In Stephen Sondheim’s musical, “Company,” the lead man, Bobby, explains his choice to remain single in the song “Being Alive.” (It’s a musical so everything’s explained in a song!)
His fear is that with marriage you have to face “someone who knows you too well.” Why is that something he is afraid to confront?
Many of us live lives of illusion. We have a public persona where we are smiles and competence and a private one where we are falling apart. Or some variation on that theme.
We have molded our public presentation in such a way that we have even deluded ourselves into thinking we demonstrate an image of perfection. We are terrified lest someone rip off the mask.
And so we remain alone, secure that no one has pierced our shell, preserving us from the risks of vulnerability – and from all the opportunities and pleasure as well.
But I have some secrets to share.
Many people, especially our close friends, don’t buy the illusion. They have already seen the flaws that we are trying so mightily to conceal. And they love us anyway. In fact (and I don’t mean to encourage bad character traits), they may love us more. No one wants to go up against perfection. It’s comforting and reassuring to see that everyone is struggling with similar issues and choices.
Being loved, warts and all, builds greater confidence and deeper relationships
Additionally, and perhaps surprisingly, it’s ultimately more freeing to be vulnerable than not. Once you’ve been accepted for just being yourself and not some idealized version of you, you can really soar. All that energy that went into maintaining the pretense is now available for real growth and accomplishment. And being loved, warts and all, actually builds greater confidence and deeper relationships.
While we all want to put our best feet forward on a date, we certainly don’t want to marry someone who has a false impression of who we are or unrealistic expectations. That will lead us into more trouble than an honest acknowledgment of our weaknesses. They will find out soon enough anyway.
Marriage is an opportunity for growth. Bobby may be avoiding marriage because he just doesn’t want the work. He may not want “someone whose feelings you spare” or “someone to force you to care.” He is happily in easier role of uncle.
By the end of the song, however, he recognizes the folly of his ways (that’s the beauty of musicals; insight comes so quickly!). He understands that he will be a deeper, broader, more compassionate and fully realized human being if he allows someone to care for him and responds in kind. Ultimately he begs for some one to “crowd me with love…force me to care…make me come through…”
Isn’t that what we all want? Vulnerability isn’t a price we have to pay; it’s the way to achieve our goals. It’s the way to live a full life. It’s truly the secret to “Being Alive.”