Who Are You When No One’s Watching?

By: Jen Shoop

This is a Big Provocation for a holiday week, but a month or so ago, I saw a quote that went something like: “Get comfortable with who you are when no one’s around.” I thought immediately about alone time, and how comfortable I already am in it. Last week, I enjoyed hours and hours (days!) of quality time with family, but I found myself craving small pockets of solitude along the way. One day, I sat in my office working quietly for a few hours and found myself wholly replenished, near-bursting with energy, when I rejoined the pack, as though I am an electric vehicle that just needs to be plugged in on a side street alone and stationary for awhile. I have known this about myself since I was little, when I would peel off from my siblings to listen to Brandy on the blue carpet of my bedroom or play Tetris on my computer or read on the Laura Ashley quilt of my lower bunk or sit in the bushes behind my parent’s home with a marble notebook, seeking intelligence for my own adaptations of Harriet the Spy. I enjoy my own company. I feel as though a palm opened. I am able to shed the occasionally exhausting attentiveness I carry with me when I am around others and hyper-aware of moods, opinions, pockets of silence, subjects to avoid or pick up, cadences, potential hurt feelings or happinesses. Because of this wide-eyed consciousness of those around me, I feel sometimes that I am not wholly or freely able to communicate myself to others, that there is a strangling of my own sensibility on its way out. This has happened a few times recently, where I am so focused on making my companion comfortable that I say bizarre things, or ask boring questions, or simply garble my own true opinions. I know this is because I want to be liked, to be companionable, to be considerate, but I would also like to be the me I am when I am alone, because I know that woman, and I like her. And so I guess the more interesting question to me is: Who are you when someone is watching? And does that person map to the real you?

I would say that often, I am a few percentage points away from my true self. Parts of me are there, but parts are submerged or obscured. Perhaps I am simply stating the obvious, and perhaps everyone reading this post is thinking: “Well, yes. We aren’t ever our full selves with others. We are porous, reactive, shaped by context and company. And that’s a good thing. It demonstrates social awareness, EQ, good manners.” Or maybe you are like me and in need of a kind of social calisthenic to find grace in my self-expression when I am with others. After all, in my late 30s, I have a pretty good sense of who I am, and what my failings and strengths are, and what I like and do not, and I would love to have that “me” communicated more roundly in company. And so I have been working lately to unlearn my impulse to fill all the gaps in conversation and rush to agree with or reassure others. Because I find it’s in those moments that I am least “me.” I am a strained version of myself. And I don’t think I’m doing anyone favors, either! It’s OK to take a beat to think about something. It’s OK to quietly disagree, or to let a lag form in the chat. It’s OK for someone else to help steward the conversation forward. I’m not saying that I owe nothing to the pace of conversation, but that I can also be a partner in the volley rather than a task-master/pace-setter/coach.

What do you think? Do you feel you are your full self in company? How did you come to be that way?


+This post made me think about the five second rule, and how it can also be applied to social conversations where nothing nefarious is happening, but I am not feeling like myself. I can just pause and bite my tongue and let myself catch up.

+A time for lamplight and starlight.

+Nothing changes if nothing changes.

Shopping Break.

+Wait. I’m seriously obsessing over so many of Longchamp’s bags right now. Who knew this brand would boomerang back around? I love this pink bucket bag! Love the idea of pairing it with basic jeans and white tee and leather slides and letting it be the star of the show, or pairing with something unexpected, like this utility jumpsuit.

+Also Longchamp: this tiny mesh crossbody! AHH! How cute! A Magpie wrote to say that these bags are highly impractical and hold basically nothing but, like, with just my credit card case and phone?! AHHH.

+These striped tank dresses were just restocked — WILL sell out. Run!

+Neiman’s is offering 25% off a selection of beauty products that are worth noting, including this rose candle and my favorite skinny silk hair ties.

+This Veronica Beard blazer is SO fun and currently on crazy sale. Imagine with white shorts or ecru denim.

+I just updated all my Shopbop picks. So many fab new finds!

+Just your yearly reminder to buy a Thermacell if you spend a lot of time outdoors in a mosquito-dense area. These REALLY work. We swear by them!

+These teeny tiny lace-trim socks…meep! H&M has so many cute baby things right now. Also love these citrus-print shorts and this gardening-themed shorts set.

+I wear a hot pink belt bag from State Bags (no longer avail in my color, but this is the exact style, and I’m not sure why, but it’s $175 for the white/black but $58 for the gold?!) a LOT, and this Dagne Dover achieves a similar vibe. Just love a fun pop of color!

+LOVE this lavender dress. The smocking reminds me of Loretta Caponi, but under $200.

+Mothers of the bride: this is the perfect dress for you. So elegant and unusual but sophisticated and fun and all the things. Also comes in a cute sleeveless option if that’s more your speed.

+Have been loving throwing my Mi Golondrina mini dress on over swim lately.

+How fun is this striped cashmere cardigan?! Currently on sale for a great price!

+Fantastic thing to keep in your trunk for stowing grocery bags, loose bits and bobs, toys/sports gear.

+Absolutely swooning over this floral smocked dress for a little love.

+Beyond gorgeous special occasion dress.

+I have this dramatic Sarah Bray sunhat — love it, but it does run a bit big on my tiny head. You can swap out the ribbons for different looks. I have also been hearing a lot of chatter (positive) about the hat brand Freya — love the look of this style. (Are you a sunhat person?)

+I know I have several die-hard Matteau swimwear fans among the Magpie reader set, and just found this solid suit on sale.

