Am I too two-faced?

Peer behind the facade to see the monster that I am!

Published December 30, 2010 1:01AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Thanks for your wisdom; I've really enjoyed reading your responses to letter writers over the last few years. As a very good year, professionally speaking, is winding to a close, I'd like to get your input on a more personal issue:

By nature I'm a private, insular person with an ironic sense of humor and a pragmatic (some would say cynical) view of the world. Because our culture is one that values and rewards certain personality traits, I've taught myself how to become more outgoing, congenial, thick-skinned and optimistic. It may come off as wholly unnatural to some of your readers for me to subvert my own personality this way, but after you fake it for a while some parts of it do come more naturally. And I'm pragmatic enough to admit that I see the benefits it confers and I enjoy being well-liked. To be honest, I would rather that I were by nature what I've faked until I've made. It would be easier.

Now, on my own this isn't much of a problem. After being harassed and shunned for being a "loner" when I was younger and seeing how those attitudes do carry over into the working world, I'm glad I've been able to assimilate. However, I would like to date (and eventually marry) someone nice and it seems like such a bait-and-switch. I know I'd hate to meet someone who seemed to be sweet and reasonable, only to find out that it was just a front. I'm aware that while *I* think my default is "charmingly wry and perceptive," someone else may think of it as "cutting, supercilious bastard." Likewise, what I consider adaptability could be construed as fakeness or even sociopathy.

While I may wish that I were jocular and affable by nature, or that the world didn't value certain traits over others, that's not going to happen. I've made myself who I am, and I'm sort of proud that I've been able to exact change over myself. Not that it's been all hardship. I've learned to like shooting the shit and "hanging out" with my work buddies; they're good guys even though we like different things. I've also been lucky enough to hold onto a strong core group of friends who already know me to say things like "his idiocy on policy is truly sublime -- like a moral vegetarian who's unable to distinguish between a cow and a cauliflower." But by necessity these two groups have remained separate and I cringe when I think of the improbable and awful collision. Does this mean that I haven't come to terms with who I am? How do you say to someone you're interested in "Sorry, you're actually going to be dating two people"?

So what's a body to do, Cary? In the words of Papa Roach, "I just wanna be loved," and that goes for all of me, bastard and politician, critic and everyman.


Dear Janus,

This reply is going to be rambling and ungainly and lopsided, as I have been thinking about Montaigne, pored over Virgil's Aeneid (Dryden's translation) in which Janus appears with his keys to the temple of Janus, and I have thought about the role of introversion in the Jungian character types, or faces, and thought how we "contain multitudes" which brought me to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in which he writes,

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,
Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be
less familiar than the rest.


Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.


I suggest you read it in full. It may perk you up.

Janus is the Roman god of doorways, entrances, new beginnings and transformations. The noun janua in Latin means the outer door of a house, or a gate, that is, an entry. And so we have the month of January, gateway to the new year, when we look both forward and back, and the janitors with their enormous key rings open the doors of our temples. 

What bugs me is how the representation of the god Janus having two faces, and sometimes four faces, has become synonymous in the popular mind with being duplicitous or double-dealing. Janus's two faces are plain to see. There is nothing hidden there. There is multidimensionality.

But he does close the door of the temple of war when peace breaks out, and peace being rare in ancient Rome, the gates of the temple were mostly open. There too, in war, we find something of beginnings and transformations.

What keys might open your temple? What war have you locked inside you?

As for dating, well, certain women might appreciate the bargain. "Imagine getting two boyfriends for the trouble of one," you might say. "For public outings, you get a genial, affable, slightly aloof but charming professional. And for our private moments together, darling, I am a rakish, misanthropic, dark-minded master of the universe."

It's all you.

The two faces of Janus are not contradictory but complementary.

It is as if within you were a war wanting to be waged but closed in. If there is something warlike in you it may be best to find it and give voice to it. It may be that the war you choose to wage is a war of words. If so, unpack your word-chest and let these warlike words fly!

There are many pieces to this puzzle. In the spirit of Montaigne I am trying to tease out some meaning of each piece, without hope of making an impregnable argument.

