Saturday, December 1, 2012

Nobody's Perfect

Did you know that yesterday was No Judgment Day? No? Kind of fitting in light of a recent post of mine, I thought.

The Foreign Service is a very small, tight-knit community, in which everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else. The effect of this smallness is made greater in the Internet age, when we're all currently interacting, regardless of our geographical locations, via blogs and Facebook. Name me a spouse, quick: chances are good I can tell you whether that person is going to be the freak show at your next post or your new best friend. If I can't tell you instantly, I can hop on the Internet and find someone else who can tell us both within minutes.

Which is why smart spouses guard their reputations pretty zealously. I usually find a small group of people whom I trust enough to complain to when things get rough, but for everyone else, it's smile-and-wave.

I don't think, however, that the smile-and-wave approach is the best for the community, even if it's the best for me, personally. Because it can lead newcomers to the impression that everyone else is handling the hard stuff with grace, and that it's only you that can't handle this whole thing. So when a family is faced with the Big Issues, like divorce, or abuse, or maybe just a really sucky bidding cycle, they instantly feel all alone because everyone else is floating through this foreign service life full of smiles and cheer. The reality is, everyone in the Foreign Service, like everyone everywhere in the big wide world, is facing some hard things. All of us put on that public face, but we all have that ugly inside stuff tangled up inside, too, leaving us with scars and bruises and broken hearts. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others.

Not long ago, on a day that was feeling particularly horrible (and if you ask my closest 2-3 friends here, you'll know that when I say horrible, I mean it), I stopped to chat with a smile-and-wave colleague. We were having a deeper-than-passing conversation, and I mentioned the fact that Bart and I were a bit, shall I say, stressed, about the current bidding cycle.

My colleague kind of turned her head sideways and gave me a quizzical smile. "You know," she said, "everyone here thinks you're the perfect couple."

I was sort of stunned.

First off, the comment didn't exactly segue properly, given the context of our conversation. Second, does anyone here even think of my husband and me at all? And third, perfect? When it was likely that just that morning we were arguing about how to properly cut the crusts off of peanut butter sandwiches, or something equally inane?

And then, as if she'd been waiting all week to say it, she launched into a whole list of everything that is perfect about me, and about my husband, and about our relationship, as viewed from an outsider's perspective.

I mean, she had a whole list. And while - I can't lie - it cheered me up immensely to hear an almost-stranger tell me everything that is specifically fabulous about wonderful me, it also left me feeling intensely uncomfortable. Part of me wanted to correct her: not true, I wanted to tell her. That's not me, and it's not my husband, and it's certainly not our relationship.

Of course I said nothing, because who doesn't want to be seen as perfect?

But I've been thinking about it ever since. I sort of feel like I did her a disservice by smiling and letting her false words stand. Because she was facing some hard issues herself at the time, and maybe it would've been better for both of us if I'd let my guard down just a little and admitted a few of my imperfections?

We all construct these elaborate models of who we want to be, of how we want to be seen. To an extent, I think it's good, even healthy, because in the process of constructing these castles, we discover what we aspire to become. We learn who it is we're trying to be. So if I'm modeling the perfect housekeeper, or the perfect writer, or the perfect mom, or the perfect employee, it might all be an elaborate lie, but it's a lie that tells me where I'm trying to get. I've picked what I'm trying to be, and I'm aiming in that general direction, knowing as I do that I'm not supposed to get there.

I guess that's why I like the idea of No Judgment Day. It reminds me not to judge myself when I fall short. It reminds me not to compare myself to the rest of the world, assuming they've achieved their ideals. I know, more or less, where I'm trying to go, but I know for a fact that I'm never going to get there. Even when I'm fooling the passersby, I'm not fooling my friends, and I'm certainly not fooling myself.

So, hey. It's 1:30 in the afternoon. I'm still in my gym clothes because I can't be bothered to take a shower. My daughters are watching their second movie of the day while I blog. I suppose I should probably clean up and get started on dinner prep, but then again, there's always take out. That's just for starters.

Nobody's perfect. And that's a good thing.


Naomi Hattaway said... [Reply]

Girlfriend, well said. I can never decide if everyone's incorrect assumptions of me should be my motivation, my goal --- or if i should let them into my secret that I am far from perfect, normal or "together"

I think in the end, I would be happiest with women being honest, vulnerable and transparent. Can you even imagine what the world would be like?

Connie said... [Reply]

It's all about perspective. It could be worse, so, view whatever you have as pretty close to perfect in that light :) Sometimes the 'smile&wave, everything will be ok' is something YOU need more than others. Although I got your point about people needing to know 'reality'. Or, should I say, you wear that fragile smile, and people seem to give one back to you, a real one, and that positive feedback (imo) helps you both. Like surprise hugs from a stranger. I got so many of those dealing with my dad's terminal illness. Made NO sense. Why should some total stranger's sympathy mean anything? But it meant the world to me. Your close friends and family can help you with the deep stuff, but the random kindness of strangers... giving and receiving...yea... that's good stuff too.

Mommy said... [Reply]

Wow...this really spoke to me. I drive my husband crazy with my comments of "everyone else seems to have it together and how come I don't" or "everyone else seems to be financially so ahead of the game", etc. I blame a lot of it on Facebook actually. People can create the kind of life and relationships they want to and they have the rest of us feeling totally inadequate LOL!

But I recently had the lid blown off it all when our "perfect couple" friends announced they were divorcing due to his infidelities and he started blabbing about the truth behind their marriage. Wow. Eye opening. I've also come to learn that those "perfect finance" folks are actually tens of thousands of $$ in credit card debt. And I even had a friend who is a "mommy blogger" admit that she only believes in posting the good stuff and leaves out the tantrums and screaming and fighting that goes on outside of the picture frame.

I personally don't believe in sugar coating. I don't air my dirty laundry for all, though, either. I am very guarded and like you only have 2-3 close friends who do get to see it all. But if someone asked me how I seem to handle it all (I'm a military spouse with a husband who is in a job that has him home no more than 8-12 weeks/year), I would be honest and tell them that I spend a good amount of time crying LOL!

I guess my take away for this is to just remember that those who seem perfect likely aren't and that I need to stop beating myself up over why they do seem to be perfect and I'm not. So over it!

carrie said... [Reply]

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love your honesty and perspective and think you got "it" right again. It is refreshing to hear others admit to "slacking", which it of course isn't. This life is hard, FS or not, for sure! Kudos to you.

The Spouse said... [Reply]

Oh! So true! The smile and wave. I sometimes feel like I'm in a parade. This is the first time I've read your blog and it really spoke to me. Do you really think the rest of the world is as guarded as we are? I'm wondering if it's because we have to pick up and go, that our relationships with friends don't take root as often. Also, I wonder if it's the diplomatic culture, remnants of the old days, when "high society" was an ingrained part of the Mission. I'm grateful that technology has brought us together in cyber space. Now if only we could come together face to face. Thanks for your honesty!

Please. Write your own stuff.