A few months ago, in the midst of a heated discussion involving post-break up relationships, I found myself declaring “That’s not how love operates. If you love someone, you want them to be happy in some strange masochistic way.” Ever since, whenever attempting to explain counter-intuitive choices, I’ve found myself adopting the catch phrase “Inner Masochist strikes again!” Most likely accompanied by a fist pump or some other only partially ironic gesture, as if an ambivalent form of self destruction was my superhero alter ego come to save the day.
Before I descend further into my ramblings, let’s define the Inner Masochist (or IM, for logo purposes. Some seriously punny possibilities there). I don’t mean it in reference to some pyschosexual disorder, or even to self-imposed physical pain. I’ve somehow expanded its meaning to encompass every decision I make fully aware of their seemingly detrimental, counterproductive effects. Tacking “inner” onto the phrase was my attempt to dissociate the connotations from the body altogether, to place more emphasis on what’s happening in my mind. Evolution of language…just work with me here, m’kay?
That internal voice which reassures you that it is a brilliant idea to commence your free month trial of Netflix in order to fuel your unacknowledged ‘Parenthood’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ addictions as exams approach. That nagging instinct and inexplicable sense of guilt that urges you to break it off with a genuinely nice, attractive guy who actually seems to want to pay for your dinner and to enjoy your company. That inconvenient self awareness which compels you to discard 15 years of planning and certainty for a financially stable medical career path (which would also allow you to help others) in order to join the ranks of the idealistic unemployable who have chosen to live for the humanities.
Contrary to the popular wisdom of the almighty “voice in the back of your head,” most people don’t endorse following instincts that depart from the expected. But what seems like completely irrational madness to others can be self-evident truth. The more I listen without interjection, the more complexity I see in the people around me (both fictional and real friends), the more I realize everyone possesses a so-called Inner Masochist. Anyone who’s watched an episode of Gilmore Girls can relate to this strange phenomenon, as Lorelai refuses to marry Chris to save face as a pregnant 15 year old, much to the consternation of her image-obsessed, upper society parents, or the perfect, responsible Rory steals a boat and drops out of Yale due to a bad case of the identity crisis. There’s a palpable resistance to the inertia of life and to the friction of self against others’ expectations which pushes these characters to make decisions that seem crazy and ironically, out of character. Anyone who’s related to Jennifer Lawerence’s brillant declaration to her slut-shaming, bipolar counterpart in Silver Lining’s Playbook that “There is always going to be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy, but I like that, just like all the other parts of myself. I can forgive. Can you say the same for yourself?” has a part of themselves that they’ve embraced to the confusion of and in some cases, in defiance of those around them. Anyone who’s sat up until 4am listening to a friend’s dilemma has heard the Inner Masochist verbalized. And anyone who has empathized knows that they too have a part of themselves that they are afraid of acknowledging.
Strangely enough, it is these portions of people, revealed in moments of vulnerability and courage, that I love and admire the most. But it wasn’t until quite recently that I was able to embrace or even acknowledge my own moments of contradiction, beyond laughingly giving them a nickname. One aforementioned night, I was given a most appreciated, brutal reality check, as a friend told me that I was afraid to be with someone who actually cared about me. It was not brutal because it was true. Rather, it was brutal because it showed me the gap between the advice of another, even another who knows me quite well, and the advice of my own intangible heart. In actuality, I was afraid of being the person who was always unable to give back. A fear which made perfect sense in the context of my own thoughts and experience yet possessed no logic when juxtaposed with what I’m supposed to want. INNER MASOCHIST STRIKES AGAIN!
I still say it with gusto, but now without irony. Because I’ve realized I don’t do these things to the detriment of who I am, only to the defeat of who I’m supposed to be. This Inner Masochist not only keeps me honest and aware of the person I wish to be, it often prevents me from sacrificing that ideal. Quite often, it is the only thing inhibiting me from acting based on what’s easy and sensible at the moment, rather than on passion, conviction, or any sense of personal truth. I’m always tripping on that uneven sidewalk, wavering between the two extremes even on the most insignificant levels. An extremely studious person is not expected to watch hours of television during exams, but there’s something to be said for mental health: I performed better and lost less sleep due to anxiety than I have in any finals week before when I spent all my time obsessively cramming. Likewise, a person who’s dreamed of one career for years and who’s well on the way to achieving that goal is not supposed to change, but shedding my apathy and taking that risk has made me happier than I remember being in years.
For all the rhetoric about individuality, we’re not supposed to talk about our divergences from the norm, our imperfections, and our uncertainties, much less revel in them and act upon them. But if we don’t unabashedly embrace ourselves as we’re meant to be, how can we expect it of others? On the other hand, if we don’t view others within the same three-dimensional plane which we wish to inhabit, have we really earned our own complexity? I’d like to earn mine, and so I’m beginning with this conclusion: Acting “out-of-character” is sometimes the only way to maintain character. Allowing contradictory aspects of myself to exist simultaneously does not have to be a means of self-destruction. It is indeed possible to save myself from myself.