As a New Yorker, Billy Joel runs through my veins the way pizza connoisseurship and hatred of Boston do. It’s not that I have a cultivated love of Billy Joel. His music is just a part of me, like I was born with it. It reminds me of home.
But then there’s “The Stranger” (the song–not the album, which was very successful though not due to its title track). I remember the first time I heard it. I did not like it. Musically, it’s pretty cheesy, and lyrically it’s sad and creepy. Much of Billy Joel’s music is sad, but not unbearably so–it’s honest in an Everyman sort of way. Yet “The Stranger” covers a much less comfortable aspect of human nature. It makes you squirm a bit, I think by design; there is a truth behind the lyrics that has always haunted me.
Well, we all have a face that we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves when everyone has gone.
Some are satin, some are steel,
Some are silk and some are leather.
They’re the faces of a stranger,
But we’d love to try them on.
The implication here, especially as the lyrics go on, is that there’s a danger in trusting someone with your heart, or letting them trust you with theirs, as we can never truly know the other person, they can never truly know us, and we may never even truly know ourselves.
It’s depressing. But don’t you think it’s true? Aren’t there parts of yourself that you never quite let out or share? Hard to admit because it’s unsettling–it sounds like we’re all secretly sociopaths or something.
The Less Creepy Stranger as he Applies to our Relationships
But if we shed some of the gloom of this idea, we can give it a positive spin that can inform our approach to our lives.
We are complex. We are layered–so many different influences, experiences, interests, passions, dreams, fears, desires. It would be unfair to expect any one person to understand or fulfill all of those different aspects of ourselves. And yet, I think the common misconception in choosing a life partner is that you’ve found that person who “gets you” completely and who can give you everything you need.
If we can get rid of that expectation, we might be a lot more satisfied in our relationships, and less quick to feel our partner is “letting us down” when they’re just being themselves. We can also then take steps to find an outlet for those parts of ourselves that our partner can’t quite reach. This is why we need other relationships beyond our romantic ones.
As an example (reducing my husband and I to high school drama stereotypes): I’m a little bit artsy. I like going to museums, live performances, plays, ballet. My husband does not love these things. But I do also love sports. I enjoy playing sports, watching sports, discussing sports. So does my husband. We click there, and had we gone to high school together, he totally would have dug me because I was on the soccer team, though he may have had no idea I starred in the school play. We love playing sports together, and as long as he indulges me once in a while and I don’t expect him to gush over the costumes and music, we can even enjoy seeing a show together. And at other times, I’ll just go without him!
The Less Creepy Stranger as he Applies to Life Goals
I also think this logic can apply to the daunting challenge of choosing a career. Few people find a career that truly completes them and brings total satisfaction. But that doesn’t mean we should be chronically dissatisfied. Rather, if we appreciate the aspects of our jobs that we do love, and then seek other ways to achieve the goals or indulge the interests outside the scope of our jobs, we can find a healthy and liveable level of satisfaction.
I guess I can’t say I totally hate this song. I still think it’s pretty cheesy, though.
Do you agree with this idea of having “a stranger” inside? Have you come to similar conclusions, or have you in fact found the one perfect partner or one perfect career?