If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the quizzes: If you were a children’s book author, who would you be? Which sexy movie star are you most like? Which Peanuts character are you?
Do we take them just for fun? Or are we hoping for some sort of confirmation that the world sees us as we see ourselves—or, perhaps even more accurately, as we wish to be seen?
What do the answers even mean? Maybe Facebook says I’m like Marilyn Monroe. Yay! Beautiful, curvaceous, iconic, adored! Oh, wait. Also miserable, confused, drug-addicted, and, um…oh, yeah. Dead.
Why do we so love to label ourselves, to compare ourselves to other people and things? It’s not unlike the Hollywood cliche of the screenwriter in a pitch meeting, packaging his story idea into a pre-digested form he thinks his would-be producer will understand and therefore buy: “I’ve got this great script! It’s ‘Gandhi’ meets ‘Hairspray’!”
When I was in high school, there was one brave guy in my whole senior class who came out of the closet—and he chose to do so in a spectacular way. He wore feather boas, Elton John-esque oversized sunglasses, and was fond of sweeping into the room and announcing things like, “I’m just so Scarlett!”
I’m not sure in what way he identified with Scarlett O’Hara—belle of the plantation who had men wrapped around her little finger? savvy seamstress who could whip up a darling frock out of the front parlor curtains?—but his label, while fascinating, didn’t have much of anything to do with who he actually was.
Even the labels about ourselves that sound true don’t have much to do with our essential selves: I’m a dog lover, we say. I’m a mountain biker. I’m a little bit country. I’m a little bit rock ’n’ roll. Those labels aren’t who we are, any more than we are “Marilyn Monroe,” “Scarlett O’Hara,” or even our own name. Those things are what we do, and what we and others call us. They say something about us, to be sure. But we are not a hobby or a role, any more than we are our houses, our children, our jobs, or our passions.
So while it is a social convention to say that I am Maggie McReynolds, I am a writer, a mother, a life coach, a terrible guitar player, there’s a core, absolute, essential me that these labels don’t describe and can’t reach.
The most honest, though perhaps uninteresting, thing I can say is: I am.
And that would make a really terrible Facebook quiz.