Neil Gaiman: Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside

Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups.

– Neil Gaiman in The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Some grown-ups play a game where they pretend to be grown-up in a particular way. They pretend to be confident, to know what they are doing, not feel insecure or scared, to be strong and tough, and so on.

I never learned to play that game very well.

Why do we play this game?

Perhaps to fit in. This is cultural, after all. By joining in with the game we are like the others and we show that we want to belong to the group. We want to be accepted. We want to be loved. So we put up a facade and take on a persona in order to fit in and be accepted and loved.

There used to be a survival component to this since fitting in meant a greater chance of survival. These days, this plays less of a role but we can still have a sense of life-and-death importance around these issues. That too has been passed on.

What’s the reason some don’t play this game?

It may be because they can’t. They are unable to uphold this appearance for whatever reason.

Or it’s because they see through it and chose to not play the game. In some places, this is more common than other. (In my experience, it’s more common for people to chose to not play this game in The Bay Area and other progressive places on the US West Coast.)

How do people relate to those who don’t?

If we are comfortable with what this game covers up – not knowing, vulnerability, fear, and so on – then we are comfortable with it in others. We may be more comfortable with people dropping the pretense than we are around people who still play the game.

If we are not comfortable with it, and have bought into the game more wholeheartedly, then we tend to be uncomfortable with people who don’t play the game. We may reject them, judge them, and so on.

How does it look if we chose to not play this game?

We are more authentic and real and we drop the pretense.

In many situations, it may not look so different. But if something comes up in us that’s not very “grown-up”, we freely admit to it. We sometimes don’t know what to do. We don’t know anything for certain. We may feel insecure, scared, small. And so on.

If we are relatively mature, healed, and comfortable with ourselves, this is much easier. It’s also easier to go directly to what’s going on, which often boils down to: We can’t know anything for certain, and we sometimes feel scared.

It’s a relief in admitting this, and in being authentic and real about what’s going on. We drop a weight and we come home to ourselves and reality. It’s also more difficult for others to manipulate us.

One of the effects of choosing to be more authentic is that we tend to shed people in our life who are uncomfortable with authenticity, and we find people who are. We find our tribe.


  • when are comfortable with it in ourselves, then comfortable with others not playing this game
  • if not comfortable with it in ourselves, then not when others don’t play the game, reject, judge, etc.
  • how does it look?
  • easier when mature, healed, comfortable with ourselves
  • admit we don’t know, feel insecure, scared, small, etc., drop the pretense, be honest,
  • best “defense” bc leaves far less to be attacked, the defense/pretense is a much easier target

There are many things I wish someone had told me when I was little, and this is one of them.

Grown-ups often pretend…. to feel confident, to know what they are doing, to be strong and tough, and so on.

I never really learned to play that game. At least, I didn’t learn to play it well.

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