All my life, I’ve been in search of the ideal. Perfect people. Flawless performances. And a perfect romantic partner.
I wouldn’t have admitted this for a long time, mostly because I didn’t realize it. I told myself I had high standards — for myself and others — but I didn’t understand for years how much I was communicating my disapproval to others. I didn’t realize that I was silently telling others, “You’re not good enough for me.”
I had a long conversation late Saturday night with a woman who I used to spend a lot of time with. We were friends, but we never had a romantic relationship. When something came up about the fact we had never dated, she told me something surprising.
“I didn’t think I would ever be what you wanted in a woman,” she said. “You told me all the things you were looking for — and I didn’t think I’d ever be good enough for your standards.”
Was she right? Have I been focused on an unattainable ideal? Someone who doesn’t exist? Am I alone because I wouldn’t accept “almost perfect” when I had the chance?
She told me things I had told her I wanted — things she didn’t think she could ever meet. Some of them were physical standards. She was afraid she wasn’t tall enough for me since she’s “only” 5-foot-9. She knew that my ideal woman would have blue eyes and she has hazel eyes. She didn’t think I would find her attractive enough.
And there were other things.
“You just always seemed to want someone who would be so completely put together and perfect,” she said, “and I didn’t think you would ever see me as good enough.”
Earlier Saturday, another female friend — someone I’ve known for only about five or six years — was sharing some details about her past that I never knew. She shared about sexual abuse that happened when she was a child. She talked about different sorts of abuse she had suffered as a teen. And she talked about being homeless for awhile in her early 20s before I knew her.
If you met her today, you wouldn’t suspect any of that. She’s a professional with a graduate degree who lives in a nice home. She’s stunningly beautiful. She’s very intelligent and she’s charming when she wants to be. She appears to have everything together.
But she has dark feelings and dark fears. She admitted today that she has horrible thoughts about herself. She feels defective and broken. She has trouble keeping close friendships. She implied that she feels so isolated that she’s thought about suicide, even though she wouldn’t directly admit that.
Listening to her affected me deeply.
This is a young woman who would be a very attractive romantic partner for most men. She could have almost anybody she wanted. She wouldn’t be a good match for me, simply because our values are too different. But for men with values that align better with the culture around us, she would be an amazing catch.
All of that is true. Everything seems perfect on the outside. But would her hidden dark side make her “not good enough” or at least too complicated for most men? Probably. Would I have pushed away someone who had such issues at one time. Definitely. (Of course, the irony is that I was in denial about my own hidden dark side at the time.)
After what she shared today, I found myself thinking — not for the first time — that we have insane judgment about who to choose and who to reject. And I found myself thinking that anybody who wants the great things that come with this woman — which is most of her — needs to be willing to accept and deal with the hidden dark side, too.
I rejected a woman about 12 years ago because I saw evidence that she had emotional issues that scared me. (I’ve talked about this multiple times, most recently last week.) I like to think I’m wiser than that now, but I know I’ve walked away from “not perfect enough” more than once.
I hope I’ve learned that lesson.
The friend with whom I talked Saturday night did have values that aligned with mine. She would have been a really good match for me back then. But she wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. She wasn’t perfect. And so I let her know — in a way that probably wasn’t subtle — that she wasn’t “good enough” for me.
I’m not arguing for throwing standards out the window. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t insist on a partner who meets our important standards, especially when it comes to shared values and shared expectations about what a family should be.
I’m just saying that the things we often treat as being of paramount importance — looks, money, social acceptance — are relatively unimportant compared to the things that do matter. Shared values, emotional connection, real intimacy and more.
If the people around you think you have a great match — because you’re both successful and attractive and socially acceptable — but you don’t have the connections that matter, you’re going to be miserable. In fact, if you’re paired with someone like that, being with that person will be worse than being alone.
But if you have love and connection and understanding — and shared values and true intimacy — when nobody’s around, the other things ultimately don’t matter.
If you’re blind enough and short-sighted enough to expect everything from someone, you might reject the right partner for the wrong reasons.
And you might just end up alone and unhappy while you wait for perfection. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s a terrible mistake to make.