I set a confused friend straight with the help of Jack Worthing

My dear—well, let’s call you Aaron, shall we? (Ha work that one out.)

My dear Aaron,

You talk exactly as if you were a moralist. It is very vulgar to talk like a moralist when one isn’t a moralist. It produces a false impression. 

I had an epiphany while rereading The Importance of Being Ernest. You see, Aaron, you’re Jack. You really are. Except that you got your comeuppance in the end. I can’t say I’m sorry for it, either.

I’ve read Wilde’s brilliant little play more than a few times since I first discovered it far too young and attempted to put it on with my best friend and our unwilling brothers, but never before, in any of my readings, did I condemn Jack quite as much as I did this time around. And why? Because of you. I never quite understood how hypocritical Jack was until I had you for comparison, my very own real-life Jack. Anyhow, remember back in Act I when Jack makes a right fool of himself while trying to get his cigarette case back from Algernon and Algernon won’t stop harping on about “Little Cecily” and tells Jack he “had much better have the thing out at once?” I wonder if you remember what Jack says. Maybe you sailed past it. It doesn’t seem too important on a first reading, I suppose. But it’s really quite clever on Wilde’s part. “My dear Algy,” says Jack, “you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn’t a dentist. It produces a false impression.” And, of course, what has Jack been doing, if not creating a false impression himself? Rather hypocritical of him, n’est-ce pas?

He tells people he is Ernest, the profligate younger brother of the very worthy and well-to-do Jack Worthing, when in reality he is Jack Worthing, the rather insecure and hypocritical country bachelor looking for a bit of a good time (while maintaining his reputation). Now, it is not Bunburying itself that I criticize, but instead the manner in which Jack goes about it; indeed, I am quite alright with Algy’s Bunburying. But then again, Algy admits to his Bunburying, revels in it, and is anything but a hypocrite. While Algernon has simply created a helpless invalid friend useful for getting him out of various dinners he’d rather not attend, Jack has created an alter-ego and sees no harm in lying about who he is both to himself and everyone around him. And on top of that, he strongly denies even ever doing such a thing.

Sound familiar yet? Because it’s ringing a couple bells for me. Your morals are a mess. Which isn’t to say you’re a bad person. You aren’t. And neither was Jack. You’re confused, though. Confused about morality, about yourself, about who you really want to be. And that’s okay. That’s what high and young adulthood is for (or so I’m told). But you’ve reached the point of hypocrisy. Like Jack, you don’t believe that you’re denying anything about who you are. But you are. All your friends can see it. Like Jack, you’re worrying far too much about your image, about being seen as moral, rather than being moral. You decide which is more important. It is not enough to say you are moral. You must also be so. To do the first without the second, while telling everyone else that they are not the second either. . . Well, that’s hypocrisy.

You dated her and we all thought you loved her. Or that you thought you did, at least. Or perhaps we hoped. And it was hard—no dates, no PDA. You had to somehow be the perfectly religious son your parents—and part of you—wanted, while keeping up a relationship with a girl you really liked. Somehow, you made it eight months. Things seemed to be going well. Until suddenly they weren’t. You broke up with her, said you couldn’t love her completely because she didn’t subscribe to exactly the same set of moral values you did, and that was it. She wasn’t happy. You weren’t happy. And yet you still maintained your moral superiority. You had done the right thing; none of us would get it because we simply hadn’t achieved some higher level of moral understanding that you obviously had. Honestly, your insistence upon this point has been hard to take. The hypocrisy is just blinding.

You see, you’re like Jack. Jack has this obsession with the Victorian idea of morality, which is entirely rule based. He wants to be seen as a fervent subscriber to these moral rules. He wants to be seen as honorable, dutiful, virtuous, earnest. But he also wants to do what he wants to do and it doesn’t matter if he compromises all the values he supposedly cherishes in order to get away with it while still maintaining his image. Your set of arbitrary moral values? That’s Jack’s Victorian code. Your younger brother Ernest? That’s you, dating her, and pretending to be the perfect little church boy upholding your perfect little morals, while really doing something else entirely. Two sides of yourself. Two sides which you just couldn’t reconcile because you refused to admit that one of them existed. You’re insecure, Aaron, and you don’t need to be. You can do what you want to without feeling guilty about it, without sweeping it under the rug. You’re allowed to be multifaceted, you just have to be comfortable with all your parts and reconcile them with one another. And you’re allowed to do what you want. If you like someone—if you love someone—don’t let society and image-consciousness get in your way. You didn’t want to break up with her and you knew you were a jerk for doing it (I even informed you of it in no uncertain terms). But you said you “had” to (you didn’t) and that there was no choice (there was). If there hadn’t been a choice, those eight months wouldn’t have happened. And maybe it would have been better for us all if they hadn’t. But you just didn’t want to take the blame for what you’d done. Because you couldn’t hold to the very morals you were attempting to fall back on.

I wrote you this because I guess I didn’t have the guts to say it to your face. I was afraid you wouldn’t like me afterwards and no matter how much your mixed up morals grate on my nerves, you’re a really good friend of mine and I’d rather not lose you. I just wish you’d grow up and take ownership of your actions, of yourself, and stop excusing yourself with your “morals,” which, even after all this, I still don’t understand. So I half-hope that one day you’ll remember my sad, old blog and be curious enough to pull it up and, if you haven’t lost interest by that point, have a little look round. And I half-hope that you find this letter and realize it’s about you. And, if all of this comes to pass, I devoutly hope that you look back on it and how you behaved and laugh (perhaps embarrassedly) at how you behaved. And then I hope that you call me up (or take a jaunt over to my future dorm room; depends when this is, doesn’t it, bud?) and we have a good laugh over it together.


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