We were talking about how we were often the “strong ones” in our friendships, the shoulders, the ears. Being a shoulder wasn’t an issue for any of us: we enjoyed it, we valued it, we learned from it. But when I was describing to the group how I had needed to step back from this go-to stance in all my relationships because it was keeping me from developing really deep, true connections, that I had to learn and force myself to be openly vulnerable, the penny seemed to drop a bit for the others. When we asked ourselves and each other why we did this, we spouted all the usuals: we hated to burden people, we didn’t want to obligate them, we didn’t know how they would react. But then, slowly, we started to get a bit closer to the icky truth: we were afraid to show people that we weren’t … aw geez, do I have to say it? … it’s so embarrassing … (and yet I gave it away in my title, didn’t I?) … yes … perfect.
It’s an odd self-imposed requirement—which I wouldn’t even bring up (and risk this shuddering humiliation) if I didn’t believe so many of us might be able to relate to it. I think this impossible standard of perfection gets applied to our behaviour ideals, like in this example, but I also think it pertains to the extended conversation we’ve been having these last weeks about our appearance. Yes, media has a lot to do with that—but so many of us also seem to have this core mandate that we can’t appear to be growing older or less hearty, and that we can’t appear to be weak or needy or questioning or insecure. So we manipulate our appearances so we don’t betray our aging and/or frailties, and we put on this great front in our relationships that so completely covers our weaknesses, neediness, questioning and insecurities that we very often begin to believe our own made-up PR.
Because we’ve talked so much about appearances, I want to bring us back to the whole strong-like-bull act we adopt so often in our relationships. I mean, I think I’m mostly over it. You can’t write an honest, from-the-heart blog every day and fool yourself into thinking people are going to buy the “I’m perfect” routine. But my own experience gave me the utter conviction to bring up and speak out against this habit so many of us have. If we’re going to be honest with each other, if we’re going to avail ourselves of this communal support system we all treasure, if we’re going to reach out and truly connect with others in our real lives (because I know it can be a lot easier to be vulnerable and insecure when it’s online and not so easy when we’re face to face with our beloveds), I think we need to speak up about the things that undo us, the moments of insecurity, the “ack” moments.
In my experience, this revelation is an extraordinary relief. It lifts this onerous weight of “perfection” off my shoulders and makes me feel like a real, true human being. That said, it has also been my experience that this only really works if you have NO EXPECTATIONS of how your listener/shoulder/ear reacts. You are not revealing your weakness to lay it on the shoulders of your friend/love, you are revealing it to get it off your own. See how that works? It’s a tricky line, but it is remarkably effective. Even if you get literally NO REACTION to your heartfelt revelation (yes, this has happened to me!), you will feel an exquisite and lovely release as those muscles that have worked soooooo hard to hide your weaknesses that they are now contorted and twisted into knotted balls finally know they no longer have to contort or twist. It’s amazing.
Okay, so who among you are or have been perfect perfectionists?
Deb: I can relate to this one so much. I think I said before that I love doing favours, but hate asking for them. And yes. No other reason than the one you have stated. I am perfect. At least that was the image I was comfortable with and that was the image I was putting out there. Until menopause hit with its bag of tricks and my facade was stripped from me flash by flash and tear by tear. And now I don’t care who knows I am not perfect. Because I am still perfect for me. Warts and all. And by warts I mean actual warts … which I got during menopause. See? Not perfect. But I will say this. When I became imperfect, I think people liked me more. A fellow human is always a more delightful dinner companion than say ... a goddess, right?