Finding peace with yourself, love, and with life.
My problem is that I can't seem to accept imperfection. Every time I date someone, I find something wrong with her. She's overweight, she's not happy enough, she drinks too much, she's too messy, she's too neat, she's too rigid, she looks too gay (I know that one isn't supposed to bother me, but it does.) I know I'm not perfect either — believe me, if I could break up with myself, I would! But I seem to be stuck with me, so I would really like to find someone else I can stick with, too. I understand intellectually that I need to get over this block. But every time I go out with someone, there is just something about her that doesn't feel right to me. Can you help? - M.L., Ann Arbor, MI
That is such a great question — I'm so glad you asked!
Your struggle with accepting imperfection sounds really painful. I get how it's getting in the way of your creating an intimate relationship – and clearly it's also really getting in the way of your relationship with yourself.
And, having a loving relationship with yourself is key to being able to have one with someone else. When we can't love ourselves, it's natural — and common — to hope that someone else will come along and love us so overpoweringly that our self-dislike will just cry Uncle. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. In your case, I believe that coming to a more compassionate relationship with your own imperfections is what will help you become more able to accept those of others, as well.
“Okay, but how do I do that?” you're probably asking. There are lots of ways – this is a huge topic! So I will just offer a few ideas.
The place to start making internal change is always with your intention — that is, you have to truly intend to make the change. You have to decide to do it. In other words, make an internal vow and declaration that you are going to begin to love and accept yourself, just as you are, right now. Even if parts of you struggle and resist, you can still declare that you intend to love and accept those parts — as well as all the other parts of you – just as they and you are.
Next, it's helpful to empower your intention by calling on larger forces, however you understand them — whether that means God, Higher Power, spirit guides, angels, the universe, or even just the wisest, most loving and compassionate part of you. For instance, you might say, "Please help me to love and accept myself just as I am. Please help me to feel and know that I am worthy of love and compassion, just as I am. Please help me to heal those parts of me that cannot accept my imperfections, so that I become able to embrace and appreciate myself, in all of the facets of my being, exactly as I am." (You can vary the wording, of course. This is just to give you a general idea.)
Another approach would be to work with the Buddhist practice of metta. Again, you can vary the specific wording of the Metta prayer according to your needs (if you google "metta" you'll find many versions!), but here's a version I created with you in mind.
May I love and accept myself, even with all my imperfections.
May I find peace and love, even with all my imperfections.
May I be well and happy, even with all my imperfections.
Repeat the prayer silently or, even better, aloud for at least 10 minutes. Once you feel it start to sink in, then say the same prayer on behalf of someone you care about: "May ____ (name of person) love and accept herself, even with all her imperfections. May _____ find peace and love, even with all her imperfections. May ____ be well and happy, even with all her imperfections." (If that ending, "even with all her imperfections," starts to feel tiring to repeat, you can leave it off — but just remember in your head that this prayer goes out to you, and to her, even with any and all imperfections you and she have.) Next, say the same prayer on behalf of someone you feel neutral toward. Next, say it for someone with whom you’ve had difficulties. And finally, say it for the whole world. (Which of course includes you!)
I believe that if you work consistently with either or both of these prayers for even a short time — say, half an hour a day for a week or two — you will feel a softening inside of yourself. As that softening happens, you will spontaneously find yourself feeling more acceptance both of yourself, and of whomever you date. Let me know how it goes!