A long time ago, right before I met the man who would become my husband, I dated a guy named Gary,* a new-age rocket scientist who excelled in many things, including the art of self-promotion.
I remember that cold February night, a week before Valentine’s Day, when we were driving in his car. He had played his guitar and sung songs at his church that day and was giving me the post-mortem on his performance.
“This one old guy, he came up to me and said that my music made him cry. Then he said: ‘You are, without a doubt, a man of integrity,’” Gary said. I looked over at him in the car and was struck by his smile.
It wasn’t a grin that emanated humility or kindness. It was more like a smirk.
That facial gesture should have tipped me off on my fate with the rocket scientist. In the days following our date, he was anything but a man of integrity. He didn’t call when he said he would, and when he did, it was from parking lots or from the gas station, transient locations that made it all too convenient to end the phone conversation.
Two days before the celebration of Cupid, he broke things off with me. And then complained he would have “no one to spend Valentine’s Day with, either” when I informed him his timing was kind of bad.
A Man of Integrity indeed.
I have been, and always will be, suspicious of anyone who feels the need to spell out what or who they are. In telling—not showing who he was, it was clear to me that Gary thought quite a lot of his little guitar-playing self. His words, once they came out of his mouth and vaulted off his smirky little face, seemed more disingenuous than anything else.
And yet, I see this type of “self-labeling” take place all the time, even among people I care about. “I am the nicest person in the world.” “I was the world’s greatest mother. And you never appreciated me.”
I wonder why my gut reaction is to cringe and then get slightly annoyed whenever people make these proclamations about themselves. To me there’s something oddly sanctimonious about classifying yourself as “the nicest person in the world.”
It seems like they’re overcompensating for something.
In my view, people who place such grandiose labels on themselves—whether it’s out of insecurity or an overinflated case of narcissism—are under an awful lot of pressure to live up to that title of sainthood and virtue. Because if they don’t they’re not going to look very good to the rest of us mere mortals.
Which is why I’m never going to tell my son that I’m the “world’s greatest mother.” I think he’ll respect me for that.