Do People See the Real Me?

Photo Credit: H o l l y. via Compfight cc

I was recently in a Spanish class at some language school in Manhattan. I signed up with the idea that I could start becoming a polyglot, given that I know the German language already. But no dice. Immediately upon starting, I became frustrated with the class due to it being taught mostly in Spanish. The idea was to create this “immersion experience,” and yet the curriculum went at a fast pace and I felt completely lost. I also realized that … I don’t love the Spanish language with the same fervor as I love the German language … for to me, German is sublimity itself. (Call me strange, but this is the truth.) I dropped the Spanish class, thus saying farewell to the $400 I spent.

Nevertheless … there was one memorable episode I would like to share. Insightful and humorous, yet a bit disturbing.

Our Spanish teacher, a nice chap from Bolivia, proceeded to teach us, students, a lesson about adjectives. He had us get up from our seats and then gave each of us in the class an envelope filled with little slips of paper, which each featured a single adjective … words such as inteligente, serio, aventuroso, extrovertido and so forth. We then taped a blank sheet of paper to our backs and were given gluesticks.

“Glue to each person’s back, words you think describe him or her.” Our instructions.

Ah yes, one of the basest of human impulses, judgment, now given an opportunity to come to the forefront. I felt nervous, but immediately did some calming self-talk:

Don’t worry Neesa … it’s all in good fun! It’s not like this is an elementary school playground where kids are jeering and jibing at you for existing … that’s your past. It’s all over now. Just chill! You’re all adults here.

Once I reasoned myself out of my initial fear, I became excited and filled with anticipation.

I wonder what people think of me?

The students in my class, comprised of other twenty- and thirty-something professionals, all presumably had respectable jobs and higher salaries than my own.

Maybe if I knew how these people perceived me, I could learn a little lesson about how to alter myself to have a more appealing personality? This could then lead me in the direction of manifesting greater success in my life.

And thus we began, all smiles. I pasted punctual and introvertido to a Korean girl with glasses. I pasted creative and artistico to the southern-accented girl who had a flair for scarves and pins. To the Bangladeshi guy, I taped intelegente and another punctual.

And then I got to the cute guy.

He was one of only three men in my class and conventionally attractive. Tall, thin and bright-eyed, hailing from some region of Britain. In my hand, I held the little word guapo (handsome), and so I began to weigh the odds.

Would my little guapo be a covertly flirtatious gesture, if I were to paste it on his back? Maybe when he looked at his sheet, he’d see my little guapo, and then wonder who put it there. And then I’d reveal myself, and then he’d start to like me, and then we’d start dating. And then, at our wedding, we’d remember the moment it all began. That time when I pasted little guapo to his back.

As quickly as this fantasy entered my mind, I realized how stupid it was. First off, I have no personal desire to date, given that I am mostly asexual. I have never been able to maintain a relationship for longer than six months. I ultimately turn into an ice queen who longs for escape from the shackles of romance.

And yet I had this internal sense of “obligation,” that I was supposed to find this guy attractive. Even though I am asexual, I still feel the pressures of society, compelling me to find someone attractive because it is the “normal” thing to do. But indeed, as for my personal preference, I wish that such notions of obligatory romance would vaporize, allowing me to be more accepting of my asexuality.

I made the best choice, to save myself from this idiocy altogether: I avoided the man completely.

When we finished the exercise, we went back to our seats and removed the sheets from our backs. Upon reading my words, I admit I was somewhat disappointed with what I got: introvertido, serio (serious), responsible, organizado, intelegente and so forth. I mean these words were all accurate, but I was hoping for something more enviable.

Where are my guapos? I’m not bad looking, right?

Even though I’m asexual, I would still like to be perceived as attractive. Indeed, aren’t attractive people more highly regarded? Aren’t they more coveted as friends? Don’t they have greater success in life? Aren’t they happier?

I had to admit; I was sad. I got even sadder when I saw the Brit dude’s reaction to his words.

