Making new friends is something I have always struggled with. After graduating college and entering the working world I realized just how difficult it was to meet new people when I no longer had the crutch of predetermined social situations like school, even before the pandemic shut the world down. However, even with the desire to meet new people, I can’t help but hesitate as my anxiety takes over.
“What if they think I’m weird for liking this thing?”
“If they knew the things I have gone through, they wouldn’t want to be my friend.”
“I can’t really be myself around this person, because my real self is not good enough.”
The opening lines for the manga Spy x Family sums up these struggles nicely:
“Everyone has a secret self they don’t show to other people. Not to friends…not to lovers…not even to family. They hide who they are and what they want behind lies and painted smiles. And thus the world maintains its thin veneer of peace.”
Spy x Family by Tatsuya Endo features high stakes thrilling action coupled with a comedy of errors as three protagonists pretend to be a family: the eponymous spy codenamed Twilight, an office worker moonlighting as an assassin named Yor, and a young telepath named Anya. Twilight takes on the persona of Loid Forger, adopts Anya, and “marries” Yor for the sake of a mission to maintain world peace. All of them are invested in keeping their identities secret from one another for various reasons, with only the telepath being privy to everyone’s secrets (but choosing to keep them purely for the sake of being entertained). From there, hijinks, misunderstandings, stand-offs, and intrigue abound as all three of our main characters try to navigate their true goals with their fake roles and to keep their secrets from everyone.
Underneath the comedy and action, however, we see that these three protagonists have a deep-rooted desire to be close with others: Twilight subconsciously craves the closeness of a family as a result of his past, Anya wants a family after having been deprived of one as a science experiment, and Yor is painfully lonely with no real friends and her only family being constantly busy. Yet, because of each of their respective secrets, none of them can truly be close with each other. They have to keep their true selves secret under pain of capture, arrest, or even death, and that keeps them from being able to fully trust each other.
Most people feel the urge to keep parts of themselves hidden when growing close to each other; as a painfully shy child and introverted adult, I often did and still do approach new friendships cautiously. I try to get a read on the other person before I feel like it is safe to reveal my entire self to them. After all, what if I showed how nerdy I was to someone, thinking they were a friend, and they rejected me? Rejection of any kind can be painful, but it is especially painful when you are trying to make new friends and expand your social circle. Too often, though, hiding my whole self doesn’t end when I get to know someone, but it becomes a never-ending effort to craft and maintain the perfect facade.
The bottom line is that we all have an intrinsic longing to be close to others; there’s nothing shameful or weak about it, it’s simply in our nature as humans. After all, “[the] Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone,’” (Genesis 2:18). This is not something that is limited solely to romantic relationships, as even the most solitary of us is ultimately in need of friends that we can trust. We all need someone we can trust to pick us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and someone who can bear our burdens (Galatians 6:2), and we all need to be that person for someone else in our life.
At this point in my life, I’ve been blessed to be in a community with people who truly accept me for who I am and all the parts that come with that. I’m no longer afraid to share my whole self with others and I want to be someone that others feel safe to be around and that they can trust. Oftentimes this is easier said than done with shyness and social anxiety, but I’m willing to try to tear off the mask I have a habit of wearing for the sake of building true connections.