When we embrace our imperfections, we then experience a relationship that is meaningful and amazing
"Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in." The songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen was once asked to reflect upon, and explain the meaning of the lyrics of his song entitled; "Anthem." He explained that relationships are not the place where you make things perfect. Relationships unto themselves are in fact imperfect. The reality is that there are always cracks in every relationship. That is actually how the light gets in. It is in the confrontation with the brokenness of all things.
Intimate relationships have the incredible potential to lighten what feels heavy in our lives. Intimate relationships are a great place where we can feel safe to let our guard down, take off our armor, and take down the facade. Whether we choose to admit it or not, we are wearing a suit of armor, maintaining some sort of facade every day of our lives in order to protect ourselves. No matter our situation, all of us have certain defenses that we put up when life feels too tough. Most of us, employ the defense of guilt, shame, or "Perfection," in order to protect ourselves and ultimately render us emotionally unavailable.
Perfection is a wonderful combination of consonants and vowels, whose origin comes from Latin, which means to do thoroughly or completely. However, perfection is no longer about completion or excellence. Perfection has taken on its own perverse, unforgiving, relentless, and demanding space in our lives. Perfection is now all about the assumed gold-standard that we are all relentlessly in pursuit of, and hold everyone else to. All of us have this idea in our minds about how intimate relationships "should" be. The irony is that our relentless pursuit of the “perfect” intimate relationship with the partner that is truly “perfect” for us inflicts a lot of misery.
How often do we speak to both ourselves internally, our partners, and especially on social media in a manner that we would never dare speak to other people? “I cannot believe you did that again, you’re so stupid! Well, there you go, as usual screwing something up.
How could you have missed that! You are such a loser! I can’t stand to even look at you right now. You’re disgusting!" The list could go on and on. Both our external monologue and mind-talk can be pretty tough to hear.
We live in a culture and society that puts incredible pressure on all of us. Not just the pressure to do our best, or live up to our highest potential, but a pressure to achieve and especially be the impossible. To accomplish more in a day, to reach a certain level of perceived professional success, to live in a bigger, more extravagant house, to have fancier, more extravagant possessions, to wear a smaller size, to have the ideal relationship and family structure, and at the same time to fill our Facebook pages and online dating profiles with the most beautiful photos of our seemingly “perfect” lives.
What is really unbelievable, is that for every one of the so-called “perfect” photos we post on social media and our online dating profiles to show off to the world. There are hundreds more that we choose to leave off, because they are blurry, out of focus, someone is not looking at the camera, there is a stain on your clothing, we don’t like how we look, someone is photo-bombing us in the background, the lighting is not ideal, and the so-called "Candid shots” are not "Candidly perfect" enough.
Then there are the essays that accompany our photos that we post on our online dating profiles. How long do we spend writing, proofing, and editing them? How many different articles and books do we read in order to receive all sorts of tips, strategies, and suggestions for how we can make our dating profiles as "Perfect" as possible with the right combination of the “perfect” photos, and the "Perfect" essays?
So what is it about perfection? Why do we want to be perfect so badly? Dr. Brene Brown, who wrote in her book "The Gifts of Imperfection" states that "Perfection is not the same as trying to be your best, it’s not about healthy achievement. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can avoid and minimize the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It is a 20 ton shield we lug around, thinking that it will protect us, when it is really the very thing that is preventing us from taking flight."
If we and our partners that we are in intimate relationships with are perfect, if we never make any mistakes, upset anyone else, fail at any task, or simply fall short of any desired goal. We never have to feel any feelings of shame, judgment, fear, insecurity, disappointment. We can simply cut off that part of ourselves that has the potential to feel pain, and instead, work as hard as humanly possible to be perfect, and expect the same from our partners so that we only have to feel joy.
But then when either we, or our partners, make one of those inevitable mistakes. We feel such intense, uncomfortable discomfort and hurt. We choose to end the relationship and then we make a promise to ourselves that we will never allow someone else to hurt us in the way we had been hurt before by our previous partners. And swear off any sort of intimate relationship in the future.
We reinforce the dangerous and misleading belief system that the only way to a happy and fulfilling relationship is the road paved with pleasing, performing, and perfecting. The reality is that all of us make questionable decisions, we often deceive others in some way, feel resentful and angry, and lash out at those we love. So yes, everything that our partners do that are hurtful and imperfect, are just an exact mirror of ourselves, flawed and imperfect.
We all know too well, the incredibly disastrous consequences of perfection. It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest that the pressures and demands that our society and culture places on us lead to increasing incidents of self-sabotage and harm. It is true that all of us are desperate for the reassurance that it is ok to fail. We cross an important line when we demand a pre-determined or unrealistic set of expectations and standards from one another. People who demand perfection from themselves, whether they know it or not, are giving the unspoken cues that they desire and require perfection from their partners and intimate relationships.
When you yell and scream at the T.V, when the ball player misses the catch. Beating yourself up for eating something that you shouldn’t and gain weight. If you hold yourself to the impossible and then berate yourself when you don’t live up to the expectations, we are sending the contradictory and dangerous message of having to be perfect. So when you are not, you feel really, really, badly about it.
I am not any different, I also struggle with what standards society sets for how we are "supposed to be." It’s really hard for me, and I’m also guessing really hard for you not to get caught up in it. Shouldn’t we also wonder about the impact of our search for, and expectation of the "perfect" partner and relationship has on our long-term mental health? Do you also think that the inside of you needs to be nurtured and loved? So let’s not forget to treat ourselves with just a little bit of compassion.
When we are practicing compassion for ourselves, we are also modeling for our partner and everyone else around us that being imperfect is not a crime. It is actually a gift, if we are only willing to see it in that light. Remember Leonard Cohen’s lyrics? "There is a crack in everything because that’s how the light gets into it?"
Yes, it would be so much more comfortable to only post the most beautiful photos of ourselves on our dating profiles. But what’s imperfect and broken is important and beautiful too. Better than perfection is the potential for wholeness. It is when we experience that wholeness that we are able to see ourselves, partners, relationships, and our lives beyond the garden of perfection. A life that is not at all perfect, but really, really good, meaningful, and amazing.
That is why I really enjoy dating and intimate relationships. Because intimate relationships have the potential to do something transformative, to give us the courage to take off the armor of perfection. To remind us that we are much more whole when we reveal what is broken about us, what was never, and will never be perfect. When we are honest about who we truly are, and how we got here.
I hope that each of you have the courage and strength to take off the armor of perfection piece by piece, and give yourself the gift of a very imperfect relationship. So that you will be able to see the cracks in both you and your partner, and thereby reveal the light of your true, genuine, authentic selves.