About 10 years ago, I almost married Mary Poppins.
She wasn’t an English nanny, but if Mary Poppins had a 21st century American counterpart, this would have been her.
She was brilliant and beautiful. She was full of confidence, but she was charming and diplomatic when she needed to be. She was funny, creative and intellectually curious. And maybe more than anything, she was remarkably competent.
She was the sort of person who you could send to fix any disastrous scene of chaos and failure, because she would organize everything, give orders to those who would take them, charm those who wouldn’t take orders — and bring success where disaster had loomed.
She didn’t care what anybody else thought. She was determined to do only what her conscience told her was right. And she fiercely and protectively loved children.
In almost every respect, she was my ideal woman. And she was crazy about me, too.
She loved the Mary Poppins story and she enjoyed being compared to this magical nanny. At one point, I even gave her a replica of Mary’s parrot-head umbrella.
I’m thinking about Mary Poppins — well, my Mary Poppins — because I’ve been watching “Mary Poppins Returns,” the recent sequel starring Emily Blunt in the role made famous by Julie Andrews. (I liked some things about the movie and didn’t care for others, but I don’t want to get into that.) Watching the movie put me in the mindset of enjoying this character again, so my thoughts inevitably returned to the American Mary Poppins from my past.
Why didn’t I marry someone who was “practically perfect in every way”?
I’ve talked about this before, sometimes pretty directly and sometimes in roundabout ways. But what I’m thinking about tonight isn’t really about the woman I almost married. I’m not kicking myself for not marrying her. I’m not reliving the past and wondering what might have been different. She’s married to someone else and we have gone in entirely different directions. I don’t even know her anymore.
So when I say this isn’t about her, I mean it. This is about what we expect from those people who we choose to be our partners. If this woman met so many of my preferences, why did I back out of marrying her?
We make two seemingly opposite mistakes in relationships, but I don’t really think they’re opposites. I think they’re just flip sides of the same thing. Fear.
One of the mistakes we make is accepting faults that we have no business accepting in a partner. I see this one all the time. People remain with partners who are completely wrong for them — people who have serious flaws that make it impossible for them to be happy together — all because they’re afraid this is the best they’re going to find.
The other mistake we make is asking for perfection. We can become smitten with someone and think this is a perfect match, only to give up or run away when we discover something in the other person which isn’t perfect. We do this because we’re scared that this flaw might be more serious than we fear — and we’re afraid of committing to this “almost perfect” person, because we think someone actually perfect might come along.
I think most people make the the first of these mistakes in their choices of partners, so they end up with partners who are completely wrong for them. They expect too little and they accept partnerships that are serious mismatches.
This leaves them unhappy and lonely.
I have been guilty of the second mistake — and I was guilty of it with my Mary Poppins. The specifics don’t matter now. I had some legitimate concerns, but instead of making sure the concerns were addressed, I gave up out of fear. On a conscious level, I know that nobody’s perfect. Unconsciously, I was probably looking for perfection.
This left me unhappy and alone.
When you make a serious mistake, it’s easy to swing back in the other direction, but I don’t think I’m going to do that. (The one time I came close to doing that, I dated a woman — about three years ago — for a few months simply because she wanted me, but I quickly realized how miserable it made me to date someone who was a horrible mismatch.)
I still fear I might make my old mistake again. I know what I want and need. I’m very specific about it. So what if I meet someone who meets 95 percent of those things? Is that close enough?
I’ve recently come to the end of one long road of waiting and hoping for someone who isn’t going to work out. I’ve given up on her, so I think I’m finally ready to get serious about giving someone else a chance again. I think I’m finally ready to look again without constantly comparing somebody new to the visions of perfection which I’ve carried in my heart.
If I find a Mary Poppins again — and if she loves me — I’m going to marry her, even though she will be flawed. Or she might not be like Mary. She might be more like someone else entirely. But I like to think that I’ve gotten smart enough to know which things are essential and which things I’m willing to work with (or even overlook entirely).
Mary Poppins never claimed to be perfect. The Mary Poppins who I almost married never claimed to be perfect, either. I don’t need to look for someone perfect in the future, because I’m nowhere close to perfect myself.
No matter who she is, the partner I find next will not be perfect, but if I’m lucky, she will be “practically perfect in every way” — at least when it comes to matching me. And that’s more than good enough.