“Woah!!!” He was pleasantly surprised at the five guapos pasted to his back.

And there it was. Out of the ten women in our class, half of them were brave enough to throw Señor Guapo a covert flirt. And so much for my little fantasy. How silly of me to be so out of touch with reality. This reality, that he was an attractive mainstream dude who would quickly garner female fans. Thankfully, the man was gracious and expressed no smugness. I had no personal resentment toward him, but rather the situation altogether.

I soon started to remember bitter memories from my past. High school, when I observed girls and boys flirting with one another, with absolute disgust plaguing my heart. College, when I remained single as my peers paired off into engaged couples, who now proudly post photos of their children on Facebook. Despite having a disinterest in dating, I felt as if I were weird and wrong when compared to them. I felt marginalized as if I was “all wrong” about my lack of desires.

Still, I would at least like to have the benefit of people thinking I am attractive. It could boost my confidence, at the very least. But this little exercise made me falter. The only woman to get a guapo was a French ex-pat with big lips and eyes.

Suddenly, I felt a great sense of disgust. How fucking tacky. Tacky, how one woman would nervously glue down the word guapo, and then another one would do the same, and then another. Each word representing a peck on the cheek that a flirtatious girl would bestow upon a boy in the back of the kindergarten bus.

I tried to devise a silver lining to this discouraging cloud. Then the idea occurred to me: Regarding Señor Guapo, the word guapo mostly serves to describe his physical appearance. And for every guapo he received, there was the absence of another word that would have actually described his personality. Indeed, the only descriptive words he received were adventuroso and extrovertido.

Is a person’s personality obscured, when they have an attractive face? It is a commonplace occurrence when one falls in love with another “immediately,” smitten and enraptured by the other’s attractiveness.

But as time passes, one might become less enraptured by the physical, and more aware of the actual personality of their mate. This primarily occurs as beauty fades with age. The love sometimes wanes and is instead replaced with frustration or a longing that the person might “change” into something more attractive. At the very worst, such lack of attraction could lead to cheating and divorce.

I like to play a little game in my mind sometimes. I look at people, and I pretend their face is a mask, covering a personality not visible. It is an activity that exercises my sense of inquisition and imagination. Granted, my assumptions are not always accurate, but I wonder. Perhaps an enviably thin and attractive girl would reveal a face of horror and desperation as she chokes on her own bulimic vomit. Perhaps a handsome soccer player would reveal himself to be a thoughtful person who enjoys silence and books. Or perhaps a stooped elderly woman has a loving heart and an internal sense of whimsy and excitement.

In retrospect, I don’t feel so bad about those guapos. I would rather convey a sense of personality instead of physical attractiveness. The latter would only serve to blind others from seeing me for who I truly am. It would also garner flirtations that I have no interest in returning. Maybe it was even a triumph to receive words that accurately described me. My classmates had only known me for a week! So I must have come across as I actually am.

Ultimately, it is important for each of us to feel comfortable in our own skin. What we present on the outside is irrelevant, especially if it does not match how we feel on the inside. And while society, unfortunately, has its definition of what is attractive, such influence should not determine how we present or view ourselves. The most important thing I’ve learned is that we find ourselves worthy, and deserving of kindness and respect.


Neesa Suncheuri

Neesa Suncheuri works as a mental health peer specialist at a housing agency in Queens, New York. She is the founder of a Facebook discussion group for peer specialists and other recovery enthusiasts, entitled “What is Wellness? A Mental Health Discussion Group.” She also maintains a blog called Unlearning Schizophrenia, and is a regular contributor of poetry and fiction at Organic Coffee, Haphazardly. She is also a singer/songwriter, and an enthusiast of the German language and culture.

One thought on “Do People See the Real Me?

  1. Susan P. BlevinsSusan P. Blevins

    Such a sincere story, and so true. Thank you for writing it and sharing your experience.

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