I spent many, many years hiding key parts of myself from the world, including friends and family. I did it for a variety of different reasons – I didn’t want to be judged; I didn’t want to disappoint; I didn’t think people would understand; and sometimes I just didn’t want to explain and answer all of the questions that I expected to arise as a result of divulging some aspect of my world.
Being a first generation, American-born kid of immigrant parents had its challenges. While my parents were certainly more liberal than many of their fellow Pakistani immigrants, they still had expectations that I would live by a set of norms that were definitely more Pakistani than American.
In college, I was secretly dating a guy I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of (he was not Pakistani). At the time, my parents were pursuing the arranged marriage route for me, trying to find a “nice Pakistani boy” for me to marry. To say things were tense around the house when they found out would be a big understatement.
The end result was that I spent many, many years hiding key aspects of myself from my parents. So there were many reasons I could relate to the Oscar-nominated film The Big Sick. The most obvious one is that the lead character is originally from Pakistan. And the resonance went so much deeper.
Kumail, the lead character played by Kumail Nanjiani, spends the first half of the film hiding important aspects of his life from his family. They don’t understand his pursuit of comedy as a career and want him to become a lawyer. So he tells them he’s studying for the LSAT as a cover. His mom is actively trying to find him a wife while he is dating Emily (played by Zoe Kazan). His family doesn’t know about Emily. And Emily doesn’t know that his family doesn’t know about their relationship, because Kumail doesn’t think anyone would understand. Things can definitely be confusing when you’re hiding the truth of who you are in order to be the person you think others need you to be!
In contrast to Kumail’s family, Emily and her parents are an open book. In this scene from The Big Sick, Emily’s mom, played by Holly Hunter, highlights that culture clashes don’t just occur between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
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Fortunately, we eventually just get over things. It took me until my early 40s to open up more fully to my parents. I knew my then boyfriend (now husband) was someone special when I proactively wanted to introduce him to my parents, something I’d never before done of my own initiative. And while there were definitely some tense moments, my parents grew to love him. Scotty, my husband, and I were married several months before my mom made her transition, and I’m so glad that she had the opportunity to get to know him before she died.
I also opened up to my mom about my spiritual path in a new and deeper way. I had previously been reluctant because my path wasn’t her path and I didn’t think she would understand. To my surprise, my mom was open and receptive in a way I never would have expected. I had long made assumptions that, in the end, turned out not to be valid.
As I opened up and allowed her the space to ask questions that enabled her to understand my path, I created an opportunity for us to be closer than we had ever been because I was no longer hiding an important part of me from her.
While it makes me sad to think of those 20 years where I felt like I had to withhold the truth of me from my parents in order to feel accepted, I’m so glad that I was finally able to open up to, and connect with, them in a deeper way before my mom died.
I believe that everyone is doing the best they can with the tools at their disposal, their experience of life, and their understanding of the world around them. When we hide important elements of our being from those around us because we’re afraid of being judged or misunderstood, everyone loses. We assume our perceptions are reality, and we put others in a box without ever giving them the opportunity to explore something new and, potentially, prove us wrong.
What if things go the way of our worst fears? Well, then, at least we know instead of imagining. We’re no longer hiding who we are. And there’s something very freeing about that.
What aspects of self are you withholding from those around you? Why? And what will it take for you to come out of whatever closet you’ve put yourself in?
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