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10 thoughts on “Who Are You When No One’s Watching?

  1. This might be one of my favorite…. Wait, I said this before and before and before. It makes me smile as I am reminded that age is simply a number. So often when I read your words I can identify so closely. Now and my younger self. It’s really quite beautiful. You have such such a gift.

  2. I’ve been noodling about this on and off since last week, a sure sign of a post that’s really resonating. I too very much like spending time alone, social situations have always made me at least a little anxious (what to say! what to wear! am I coming off ok!) and at certain points in the immediate post-college days of trying to find a job/networking I often felt like I was the only person who was faking it. That was years ago and I’ve since learned that assumption was very wrong but I still feel like I put on a different version of myself in different situations. Lately, however, I’m starting to realize that it is and has been detrimental, has my worry about being my true self (not my favorite turn of phrase but the best I can think of) in social and work situations meant I lost out on a potential great friend or work opportunity?

    I can’t go down that line of thinking for too long but I’m working on being better at just doing the thing, sending the text for something silly I found hilarious to a friend I know has a horribly busy day, just sending the email (though I’ll probably still proof read it approximately a million times), asking that person I met at a conference to coffee, asking someone at the tennis clinic to hit outside of class etc. It feels like a slow process but at the same time do I really want to be in a situation where I feel like I have to pretend to be someone else or a different version of myself? If so, then maybe the situation needs to change and not me. All to say, I so appreciate these posts, they never fail to make me think or noodle away at something I wouldn’t necessarily have.

    1. Hi Emma! So much to unpack here, and I’m doing the same. Thank you for your candor and vulnerability. Another lens that has led to deeper thinking this past week: a friend of mine suggested that sometimes we develop “tools” to protect ourselves because we’ve been burned in the past, e.g., being our true selves publicly has led to awkwardness, discomfort, hurt, misinterpretation, etc, and so we learn to be more careful in social settings and that can be exhausting. I had never thought of it this way but I do think some of my discomfort relates to some challenging relationships and situations I’ve had in the past, where I very much felt like I had to put up a mask to protect myself. I think this could be a tool I sometimes bring with me even when I don’t need to. Anyhow, just another layer to contemplate in your self-reflection.

      Thanks for reading, and chiming in!


  3. I love spending time alone, but I have really come to dislike who I become when I have to push back against others, even in the most trivial of ways. For example, I just got an invoice that had — what I thought was — an incorrect amount listed for one item; I stumbled over the invoice for far too long, “maybe I miscalculated? will she be offended if I double-check the amount? am I going to be seen as cheap if I inquire instead of just going ahead and paying?” Of course, after agonizing over the decision, she had indeed listed the incorrect amount, and quickly and apologetically adjusted the invoice. And, in hindsight, so what if she hadn’t! No need to work myself into such a tizzy.

    I actually had another one in the same day (help!) — our landlord agreed to pay for painting the house we are renting, but when we got the quote back from the painters she told us she would either split the whole job with us, or just pay for the rooms she deemed necessary. My husband and I decided we will not pay to paint a home we don’t own (reasonable, if I do say so), but it took about 30 minutes of writing, tweaking, and re-reading my reply saying so before gathering the gumption to press send. I would love to shed this “exhausting attentiveness” to others’ judgement, actions, and reactions, but it seems to keep sneaking up on me.

    1. Oh GIRL! I completely relate to this. I agonize over situations like yours, which seem to materialize constantly. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of different ways I could have phrased something, or can phrase something that’s looming ahead of me; I spend an hour fine-tuning the phrasing on something. It is an exhausting business, and the only answer I have for this is to share or pass off the burden whenever you can. I often go straight to Mr. Magpie or my parents for a gut check and then help with wordsmithing. Sometimes I’m surprised that what might take me thirty minutes to frame will take my Dad (a seasoned lawyer!) a matter of thirty seconds. And sometimes, Mr. Magpie will say: “You don’t even need to respond to that.” Problem solved!


  4. And here I thought I was the only one who had a brief period lodging herself in neighborhood bushes/up in trees as Harriet the Spy, ha!

    But also, identify with SO much within these lines today. Yes yes YES.

    1. OMG love my fellow faux-Harriet!! I was convinced I was on the cusp of a major mystery at all times.

      So glad this resonated, friend. I felt vulnerable putting this out there, as in — am I confessing to some strange and embarrassing social anxiety? But the tender/uncomfortable parts are usually where my most heartfelt writing comes from, so I went with it. Thanks for making me feel less alone!


  5. WOW! I was just journaling about this morning — about wanting to get these percentage points between the person I am when I’m alone (wow, I love alone time) and the person I am with others to match up more. It almost feels unfair that it’s different because I know many of my great friends are interested in the authentic me. But why am I so quick to absorb the other? Such a great question and I have a feeling it will take a lifetime to figure out!


    1. Hi Caroline! So glad this resonated. I think it has a lot to do with being an empathetic person / taking on the worries and joys of others. I have a close friend who is a complete empath and sometimes it just totally drains her and weighs her down! I don’t know the answer to this, and neither does she. I guess a good starting point is being aware of it and reminding yourself that not everything that weighs you down is yours to carry. But even in a lighter sense — trying to create a tiny bit of space where you don’t need to respond right away, or can recognize that the discomfort of someone else is not your fault/responsibility. It is so hard for me to do this in the moment, though. I just want people to feel comfortable and welcome!

      Basically – right there with ya!!


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