I used to do this thing where I only wrote like a soft-spoken poetess. Don’t get me wrong. I like soft speaking. And poetry. But the truth about me is, I’m more than both those things — and sometimes, I’m neither of them.
Some days, I feel like a mess of contradictions. I like pretty writing, but also…whatever this thing is I’m doing right now. I often fall down very deep Taylor Swift rabbit holes on the internet, but I have also been known to spin (and cry to) some Bon Iver. I drink Starbucks, but yes, let’s go get a $8 Gibraltar at the local cafe (and snap some shots for the gram while we’re at it). And at my worst, I guzzle my probiotics down with this poison elixir known on the streets as Diet Coke.
I contain multitudes. So do you.
And toggling between them because we’re afraid of being complicated — of being ourselves — is never a good idea. Let me explain with a very literary example from THE DISNEY CHANNEL.
If you don’t believe fragmenting your life has consequences, just ask Hannah Montana — errr, Miley Cyrus — whose almost successful attempt at separating two very significant parts of her life became too much to manage. Living dis-integrated meant she forever hid parts of who she was, lest she be found out. It messed up her relationships, and in the end, it messed up her. Instead of being a Normal Tween Who’s Also Famous or a Famous Tween Who’s Also Normal, she separated her realities, fragmented herself. Until keeping track of it all — keeping those secrets — got to be too much. So she finally came out of hiding (I think it was on Jay Leno or something?) and GUESS WHAT, your girl was all the better for it.
It’s not just Miley, though. We’re all togglers.
There’s this thing teens do on social media. It’s called a finstagram — a secret Instagram account for posting memes and “ugly selfies” (note to teens: your future, stretch-marked self will laugh at you for this because YOU ARE LIKELY PEAKING AS WE SPEAK, but that’s beside the point.)
The point of a secondary Instagram account is to act as a catch-all for non-curated content. The inside jokes, the unedited images, the stuff you maybe don’t want your parents to see (read: the real stuff). That’s why everybody (read: teens, and probably my friend Claire) got so excited when Instagram announced the toggle feature in early 2016.
Toggling made it so much easier to volley between accounts seamlessly — no more signing in and out every time. Quick selfie with the homies outside Chipotle? Throw it on the finstagram. Thoughtful latte art with a free side of wisdom? Main account, please! We toggle because we want to contain ourselves, and when we contain ourselves for too long, we end up living to serve other people’s perception of us.
At the heart of this toggling thing, I think, is the belief that our lives can’t and shouldn’t be fully integrated just because certain pieces don’t make sense side by side. For too long, I’ve believed these two parts of my personality are at odds, and I’ve kind of been in a mini-existential crisis about it. It’s one of the main reasons I stopped writing in 2009 — figuring out how to marry two seemingly disparate personas felt, well, complicated. I was afraid my funny friends would think I was a phony poet and that my poet friends wouldn’t think my jokes were stupid. How could I ever be both witty and wise, poetic and pithy, smart and sarcastic? How could Miley be both a normal teenage girl and a famous singer?
Like our friend Hannah Montana’s attempts at maintaining two personas, eventually the toggle became way too much work. It’s exhausting to flip back and forth between two sub-realities, probably because we weren’t meant to. When we hide from our own complexities, we dupe ourselves out of genuinely connecting with others. We only show one side of us, so only that one side receives love and connection. I promise you: Our secrets don’t do us, or anyone else, any favors.
This is what I’m trying to say: The parts of us we think are at odds actually aren’t mutually exclusive — in fact, I’d argue it’s time they get acquainted. Because the cost of pretending to be just one thing is much more dangerous than the risk of being who we really are.