I’ve been contemplating the idea of perfectionism a lot lately. Which is odd, since I hadn’t considered myself to be a perfectionist at all. Not one little bitty bit. I didn’t strive for the stock broker husband, 2.5 kids, the house in the suburbs, a place on the PTA, a beige Lexus SUV or any of the trappings of the successful, overstressed, “Perfect American.” In other words, I completely eschewed the typical, perfect American Dream. How Gen X of me…
But then I got to thinking: Wait, then why the hell am I so fucking stressed out? I began to look at my life and analyzed what was putting pressure on me and what the motive was for each stressor (and yes, I’m Type A – a little…). I discovered that in each area (work, home, my love life) I am very successful, and have no external pressure from anyone. But for each portion of my life I found myself saying, “I should have ____,” or “I should be _____,” or “I should do_____.” Where did all these “shoulds” come from? Who put those in my life? Was it me? And if so, I am definitely sucking at perfectionism.
Yet, there it was. I had a my own version of how perfect was supposed to manifest in my life. And it was making feel crazy, out of control and like a complete failure. I was getting hung up on the little failures in my career instead of the huge milestones. I was upset that I hadn’t been able to start a family yet, instead of celebrating the and enjoying the relationships I’ve had. I was feeling imagined financial strain instead of reveling in the fact that I’ve attained a point in my life where my wine budget equals my food budget (heck, I’m drinking wine as I write this). Dammit. I needed to stop sweating the small stuff and start being grateful for the here and now. The minutiae don’t really matter. The fact that my life is pretty damn perfect just like it is.
I’m sure that you have your own version of what perfect is supposed to be. But that’s not the point of life. The point is to let it be a little messy, it’s not supposed to look like the brochure. Ease in, lean in, and let go of whatever you think is supposed to happen. I can guarantee you that whatever you think you “should” be getting/doing/having, that the Universe has something much better planned for you.
So often messages for my clients seem to be clustered into themes. One week will be when all the divorcees call me. Then next is when everyone has a job crisis. Followed by the week everyone seems to be having issues with their teenaged children. It’s uncanny really. But recently all the folks who think their love lives are “stuck” have been beating down my door. I know we’ve all been there – some of us (me included) have been there more times that we care to admit. Emboldened by the phrase, “But I just don’t know how to BE in a relationship!!!” they call me in frustration and desperation. And I think I repeatedly let them down. Not because I don’t assuage their fears, but because the answer is so simple and yet so complicated. And here it is: No one (and I mean NO ONE) actually knows how to be in a relationship. Period. The end.
Allow me to explain things a little bit more. We have suffered a Disneyfication of marriage and have all been operating under the delusion that that we’ll walk into a ballroom (or run up the turret of some castle, or walk into a board meeting, etc.), lock eyes with Mr./Miss. wonderful and BAM! Married happily ever after. No matter who you are, you subscribe to this fantasy to some degree. What fairy tales (or anyone else for that matter) don’t seem to cover is what happens after the honeymoon. I mean how the heck are you suppose to actually LIVE with this S.O.B.? Maybe she leaves shoes everywhere and always wants to talk to the cat like its human (guilty on both counts, here). And maybe he obsesses about NASCAR and thinks good sex is when you watch Seinfeld after he rolls off of you. This, friends, is called real life. Any maybe you’re significant other doesn’t have these particular issues, but I’m sure he or she has some other ones you could name without trying. Being in a relationship with another human being is hard work. Why? Because you’re two living, breathing beings with your own egos, fears, attitudes and opinions. And sometimes yours won’t mesh with your partner’s. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is necessarily broken. It just means you’re human and so is your spouse.
It’s a good idea, always, to take stock of what’s happening in your relationship. Are you just frustrated or truly feeling undervalued and ignored? Are you white-knuckling through some deal-breakers or just annoyed that his socks are on the floor (again)? Are there harmful behaviors and/or addictions present or does her love of ‘N Sync just make road trips a cringe-fest? If you’re dealing with truly harmful or neglectful behaviors, then it might be time to evaluate the viability of your relationship. But if you’re just irritated at your significant other’s quirks, well, welcome to being a grown up. Real, loving, long-lasting relationships involve relinquishing control, removing the ego and loving your partner unconditionally and unabashedly. In the face of true love all the other stuff becomes background noise and tolerable. At the end of the day, you’re two perfectly imperfect people trying to make something extraordinary. And you know what, it happens all the time.
So take heart, dear ones. You’re not alone. Sure, some people seem to be better at the relationship thing than others, but I assure you, they’re fumbling towards happily ever after just like the rest of us.