In a lush park, I was shocked to spy a lime green gecko standing still against a bright red palm stalk, like a living Hawaiian Christmas tree ornament. Why would that gecko stay there, easy pickings for a mongoose to gobble? Mesmerized, I stared a long time because I have recently come to understand that if I were that gecko, I would change my color in an instant to blend in. And that’s not something I’m proud of.
Sadly, on my last dating adventure, I realized my chameleon response automatically switched on without my awareness or consent. I molded myself into what my date wanted: compliant, but feisty enough to be fun. Just as I had previously become the ideal daughter (high achieving so Mom could brag, but always subservient to her usually drunken dictates) and the perfect employee (put in sixty hours or more, unasked, not inquiring about health benefits).
Part of me craved pleasing others and I was an expert. In fact, I deeply enjoyed being the mirror to another person’s fantasy. It’s a great accomplishment and I basked in their approval when I did it well. As my date said after one of his corporate parties, “You’re great. You looked perfect, made interesting conversation and were friendly to everyone. People really liked you. Couldn’t be better.” I patted my hair with pride, knowing I had made him look good. But, more than that, I had used my intelligence and skills to create positive interchanges among a diverse group of strangers (to me). I saw this as a good thing.
The bright green gecko seemed to invite danger by standing out. But she must know something I don’t, since she stood there proudly highlighted by the red bamboo. I’m happy I have good communication skills. But next time, I’ll think of Ms. Gecko and know that I don’t always have to conform if it doesn’t suit me. Next time, I might rather gaze at the sunset, than schmooze with the partiers.
Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.