“Perfection is for the Gods; completeness and wholeness is the most humans can hope for.” – Marion Woodman
One of the most common and pernicious beliefs among my engaged and newlywed clients is that they’re supposed to marry their perfect match. While they may be rationally aware that perfection doesn’t exist, it’s not the rational mind that is activated during the wedding transition, but the fantasy mind. This certainly isn’t true for everyone who marries. There seems to be a segment of the population who sail through transitions with ease; those just aren’t the people who find me. And I would venture to hypothesize that those people aren’t perfectionists in other realms of their life. I think it would be safe to say that at least 99.9% of my clientele over the past twelve years are perfectionists. And that includes me.
Let me use a different situation to elucidate the perfectionists’ mind: buying and owning a house. Since I was a little girl, I’ve longed to live in nature. I used to sit in the backyard of my childhood house in Los Angeles next to the one small tree in the corner and imagine myself into an orchard. When my parents installed a small water fountain and pond at the base of the tree, I imagined that it was really a meandering creek. I wasn’t a city girl and I knew that one day I would live closer to nature.
When our first son was born, the longing catapulted into overdrive; Los Angeles became unbearable to me and we began our search for the city where we would raise our kids. We spent the next two years traveling the country and visited many lovely small cities. Although certainly not perfect, when we landed in Boulder we knew it was the place for us. We moved to Denver just after Everest’s second birthday and spent the next two years searching for our dream home.
We had probably seen two hundred houses before we found this one. I knew from the online photos that it was our house and the moment we stepped out of the car I turned to my husband and said, “This is it.” Hundreds of birds greeted our arrival. Trees abounded. And at the back of the property, separating our home from thousands of acres of open space, was a beautiful creek. We beelined straight for the creek and sat down; I closed my eyes and knew I was home. My heart soared to see Everest playing near the water, searching for sticks and throwing rocks into the creek. In that moment, I saw for him the connection to nature that I longed for as a child.
The house and land have, indeed, fulfilled most of my expectations. I’m truly in love with this place and there are still many, many moments when I have to pinch myself that we’re so blessed to live here. But there was one teensy tinsy detail I wasn’t fully aware of when we bought the house: mosquitoes. It’s a real problem. There aren’t just a few out at dusk and dawn; there are swarms of them and they’re out all day long, from the end of June to the end of August. The first summer I worried about West Nile virus for Everest. The second summer I barely stepped outside because Asher was a newborn. This summer, I’ve accepted that my kids will get bit and have let go of my anxiety about it, but still… those buggers are really, really irritating and prevent us from wanting to spend much time outdoors later in the day. So here we are, in the season of playing outside and enjoying the warm weather, and I feel trapped.
Here’s what my perfectionist’s mind says: “We made a mistake. We should move. We need to live somewhere we can take walks under the evening stars. I don’t want to feel trapped inside for two months of the year. Summer is the time of enjoying the outdoors any time of day or night. I had a small backyard as a child but at least I could step outside whenever I wanted.” Etcetera.
My non-perfectionst mind responds: “This is the deal with living in nature close to water. Sure, you might find places that don’t have mosquitoes, but you would be sacrificing something else important to you. We’re not moving. You searched for this house your entire life and, while not perfect, it’s pretty wonderful. Can you deal with the fact that 85% of the time this house is exactly what you want? It would be the same anywhere else, just a different set of qualities that work and don’t work for you. Here’s the bottom line: There’s no such thing as a perfect city. There’s no such thing as a perfect house. There are compromises and sacrifices everywhere. Focus your mind on gratitude and the over-focus on the mosquitoes will shrink down to a manageable size.”
Sound familiar? If you’re engaged and struggling with your perfectionist mind, the mind that says that some other guy would be better for you, the one that tells you to run from your loving, responsible, honest, cute guy who shares similar values and life goals because he’s too short or isn’t masculine enough or doesn’t have enough interests and hobbies, remind yourself that perfection doesn’t exist. There will always be mosquitoes in one form or another; it’s just part of the deal with life on earth. But a lovely life with a lovely man in a lovely home… that’s entirely possible. And the more your shift your attention to the places of appreciation, the smaller those mosquitos will become.
Here’s what I noticed about my mosquito mind today: The thoughts about the mosquitoes are much bigger than the reality. (This s often what my clients tell me about their fear-based thoughts regarding their partner: that the fear is much bigger when they’re away from their partner and shrinks to almost nothing in his presence.) In other words, we spent most of the afternoon outside and, while we did have to contend with some mosquitoes, the beauty of our yard far outweighed the annoyance of those little buggers. Sometimes, in the middle of winter, I’ll be stunned by the gorgeous scene that surrounds me, and the thought will arrive: “Oh, yes, it would be heaven except for those mosquitoes in the summer.” If I allow the negative thought to take hold, the infusion of beauty instantly transforms into anxiety. But if I brush it away like I brush away the actual mosquitoes, the gratitude builds and I’m flooded with a positive state of mind.
Yesterday, as Asher napped and Everest and I had “Mommy private time”, we went into the garden and picked peas. Then we sat on our lawn chair together, ate each delicious, homegrown pea, listened to the rush of the creek, and watched the billowy white clouds cross the enormous Colorado sky. Yes, the occasional mosquito attempted to partake of its meal as well, but we just swatted them away and continued enjoying our moment. It’s mosquito-mind more than the actual mosquitoes that interfere with serenity, I thought. When I look with the right mind, all I need is right in front of me.
If you’re an anxious bride with a good man, if your relationship works most of the time except when you find yourself overwhelmed by the negative subtext that runs through your mind, take heart: when you learn to work with your fear-based thoughts, you’ll eventually be able to swat them away as easily as we swat the mosquitoes.