I've worked out what's wrong with me. Well, part of it anyway. I'm talking about the way I avoid interaction with the general public, cringe at the mere notion of small talk, and contract instant hives at anything labelled "group" and "bonding". You see, I am a closet Larry and dammit, I'm no longer ashamed to admit it.
I'm talking about Larry David, the genius co-creator of Seinfeld and writer and star of perhaps my favourite TV show of all time, Curb Your Enthusiasm. If for some reason you've never seen this show, well, get online immediately. You might just discover you are a Larry, too, or want to be. You'll laugh yourself sick, at the very least.
Larry David plays himself in the show, only a blunter version. In fact, real-life Larry says he wishes he was more like fictional Larry – a man with no filter whatsoever who meets every needling, petty annoyance with the venting he feels it justifies. He'll pull up a queue-jumper or a bad car-parker, tell someone who's touchy-feely that he just isn't into hugs, and say no to an invitation to a party with "I don't think so"
In other words, Larry actually does and says what we all want to do and say. Always. I love him so much I'd merrily drink his bathwater, despite knowing I'd probably last five minutes in a room with him before he drove me clinically insane. But the essence of the man, the sheer "I don't give a flying what anyone else thinks" attitude, the pernickety "I'm going to call you out on your shitty behaviour" and the ambivalent "Why should I go along with what you expect, like a sheep" attitude is commendable. Yes, taking this approach in real life would see you beaten up and/or jailed within hours. But, oh to dream …
I began to love Larry around the time I began to like myself. The key to my happiness hit me when I was asked out, of the blue, what I would like to have written on my gravestone. I had been bingeing on early seasons of Curb okay, I was barking obsessed – and my answer flew out without processing. "I'd like it to read: She was genuine."
Because I have discovered, through trial and error, that being honest and true to who I am is paramount to me being able to stand being, well, me. For years, I played the game of being what others wanted or expected: feigning a smile when I was grizzly or sad; tolerating people who made me feel uncomfortable so as not to seem rude; saying "that's okay" when something really wasn't; bowing to popular convention when I'd rather be giving it a raised middle finger.
The result was that I didn't like (or actually know) who I was. Others seemed to think I was just tickety-boo (or maybe they were putting it on so as not to appear untoward), but inside I was simmering with self-loathing and loneliness – the latter more prominent the more people I had around me.
The key, I realised, was to remove myself from anyone who wanted me to be a performing seal, a yes-person, a conformist, a kicking-bag or a recipient of their psychopathy. So I did. I quit corporate life (there went most of 'em!) and went into myself for a while. Then, after a hard look in my inner room of mirrors, I came out understanding who I was, f…ed-up foibles and all. I decided there was no use in trying to change who I intrinsically am.
Instead, I had to work around who I am in a way that allows me to be true to my heart, soul and actions.
While this may make me sound saintly or Zen, believe me, I'm neither. Today I am often grumpy, stubborn, selfish, lazy, intolerant and moody – just like Larry, and probably just like you, too. But unlike my TV hero, I try not to inflict my Larry-ness on others.
Instead, I know myself well enough to stay in rather than step out when my Larry levels are high. When I'm Larrylow, then I'm up for a laugh and a lark. And when I'm dead, at least I will have known and acknowledged my genuine self and made the most of it.