just think of what they are doing to themselves. Being secretive hurts the keeper more than anyone else. They are aware of what they are hiding, and it takes everything they are to stay hidden. If everything you are goes to keeping the secrets you hold closest, what is left of yourself , your real self, to give to the world?

Its hard work to be someone else when their not looking, but even harder to be a different person when they are. Trust me, I know this feeling of broken identity first hand. Neither you can ever fully emerge as authentic when you split yourself for a target audience. There is a subtle difference in the feel of real honesty, and a phony attempt at it. And nobody has really ever fooled anybody when they try. Its the reasons songs like this were written. The question is always there, lingering in the silence, waiting for it to either be covered in shadows or revealed in the light.

I used to spend a lot of time thinking about who other people might be when I wasn’t looking too.  I wondered who else had secrets that kept them from showing the real them.  You know, folks like my spouse, best friends, close family members. It intrigued me to think about what they might be up to really when there was no audience to see them. I realized somewhere along the way, that I was intrigued by people’s private lives because I assumed everyone, like me, had one. In some way or another, I assumed everyone was living with secrets worth hiding about themselves. While that may be partially true, what occurred to me much later in my life, was that it is possible for someone to live out who they are in nothing but the light. Do we all have secrets, sure. Are they so private, they define who we are when your not looking, and mask who we are otherwise?  Once secrets define who we are, we are no longer the real us, regardless of who’s looking, and regardless of whether they look in your shadows or in your light.

I have known a few people in this world who are authentically real, no matter the lighting you might find them in. Those are whom I admire. The very few people I’ve met who truly embody, “What you see is what you get.”  You know the type. The ones whose dogs would say they are genuinely proud of them, if only they had the ability to speak English.  These people are the real deal. The real McCoy. And while these rare individuals may not let us in on everything about themselves; privacy is after all, an important, albeit fading feature of existence these days. But surely, if we could peek in and look, we would find their character is their constant, whether seen or unseen by the world watching. And that is who I want to be when your not looking.

I want to be a person with strong enough character to show those I love who I am in the shadows as well as the light.

With weaknesses that are acknowledged by those I love because they are seen.

Weaknesses seen but not judged, so my own will be accepted and not hidden.

If acceptance is given openly, encouragement can replace shame, and shadows disappear.

Character should be valued over identity. True character exists when your not looking, while identity can only be seen when you are.

We all have flaws.

Only some have character strong enough to show to anyone who is looking, and to live by it when nobody is.

Who are you when I’m not looking?

shadow pictures