We’re All Actors

by by Agnes Hayes

illustration by by Rebecca Levinson

“When we were making love I heard an orchestra, a symphony. There were trombones. Did you hear that too?”


“Oh, um, yeah, I guess I did hear that!”

To put it frankly, no, there were no trombones. There weren’t even strings. There was an uncomfortable rattling of my twin, XL bed, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.
But why didn’t I just say no? It’s a simple and easy answer. Then he would have understood that my mind was elsewhere, and as sexy and interesting as I thought he was, I sort of wasn’t entirely there. Is that bad? So, I simply tried to empathize with him, insert myself into his shoes, and convince myself that, yes, there was a beautiful firework-worthy symphony—and trombones.
It was then that we lay there in the dark. My roommate had been calling me for the past hour as I had officially ‘sexiled’ her. I hoped to open a text that read, “I really need to get in. I’m sorry.” But as my roommate and I had a very tacit understanding of one another, all I got was some blurry font in the dark, which read, “don’t worry! I’m sleeping in my friend’s room. Have fun! Xx.”
I wanted to sleep alone that night; I wanted to sleep with earplugs to drown out any variation of synthesizers or bass or for that matter breathing. But he turned off my last dim light situated next to the picture of my dad and me at prom (to which I then blew a kiss and mouthed,  “sorry Dad”) and buried himself in my sweaty sheets. Lights off, covers up, entirely contrived post-coital positioning, deep breaths…
Oh my god. Was he falling asleep? My arm was being suffocated so tightly under his torso that it fell asleep, which made me the only one in the room unwilling to do so. I tried to wriggle out of it. He, in turn, rolled over so that we formed a sort of homage-to- Cirque-du-Soleil crescent. Was he spooning me?

“You know, the other day something sort of beautiful happened.”
I drew a breath, and prepared to feign exhaustion. I would simply mumble a few incomprehensible sounds like “Huh? Hmm. Mmhm night,” but then I thought twice.
Maybe I could pretend that this scenario, this dreadful, sweaty scenario, could be translated into a scene from a movie. He was a French man I had just met at the Jardin du Luxembourg. I was wearing knee-high socks, and he could comment on them and tell me I reminded him of a young girl named Eloise, you remember, the young girl that lived in the hotel? We would then have passionate sex throughout the night. At least this is what would have to happen in order to make the next ‘scene’ bearable.

“What was it?” I ask ever so delicately
“I was walking alongside the street and I see this Hasidic man. He was sort of beautiful, and then he started following me. He went up to me and told me I was beautiful, as though he wanted to make love to me.”

Okay, so let me get my facts straight: he’s still French and I’m still wearing knee-high socks. However, there’s now a Hasid in the picture. I inhale slowly, deeply.
“Yeah…that is really beautiful.”
“Right? I don’t know…it just was. Right?”
“Absolutely,” I say, emphasizing every syllable accompanied by a steady exhale.

I kissed what I thought was his neck. In actuality, it was the awkward space next to your mouth, which isn’t your mouth. I then pretended the misfire never occurred; I turned over and puffed a silent, yet cathartic sigh into my pillow.

“K, night!”


“It’s weird.”
You have no idea…

“I feel like I’ve known you in another lifetime or something. I feel like I know you so well.”

Before I responded, I stopped to think about the reasons as to why he would have said this. I could sort of see where he was coming from. He was very warm and welcoming, and well, I’m theatrically accommodating. I wasn’t lying per se; I was merely ‘seeing where he was coming from.’

“Yeah, I do too. It’s weird.” I said.
“It’s like we’ve lived a long life together.” He eagerly replied.
Try five hours.

So was I deceitful? No, I was performing. As we all do. I was acting. Is the much renowned ‘see where he is coming from’ heuristic any different from lying or, in this case, bedroom performance art? I’m a nice girl. I give everyone—well almost everyone—a chance to audition. By letting people in, I get a quick sense of where they’re coming from: making it easier for me to nod, smile, and go along with whatever they’re saying.

‘Seeing Where The Other Person Is Coming From’ =
Leading On = Teasing = Lying

Does this equation yield one hell of a performance? I know that we all act in our day-to-day lives to some degree, taking up starring roles during times of high stress or obscene awkwardness. Acting in this case was a buffer between my real self and the vegetating nightmare to unfold. I did a little performance, went along with the things he said, and apparently hurt his feelings. I found out six months later that he told my friend, regarding my act, that “she is an actress, and because she is an actress, she doesn’t even know the difference between fantasy and reality, therefore she doesn’t really know herself.” What was once a carefully engineered ploy to incessantly smile and nod, ultimately led to leading on, which is synonymous with teasing, and if we do the math, lying becomes an integral factor.
So are we all method actors, cunningly projecting caricatured emotions? If you want to sleep with a guy, you’ll act interested. He can tell you some drawn-out—and likely self-gratifying—anecdote about a summer job, which you find beyond dull. But, you’ll listen; you’ll drown your agitation; you assume the poker face; you stubbornly, yet graciously attempt to ‘see where he’s coming from,’ contorting your facial expression into that of a child in a candy store—he is ultimately led on. Then you can sleep with him, or not: you decide whether or not to go off-book.
Honestly, I wasn’t particularly offended by the guy’s comment about my acting; if anything, it made me think he might have a point. When we fall into character, we are ultimately punished, or poorly received, resulting in an overall bad review. Perhaps it’s time for a curtain call: time to put a moratorium on mock giggles and nods. Maybe if he says a Hasidic man—who hit on him—was beautiful, you should just say, “Actually, no. It’s actually rather creepy” and then roll over onto your good side.
I think the question here is whether or not habitual performance is an offense. If I wanted him out of my bed, if I wanted to sleep in peace, I probably would have looked at my cell phone and said,  “Shit. My roommate needs to get in.” But that would have been yet another theatrical flourish. I should have been blunt: “You know, I think I want to sleep alone tonight.” But then what? He’d awkwardly slip out of my bed, fumble around looking for his socks in the dark, trip, and then finally get a hold of the doorknob.

“Goodnight!” I’d utter, my words wrapped in a mélange of sympathy and pride.



Brutal honesty can present quite the dramatic spectacle: but at least for once, I’d be the audience.

Discomfiture, cacophonous noises, scarred egos: all this can be avoided through a little improv. Nice girls resort to acting because, well it’s easier, and guilt-free. I simply “didn’t want to hurt his feelings.” Charitable performance. But how long before the lines run thin? At first, it’s “I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Then, you become a wind-up Barbie Doll sex receptacle.
I’m just saying: we don’t always have to humor inane stories, or accommodate whatever uncomfortable post-coital position he sees fit. But whether you choose theatre or candor, you’re inevitably going to hurt the guy, either directly through uncensored sincerity, or through a false, carried out monologue of open-mindedness.
So why not turn the finale into the opening act? Reserve your creativity for your next screenplay, fiction piece, conceptual performance, or even Chatroulette. Be real; break it down; hurt some fragile hearts in the process. (Queue music here.)
As exhilarating translating imagination into reality may be, the collision is potentially dangerous and all consuming. So, if you will kindly replace the Luxembourg Gardens with Providence; swap Eloise’s sultry knee-highs for an unflattering pair of flannel long johns that obscures your leg shape. Ignore the orchestra, because no matter how much you pretend, it’s simply the rattling of your twin, XL bed depicting a climactic drum roll and his intermittent breaths producing the woodwind layer.