You know the problem with perfection? It doesn’t leave any space for reality.
I’m a huge fan of fairytales…and it all started from an early age.
At 3 years old, my father borrowed a friend’s van so that he could take me to see Disney’s Cinderella at a drive-in. He loves to tell the story of how enraptured I wa, so much so that I stood for the entire film, with my face practically pressed up against the windshield, periodically jumping up and down with excitement, and proclaiming: "Daddy, I’m Cinderella! I’m Cinderella!"
From that moment on, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I believed in happy endings, huge gowns, rags to riches, true love, magical first kisses, white horses, love conquering all, and princes sweeping you off your feet.
I fell for the whole lot of it. I believed it was REAL. The moral of every story was basically the same: be a good person, and good things — no, magical things — will happen to you. All you have to do is believe…
My childhood experiences were fodder for my own personal fairytale. Like Cinderella, I had to endure some serious hardships, including the "loss" of my father.
Not long after that drive-in, my parents divorced, and my mother moved my sister and me clear across the country from him. I remember hiding under the dining room table, listening as they discussed logistics, not understanding just how drastically my world was about to change.
In addition to the move, there was a new stepfather, and eventually a new stepmother and two stepbrothers, then a second divorce, another relocation, ultimately five different elementary schools, and some half siblings.
In the ever-changing family configurations, I often felt lost and alone. I would comfort myself with books, fiction, stories, daydreaming, and fantasy. I searched out "evidence" of better lives, and spent hours renewing my faith that when I grew up, my life would be perfect.
Indeed it was for a time. That’s how powerful my will was. I was prepared to make it happen. I would strong-arm perfection and fairytale-happiness into reality!
I met my "prince charming" while visiting colleges. He fit the bill perfectly. Central casting couldn’t have done a better job. He was a dashing freshman, older, worldly, from a wealthy New York family. He’d grown up in society, well-educated, well-bred, handsome, tall, looked fantastic in a suit, and had impeccable manners.
I’d never met anyone like him in real life. I was all in. We were meant to be together.
Turns out true love isn’t always easy, especially when you have no experience with relationships or real life role models (go figure!). Despite a bumpy 4-year start, we finally got the hang of being committed by our college graduation.
And we enthusiastically spent the next ten years creating a life worthy of the silver screen, a charmed life — a perfect, fabled life.
We set up house in New York City, and oh what a glamorous time we had! We were young, ambitious and had means — my ex had a trust fund from the true loss of his father.
We were on the social scene, attending black tie galas (I got to wear gowns!), fundraisers, and elegant dinner parties. As budding entrepreneurs, we started successful companies.
With a thirst for adventure, we traveled the world. Our lives were large and full. We challenged each other, laughed, and mostly had tons of fun. And as glorious as it all was, I still wanted more: my heart ached for what I considered the ultimate and elusive fairytale: a happy nuclear family.
After much cajoling on my part (and half a year in therapy with a couples counselor), we got married. It was a storybook wedding.
"Perfect" in absolutely every way — the details of which are memorialized and published in various books and magazines. Our lives were now wedded together. We’d made sacred vows. I believed we were indeed traveling down the same path: towards children, parenthood, possibly even suburbia!
Two years after we married, our daughter was born. She was gorgeous. Everything I had ever hoped for. I was over-the-moon happy. I did everything I could to give her an amazing start.
I read books, took birthing and parenting classes, hired the best OB-GYN, and the best pediatrician. I moved us into a beautiful (and frighteningly expensive) 3-bedroom Chelsea apartment. I hired a sought-after baby nurse from a top agency, as well as a full-time nanny.
I thought we were starting our little family of three off on the right foot. We looked the part for all intents and purposes.
The shiny, happy family concept blossomed and grew under my careful watch. I could never convince my ex to move to the suburbs but when our daughter was 18 months old, I did manage to get us out of New York City and into a beautiful house in the hills of Los Angeles.
Our family expanded soon thereafter, when we welcomed the birth of our son. We now had our perfect west coast life: house in Brentwood, fancy cars, private schools, fundraisers, dinner parties, nannies, etc.
