Like gradient descent, (which for the math people I have to point out I do not know much about) I carefully test and fine-tune who I am to find the optimal local minima of behavior that would result in the most liked and positive reaction in a given social context.

And I think I am very good at it. I can even do it with people I haven’t seen in years. I just pull their old model from some cold storage I wasn’t even aware existed and continue the behavior I optimized for them years ago in high school. And if it doesn’t work, I just re-adjust.

This already requires immense effort, but it gets even more complicated as more people get into the picture. At one point, the best behavior for one person will result in someone else getting hurt. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does, I don’t have a solution for it. I just freeze up.

All of this, so compute-heavy, drains me in no time. Even more importantly, it makes me feel like, for lack of a better word, a constantly fake smiling class clown. I know my fake smile when I see it. Or rather when I feel like doing it. But when it’s happening, it doesn’t feel like there is a way out of it.

Why I am doing it? I want to be liked of course. Or rather I am terrified of being disliked. Being disliked would feel like hurtful proof of a core hypothesis of mine – that I’m an undesirable person.

Optimising for Authenticity.

Originally, I wanted to put this as the title. This sounds like an exciting new value to follow. It feels like the logical next step. It feels freeing. Yet, the concept of people liking me, better yet loving me for who I am, to some extent, still feels foreign to me.

What is authenticity even? Many times in the midst of being with others, I am filled with anxiety strong enough that I can’t even access what is authentic anymore. I don’t know who I am anymore. You could ask me what I want do to, and I’d just blank. I want you to like me, but that’s understandably not something I’d want to portray externally too much.

Recently I have realized that in these situations, what I really want is to get out of the cloud of anxiety and feel calm again. From there on, things will be much clearer. I try to approach it now from a physical angle, since I don’t think I can think myself out of that pressure, no matter how hard I try. Breathing exercises seem to help now. They act on a lower level than my thinking ever could. But this is a sidetrack.

I also think I’d be too hurtful and offensive being my authentic self. I dismiss a lot of my thoughts and feelings as things that do not fit my values. Maybe being myself would not require acting out everything, nobody does that anyway. But maybe people would accept more than I think is possible. Maybe it wouldn’t be as big of a disaster as I imagine it to be. After all, I never really tried it out.

Maybe it is the perfect way to be polarising. I don’t have to be a match with everyone I ever meet. In reality, it is likely going to be very few people who will be a good match. Maybe if I go in with the expectation that we are only going to get along with 1 person out of every 100 people I meet, I will not feel so pressured, and I will not be disappointed. Maybe I could feel more free to act without optimizing too much. Whatever that means in reality.