Today’s meditation opens with a quote from Dodie Smith that hits close to home. The passage describes, “a type [of American woman] I frequently met . . . it goes to lectures. And entertains afterwards . . . amazing, their energy. They’re perfectly capable of having three or four children, running a house, keeping abreast of art, literature and music—superficially of course, but good Lord, that’s something—and holding down a job into the bargain. Some of them get through two or three husbands as well, just to avoid stagnation.” Doesn’t that sound exhausting? The reason this hits a little too close to home for me is that I recognize myself in the description as someone who gets bored easily and avoids this boredom by unnecessary change, despite how much work it takes. Many a weekend has gone by where I should have been relaxing and enjoying myself, but instead, I busied myself with redecorating the house for the fifth time, or crossing things off of my to do list. Laundry, cleaning, housework, chores… they’re never done. Yet I can’t stop myself from thinking I must finish them. Everything must be perfect, no matter the cost in time, money, or detriment to my health and sanity.
On the topic of perfectionism and loneliness, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“It sort of grates to see ourselves described on paper . We have learned to cope. We have learned to be superwomen. So what if we don’t go very deeply into anything. How can we? We just don’t have the time. Our biggest fear is not knowing enough or not being enough. We feel that we are inadequate if we cannot talk intelligently about almost everything and do almost anything. We would like to have more intimate relationships, but we just do not have the time—we are perfect women.”
Anne’s words hurt, because again I recognize myself a little too well in them. I do feel inadequate if I can’t speak intelligently on any subject or do anything right the first time. How many people can though? Perfectionism is lonely because it keeps us so busy trying to be perfect that we don’t have the time or energy to dedicate to building relationships. We also don’t let people get close, because we are too afraid to let them see us as anything but the perfect facades we have built around ourselves. Real people are not perfect though! They’re messy, flawed, and frankly, fucked up. So is life! Part of getting to know people is making ourselves vulnerable, being honest about who we are, and that honesty means acknowledging our imperfections. It is just part of human relationships. We will mess up. We won’t have perfectly manicured nails or coiffed hair all the time, our house will not always be spotlessly clean. We mustn’t let our desire to appear perfect outweigh our needs, including our basic human need for relationships. Perfection is isolating, and that isolation breeds loneliness. By letting go of our desire for perfection, we can fulfill our need for connection.