I don’t know if it was the move or the addition of another child, but our marriage and life together began to unravel. The cracks in our foundation were starting to show. The veneer was coming off. What was once shiny and perfect was now in serious danger of breaking.
You know the problem with perfection? It doesn’t leave any space for reality. It doesn’t allow for change, transition, or oxygen.
There isn’t room for people to be who they are. It’s too regimented, structured, and immovable. People start to feel like they can’t breathe or be who they truly are. It’s in a word: suffocating.
My then husband and I were prisoners of our perfect life together. The fairytale was just that: fiction. There was so much under the surface which wasn’t being seen, noticed, said, shared, or even felt.
We were so conditioned by our respective upbringing to live a certain way. I wanted this perfect family and he wanted to be a titan of industry and to conquer the world. We had genuine and deep love for each other but we didn’t know how to be real together.
In our defense, we came by our shortcomings honestly. We both played out the hands we were dealt. And at a certain point we each wanted so much more. We just happened to take very different paths to get there.
I won’t get into the "who did what to whom". But suffice it to say, that whichever road we happened to be on it was a very rough one, full of deep potholes, tragic detours, and no directions or street lamps.
We separated at the end of 2009, and divorced in 2010. Our legal proceedings carried on into 2012. It was a heartwrenching time, undoubtedly for me, and most likely for him as well. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much in my life.
Perfection came crashing down around me, and it physically hurt. My heart and head ached from the loss. I had trouble breathing and sleeping. My eyes were red and stung from all of the tears. I lost so much weight that people couldn’t help but ask, "Are you okay?"
No one had ever asked me if I was okay before… because of my carefully and artfully constructed world, they assumed I was perfect… what a profound question this was. It rocked my world.
Things were definitely not okay. My life was a disaster. It was a mess.
What was I going to do? How would this affect my kids? How would I keep them safe? Where would we live? I went from a life of deciding where to vacation to how would I put food on the table.
It was a monumental and terrifying shift. I went from living a highly managed and curated life, to a life that was completely out of control, full of chaos, and huge emotions. I was in a dark sea, and I was drowning. There was one thing I knew for certain: I needed help.
As a perfectionist, you never ask for help. The first apparent (and most profound) gift of my divorce was my learning to ask for help. At the end of a relationship, there’s a desire and tendency to hide, to isolate, and suffer through the divorce alone. But seeking help makes all the difference in the world.
At first it was foreign and difficult for me. I didn’t want to burden anyone or admit the failure of my marriage and my well-crafted life. I reached out to those I trusted most: my family, close friends, and life coach.
But as I got better at and more comfortable with asking, my circle of help widened. It came in all forms: extended family and more friends, professionals, such as a therapist, couples counselor, energy worker, shaman, and my children’s teachers.
I found talking and sharing quite cathartic. Sometimes to the detriment of friendships… sometimes talking about divorce can be overwhelming for friends and family, and even perfect strangers.
I had to learn another new skill: how to talk about my divorce in a constructive and healing way. This is easier said than done, and is something I work on a lot with clients.
Today, I am still redefining my happily ever after. I don’t struggle with perfection as much anymore…Ithough as it is with most addictions, you don’t ever completely shake them. I’m a recovering perfectionist. I give myself permission to make mistakes though. And be kind to myself when I try to hide them.
Against the odds, I decided to give love another chance. I am remarried to an unbelievably amazing man, and while he, too, is tall and good-looking, he is also so much more… he has a deep heart, generous soul, and like Ferdinand the bull, despite his masculine exterior, he is quiet, contemplative, and can appreciate the delicate beauty of a flower.
Together my husband and I work to create the life that we are living, allowing a lot of room for reality, and the messiness of actual life. Our children are growing up together in a blended or extended family, and it’s beautiful to watch how they relate to each other.
It’s not the idea I had of the "perfect family", but life tends to surprise us with the most perfect of lessons. And by learning those lessons, life has rewarded me far greater than I ever imagined possible back when I was just a girl distracting herself with fairytales in the school library.
Are you trapped in a less-than-perfect marriage? Are you aching to redefine your happily ever after? Contact me for a free 30-minute call; I would love to help you get started writing your life's next chapter!
This article was originally published at Getting Unmarried Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.