Friday, February 19, 2010

Loving the imperfect person perfectly

I have this problem, I have these disastrously high expectations for people, expectations and standards no one has ever met, not even close, not that I should be surprised by this; but it's a big problem. I hold people in the highest regard when it comes to the choices they will make, who they are as people, how they will follow through on these decisions and when they fail, as we all do, when I realize that they are human just like everyone else I am heartbroken. I lost a lot of friends this way. I have a hard time swallowing peoples imperfections and failings and how disappointing people can be sometimes. And I generally hold these expectations highest for the people I am closest to.

As I've grown up though, I have begun to accept the fact that no one is going to be able to fulfill my expectations, this came to me when I realized that I was pushing people away hypocritically; that I too am not perfect and I will never be so (bummer), realizing its completely unfair to be shocked when people stumble and fall. When I began to stumble and fall myself over and over (there were some rough years, especially when it came to boyfriends) I started to take on a whole new outlook. Some call it negativity, I call it realism. I embraced the total opposite of my past sentiments and almost expected people to fail, therefore when they actually did I was not nearly as surprised, shocked or upset by their failings.

I began to not expect much out of people, that way I was either not surprised at all when they totally sucked or I was totally and pleasantly surprised when they ended up being more than I expected of them (which frankly wouldn't have been hard with how low of a standard I gave people sometimes). But this can lead to very little quality when it comes to the human life forms you find yourself spending time with and you end up being disappointed anyway. I've now started to embrace not expecting anything, good or bad from anyone and just seeing where it all goes.

So one can imagine I was surprised when I read this in Committed in reference to the marital outlook of the Hmong women, "A Bride whose expectations for happiness are kept necessarily low to begin with is more protected, perhaps, from the risk of devastating disappointments down the road."

IS this the answer? Have I just been embracing the attitudes of the Hmong all this time and not even knowing it?!

Of all the people we would like to think are wonderful, beautiful, perfect people, we would like to hope that the one we choose to spend our lives with, share our most intimate of selves with would be somewhat close to perfect right? I mean its one thing to hold relatively low expectations when it comes to an acquaintance but our life partners?! Really?

So whats healthy and what isnt? We don't want to have such low expectations for the person we love, that might be insulting (to both us and them!) and with low expectations might come repeated failings that may not necessarily be healthy to continually overlook. But we also shouldn't expect perfection because that will surely lead to unbelievable disappointments when we realize we merely married a human being, a perfectly imperfect person.

So do the Hmong have it right? Should we set our expectations for our lives with someone low, so as not to be disappointed in the end? Or should we want more than that for ourselves, potentially setting ourselves up for failure? I know we like to think we deserve so much more than imperfections, we've been told our whole lives to hold the bar high, very high because we are princesses, but is this the right attitude?

Photo by CKSum via flickr


  1. What I think it comes down to having things that are non-negotiable. My friends/lovers must have. Think about what's the most important and what's not okay. What bothers you the most. Having expectations will make sure that you are happy in your relationship but you can't expect a perfect prince charming. No one wants to be held to that set of requirements.

  2. Hi Cinnamon,
    What an insightful post. (Loved the part about unwittingly holding the Hmong philosophy. :) While I'm no expert on relationships, and no one person has all the answers, I can tell you what's worked for us. Like you, I began marriage thinking my partner was perfect. Like any couple, we each eventually learned the flaws and imperfections of the other. Despite all the annoying habits and harsh realities our love and core values remained. I believe this is because we both were committed to the marriage and our vision of what that should be, i.e., unconditional love and an unwritten rule to overlook the negative and focus on the best parts of each other. At the same time, it was important for us to avoid false and caustic pride. When we were newlyweds (27 years ago!) we found a quote that said, "Forgive to the extent that you love." That has pretty much been our mantra over the decades. In this chaotic world a lifelong partner is a comfort, pleasure and blessing~~and worth the work. It is my wish for you to find a good soul that you love deeply and who loves you as much as you love him/her. One who shares the same core values and who honors the mutual commitment of growing old together. (Like that quote..."Grow old with me...the best is yet to be.") And then love them...and forgive their imperfections when needs be...and ask them to forgive yours.

    Sounds so simple...


    P.S. I assume this is obvious but, for the record, the imperfections I'm speaking of do not include violence or degradation of any type or degree. Mutual respect is a must.

  3. P.P.S. Thought I'd clarify one more thing! I realize you're not married, however, I didn't edit my comment and just now noticed that it sounds as if I thought you were! :)

  4. I love your insight, it was obvious to me that it comes out of love and experience. I truly appreciate that. Thank you very much.

  5. I've struggled with this and lost some friends this way too. Definitely keep high expectations for your significant other. But choose the things that are most important to you and forgive the other things. I think you'll find that if he meets your most basic needs, like being able to make you laugh for example, you'll be able to forgive other things he may lack.

  6. There are definite deal breakers for me, namely trust, and the rest of it has a bit of wiggle worm!