Monday, May 10, 2010

The Myth of Perfection

I think about this, A LOT. Why I'm not one of the lucky ones for whom "good enough" is just fine. Sure, maybe I wouldn't get as much done, or see as much of the world, of have as many accomplishments under my belt. But the disparity seems to even out in the end, when the "good enough" group still has their sanity and the angst-ing, grasping, overachievers are on our second nervous breakdown (or, if we're lucky, living our dream with a few nervous tics).

But what I'm really starting to resent as I begin to enter this "I don't have to, and I don't want to" phase of life is this pervasive propaganda that perfect EVERYTHING is achievable and that I must pursue it constantly, or risk being the WOMAN WHO DIDN'T CARE ENOUGH.

The perfect home (perfectly decorated, perfectly clean, and now...perfectly eco-friendly), the perfect meals (Omega 3s, flax, 98 servings of colorful vegetables, more fish and then less fish, and then more fish again but not that kind 'cuz it has mercury, and low fat, then no fat, then good fat, follow the food pyramid, the food pyramid is a lie, a little meat, no meat, only grass-fed meat, eggs are bad, eggs are good, free-range eggs, college-educated eggs), perfect child (keep an eye on those IQ levels, and make sure his self-esteem is intact at ALL TIMES! Teach him self-sufficiency but NEVER let him out of your sight!), perfect sex life (always exciting! always fresh!), perfect friendships, perfectly fulfilling and balanced career (or perfect contentment with forgoing the career).

And now, suddenly, again (for the first time since 1971), EVERYTHING has to be hand-made or you risk being a lazy sell-out. And I don't know if it's just that we are more susceptible to such pressure, but it seems that nearly all self/life/home/family-improvement programs are aimed squarely at us women. Notice that men's magazines don't feature the cabbage soup diet or "natural cleaning products you can make yourself!" on their covers?

Sure, men can be pretty ambitious, too. But this is usually in regards to only one or two things at a time; work and car maintenance, perhaps. Stopping hair loss and basketball. Being a good husband and dad. My husband tries to do well in his own small realm of influence; fatherhood, work, friendship, and spirituality. But he certainly doesn't angst over being "the perfect BBQ chef" or "the best lawn-maintainer in the universe" or the smallest waist-size in his group of friends, and he most certainly isn't working on attaining all three in concert.

Even when things don't work out in his realm of personal influence-i.e., the kids aren't listening, a bad grade is brought home, a friendship disintigrates, or he loses a job bid to another contractor, my husband doesn't usually pick up the full burden of responsibility and load it squarely onto his back the way I do. He never, ever gets teary-eyed and wails, "I can't do anything right!"

Things don't always work out. He's o.k. with that.

I don't handle disappointment quite so well.

It's for these reasons, and more, that I loved, I mean L-O-V-E-D, this article by Rebecca Traister. It's worth looking at for the title alone. She talks about the "laser focus" our society has put on achieving perfect happiness. Traister finds it "punishing that we're constantly being pushed to achieve it" and so do I. I'm here to tell you that you can't have it, and it's not your fault.

We've (read: I've) got to make room for the flaws, the flab, the underachieving child, and the bad date nights in our lives. The momentary lapses in good judgment and selfless friendship, the doughnut for dinner, the "wasted" time, the snarky comment, and the bad mood. Forgive yourself the "must-read" books not read and the dinner parties not thrown. The knitting never learned, baby books not filled out.

I mean, I'm not saying give up. Throw in the towel. You shouldn't work hard to achieve your goals. That's not true, either. It's just...egotistical and ultimately kind of damaging to believe you can get everything right, all the time. You'll always be disappointed, and that's the part that hurts.


  1. i heart your blog-moNo

  2. @Sarah: don't you know it!
    @Mono: love you too, baby!

  3. Amen to that! Let's stand on the street corner and shout it out :)

  4. What a great post! I must admit, the most "perfect" people I know are the least happy, and quite possibly the most boring......

  5. Yep, Anon, I have to agree. Pretending to be perfect isn't very interesting....take, for instance, the Martha. She's a perfectly big snooze.


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