What is it about people who constantly smile — even when it’s way past the point of appropriate — that is so terrifying? Smiles usually elicit such a warm, calming response in other human beings. Unless, that is, the person smiling has had this Real Housewives-esque serial killer grin plastered on their face through every social encounter that day, including ones where they are unhappy or clearly dislike the people they’re surrounded by. The need to constantly present an “everything is awesome, this is great, as long as I keep smiling you can’t say anything” kind of attitude is one that says, on some level, “I have no idea how to actually interact with other humans.” We all know that person who, even if they practically have a mouth covered in blood from verbally ripping someone apart the second their back was turned, is going to greet you with a bright Stepford smile and a squeaky “Hiiii-eee!” That person is no fun to be around.
“Oh my god, I love your apartment! It’s so little and cute!”
“That dress looks so good on you… very flattering in the stomach area.”
“This food is delicious, did you get it catered?”
What is better than starting off any social gathering with a nice, warm backhanded compliment smushed all over your face like a giant handful of mud? Nothing! That’s what fake people are there for, to tell you that, no matter how well you’re doing, you could always be doing better. (Or, as is often the case, they are doing better themselves.) It’s the kind of compliment you often expect to hear from your mother, or someone else who claims to have your best interests in mind but really just has their own well-drawn vision of exactly what your life should look like, and vocal disappointment about how it’s not looking that way. Fake people are always the first to — while keeping that crazy, plastered-on smile — remind you of your place in the world.
What’s wrong with that fake person? Oh, nothing. They’re fine. Don’t worry about them. They don’t have a single care in the world, they’re just going to make you tear and pry at their psyche like an archaeologist trying to get a sarcophagus open until they finally halfway-tell you what is actually wrong. Essentially, with fake people, nothing is actually what it seems, and everything that they say is going to have to be matched up with that secret decoder ring you got in a box of Froot Loops that one time. You’ll never really know what they’re thinking, or why they did something, and direct confrontation of the issue only makes them retreat further back into their shell. Their hard, lacquered tortoise shell of guarded feelings. Fake people are turtles.
The thing about gossip is, no matter how much you enjoy it in the moment (and we all kind of have our ugly moments of saying something nasty about someone that we wouldn’t say to their faces), you know it is probably happening behind your back, too. Sure, you can laugh with a particularly catty friend or acquaintance about that one girl whose dye job schedule is always in tragic misalignment with the rate at which her roots grow in, but what do you think that same person is going to be saying about your inability to match patterns the second you’ve walked out of the room? Gossip is a kind of poison that, the more we allow it to seep in our veins, the harder it is to completely get rid of. We like to pretend that only a certain class of Regina George Horrible People talk behind people’s backs — and certainly some do it more than others, that’s true — but in that department, it’s hard to find someone who never engages in fake person behavior. Oh, well. We’re probably all just getting laughed at for our awkward snort-laugh when our back is turned, just like we deserve.
I think the most significant marker of a fake person has to be their uncanny ability to make you feel like an utter loser in their presence. Whether its the constant guarding of their actual feelings, the tendency to make snide comments about everyone around them, or the general “omgurtotallymybestfriend” smile they give to each new person they encounter, it’s a recipe for self-esteem disaster. There’s nothing worse than hanging out with someone with whom you’re never sure of where you stand, and frankly aren’t even sure they consider you a friend in return. That’s the thing about fake people — you can never tell how much of their relationships are based on actual mutual interest and respect, versus how much is just for appearances or social climbing. Maybe they’re your friend, or maybe you’re just for networking purposes. When you go home at the end of the day, you should feel like the interactions you had with people were genuine, and that the emotional investments you make with friends — or even friendly acquaintances — is something worth making. Because if we let ourselves get caught up in the game of “let’s all be nice and smile and compliment and then be terrible behind each other’s backs,” pretty soon, we’re going to be fake people ourselves.