What you're looking for is someone in whose company your suppressed self can flower.

In a sense, your complaint means you haven't fully accepted who you are. You still think you have to hide. You haven't accepted the fullness of your contradictions. There is nothing wrong with contradictions. We are full of them.

There's nothing so awful about this ironic, critical self you're hiding. You're not Hitler. What makes this self so troubling is that it's been stifled and so is a bit distorted and desperate. All it needs is some fresh air.

Is it possible that your youth was more painful than you admit? That being harassed and shunned for being a loner was more traumatizing than you realize? That might account for your having been overly aggressive in curbing your natural tendency toward the acerbic. There is probably some unacknowledged pain that that surfaces as a not very graceful misanthropy.

Misanthropy is best when full of love. Self-love, that is. If we hate all men, then we hate ourselves. So we must be discriminating. A festering misanthropy stinks of a war upon the self.

Love yourself. Pick your enemies. Spend some time with people who are smarter than you.

As to your worry about putting on a facade, you're probably not fooling anyone. People see through you. Only fools are fooled by the complex selves of others. Everyone else knows you're harmless.

The language requires some fine distinctions. One might say you haven't so much become more outgoing as you have developed your weaker side. That's what we have to do as we grow. We develop our weaker sides. In that sense, our cultural bias toward "authenticity" can be a little ham-handed. When I say "authentic," and I probably overuse the word, I don't mean there is one unitary "I."

We're in motion. At times, we're using our weaker faculties. That's not the same as prevaricating. We're adapting. That's not the same as being untrue to ourselves. Our true desire is to be at home in the world of people. Being peacefully with others means exercising discretion and restraint.

If I were to say the first thing that comes to mind, the easiest thing, the most honest, deeply felt thing, I would be saying "fuck you" all day long. I am full of fuck-you. I am at heart a savage. So I must wait for the fuck-you to pass so I can say, Excuse me, ma'am, may I have a dinner roll?

Half my native impulses are against the law. Am I two-faced because I don't act on them?

What we require is intelligence and wit and sophistication. What is required is an acknowledgment of the dark side. So we must be artists -- of some sort. We must all be artists of some sort, even just to get across the street without getting arrested, or sit through a movie without getting into a fistfight.

Again -- I am circling back upon myself -- have you thought about the effect your early harassment had on you? Is it possible that what you experienced was traumatic, and that you locked away some of your most endearing traits, fearing violence? You might benefit from exploring in greater depth how you adapted yourself in childhood.

You don't have to suppress stronger traits in order to develop weaker ones. The two aren't mutually exclusive. The caustic, biting, ironic side needs airing or it gets putrid. If you have been suppressing it, it may have begun to stink. So naturally it is unattractive. Once it is developed, it will be socially attractive. You'll be more like Oscar Wilde and less like, um, a simmering tosspot!

Also it helps to read funny things.

We'd all like to be consistent, I guess. Stephen Yerkey does this speak-song, "Speak the Same to Everyone" that I like because it expresses that yearning we have to be one person all the time. It's a fanciful yearning. Yerkey knows that. There's natural tension between authenticity and artfulness. Consistency is a pose as large and complex as any other.

There's this book called Introvert Power that you might like. I mean, the publisher probably picked the title, and the title's kind of silly, but you get the idea: It's OK to be an introvert.

Introverts and extroverts can work well together if the know each other's strengths and weaknesses. Look at Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, COO and CEO of Facebook.

But it's when you're hiding the dark side that it gets distorted and violent and crazed, like Two-Face, the Batman character.

But it really bugs me how the god Janus is used dumbly to represent duplicity. Look at these dumb headlines:

"Obama's Janus-faced foreign policy"

"Obama's Janus-faced campaign against American businesses"

Why Obama? Could it be that he is complex? There's something for the psychologists.

Well, now I'm done for the year. I thought about many other things in my attempt to give you an answer. I ranged far and wide. I leave it to you to pick up the hints and get on with integrating your many marvelous sides.

January 2010 Creative Getaway

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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