But I am real

Photo via Courtney Emery/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I never thought an offhand comment uttered so assuredly over the rim of a bittersweet bourbon beverage would have such a profound effect on me.

“People don’t like you because you don’t seem real.”

Sobered by his words, I sat there incredulous. The man turned his attention to someone else, somewhere else in the bar.

I don’t seem real?

I ran my fingers down my arm. I held my left hand in my right.

I felt real.

Not real is entirely different than fake. Fake is something plastic, a pliable adjective I can hold in my hand, turn over and explore, and ascribe to situations or smiles or conversations I recognize as inauthentic. Fake is what they called cheerleaders in high school—an uninspired insult that plagued my locker rooms, AIM chats, and later, private messages between colleagues and friends.

Questioning my realness is something different. What does someone mean when he says I don’t seem real?

Saying I’m not real means I should not be afforded the space I exist in. By devaluing my realness, you ignore the facets of my spirit and being that, through individual bits, connect like a jigsaw puzzle to piece together a whole, complete person.

Perhaps it’s because I consider myself too real that his words stung so much. But maybe it’s because he forced me to question whether my outward behavior accurately reflected what’s constantly moving and changing and growing underneath.

Defining oneself is an ongoing journey, one we can’t simplify by checking off boxes, putting our personalities, flaws, and passions into a digestible package for people who want the TL;DR of a human being.

I am an outgoing oddball who craves alone time; I am high-energy and give big hugs; I laugh loudly at terrible jokes; I don’t trust easily. I am intensely serious and think about death and the universe and the mere seconds we exist in it. I steal balloons from restaurants to take to friends’ birthday parties.

My heart breaks when yours does.

The beauty in our undefined realness inherently exists. In fact, it would be harder to ignore a person’s uniqueness than to recognize and appreciate it.

When you tell me “people” think I don’t seem real, I interpret this as your inability to accept who I am. That is not my failure; it is yours.

We are all sacks of flesh and blood wandering the Earth, but it is not our biology that makes us real. It is our human thought and independence, and the way we treat others, that makes us real.

You can’t see my realness. You feel it when I give it to you.

There are bits of myself that I keep locked down and buried beneath layers of feelings and traits. These dark places and experiences live in chambers so far away from my outward existence that I sometimes forget they are there. Still, even the darkness shapes my realness and defines who I am.

I am not always a ball of laughter and energy. The alone time I crave can quickly turn into soul-crushing loneliness. Such characteristics can coexist within me, and within you, too.

Being real means embracing and experiencing all the pieces that make us human, even those that cause people to feel uncomfortable. Realness is undefined because it’s always changing.

Tomorrow I will be a different person than I am today, but that doesn’t mean I’m not real. It means I am learning and evolving as a human being, sculpting the malleable identity yet, if ever, to be perfected.