Thursday, February 14, 2013

This Relationship Corner: It Won't be Perfect

I'm writing this on Valentine's Day, but this column could be about any special day the two of you celebrate. It could be about your anniversary or birthday, a special vacation or a quiet evening together. It could be about an event you've planned for months, if not years, or something you throw together at the last minute. No matter what the occasion, you need to understand one thing: it's not going to be perfect.

The word "perfect" is the ruiner of relationships. I've written before about the misguided belief in "soul-mates," as it causes you to abandon relationships at the first sign of trouble because you believe that when you meet "the one" you'll never have problems. Just as dangerous a belief is that your special moments must be blemish-free, that when you leave behind the worries of the world, you will enter a private paradise.

I'm not saying that these special moments won't be wonderful, that you won't look back on them for years to come. What I am saying is that you can't expect them to be perfect. As with life, these moments are going to be flawed in some way. The key to enjoying them is to make them the best they can be, not perfect.

When you have the attitude of working to make the best of things, you'll find yourself a lot less stressed out. Rather than worry about every possible disaster and make yourself crazy trying to anticipate and prevent all problems, figure out what's really important and what's negotiable. When you prioritize what really matters and what doesn't, you'll save your sanity by not stressing over the inconsequential things.

I'm not saying you shouldn't try to make these events special. Of course you should try to make them as wonderful as possible. There's nothing wrong with planning ahead and having a vision for what you want it to be. You might have a very special Valentine's date planned, starting with dining at a fantastic restaurant, taking in a show, and enjoying a romantic carriage ride. There's nothing wrong with planing this out months in advance to get all the details correct.

The problem is when it's raining that day and your carriage ride gets scrapped, not to mention the drive to the restaurant and show will be stressful and you might be running late. You have two options then: complain that it's all ruined, scrap everything, and spend the evening sulking. Or you can try to salvage the evening by going out despite the weather, enjoying each other's company, and later laughing about the fact that you got rained out.

I recommend the second option. Because when you let yourselves enjoy those imperfect moments, you realize that it doesn't matter how perfect the circumstances, you get to share your toils and triumphs with each other. You are out celebrating your love, your union, and why should a piddly thing like an ill-timed storm ruin it?

Besides, sometimes the best memories happen when things go awry. This once-perfect evening suddenly becomes a story the two of you will share forever. You might make it to the restaurant, only to find out that you'll be waiting at least an hour despite your reservation. So the two of you go out and find a small, hole-in-the-wall place and discover your new favorite restaurant. It's not formal or fancy, but it's the best food you tasted. While eating this great food, you meet another couple hiding out from the rain and the four of you become fast friends. You skip the show to hang out with them and have a much better night than you would have if things went "perfectly."

Disasters don't all turn out like this, I realize, but you'll never find out if you give up and sulk every time something doesn't go strictly according to plan. Maybe there won't be any wild adventures, maybe this is just good time spend with each other rediscovering why you love each other. It gives you something to laugh about, an addition to your couple code, and when you salvage the evening you realize it wasn't that bad.

But what if it isn't a disaster? What if most everything goes according to plan and one thing is off? You order the cake and the misspell your names. Your order flowers and there are 11 instead of a dozen. You give her a teddy bear and one of the eyes falls off. It's nothing major, but if you insist on a perfect-or-nothing worldview, you might act like it's a disaster straight out of Revelation. Suddenly everything is ruined and your celebration is over before it began.

So again, I tell you, nothing will ever be perfect and you need to stop expecting it to be. Some of you might insist that you know plenty of occasions when everything worked perfectly, when it was indeed perfect. I hate to burst your bubble, but just because you didn't notice the flaws didn't mean they weren't there. Something didn't work out; it was invisible to you. It wasn't perfect because no occasion is perfect.

In the end, it's not the large or small imperfections that ruin these occasions. It's us. We are the ones who ruin them. We are the ones turning the molehill into a mountain and ruining everyone's good time. Instead of rolling with it, pretending to ignore it, laughing about it, or making a quick fix and moving on with it, we fixate on that one imperfection and let it rule us.

I know because I can get caught up in minor imperfections and let them ruin my good time. The more I want something to be perfect, whether it's celebrating a holiday or just going out to dinner and a movie, the more likely I will find a small flaw and fixate on it. I have to work to keep it from ruining a good moment, and sometimes it can be very hard to do so. (And I don't always succeed.)

There's one attitude that helps me through it, especially when I'm with my wife. If she's enjoying herself, then it's easier for me to get over the imperfection. I make it about her, and at the very least not ruining it for her. If she's happy, then that joy will often rub off on me and I'll start to feel better. By focusing on her, I'm able to overlook or even forget about the minor issue and really enjoy myself. Sometimes, as in the story above, I even realize that I'm glad it didn't work out the way I wanted because it was better the way it was.

If you can't get over the imperfections for yourself, do it for everyone else. Let them enjoy the occasion, and be happy that they are having a great time. Isn't that the real reason we celebrate? Not to craft a perfect moment, but to be with the ones we love and see them smile. To look into each others' eyes and know, no matter how well or poorly this is going, you wouldn't be with anyone else.

So if your Valentine's Day was a disaster, if everything fell apart and went straight to Hell, I hope you still were able to celebrate your love for each other no matter what happened. I want you to realize that just because there's no such thing as perfect, it doesn't mean that there's no such thing as "good" or "wonderful."

Because those same principles will apply to all the other days of your relationship, the days full of chores, disasters, and fires to put out. (figurative and literal). Finding joy in the everyday is what it's all about, and your lives won't be perfect either. Nothing is, and once you move past that, you find that things are still pretty awesome.

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for another great article, Charles. I hope that I get to laugh with my wife for many more years into the future.

    May you and your wife an imperfect, yet entertaining 2013.