I have talked about my generation before and I won’t reiterate my concerns with the ever present desire to “find oneself” and refuse to accept the position of adulthood. Instead, I want to discuss another issue that plagues not only my generation, but the entirety of western society: Choice.
I recently watched a rather amazing TED talk (I would suggest for everyone to go out and watch this, seriously) that discusses the consequences of choice, and it got me thinking about an article I read on marriage awhile back. This article just briefly argued that the issue with online dating is that it has expanded the pool of potential suitors for an individual. Once upon a time, you met a nice boy in high school and started going steady before at some point you thought to yourself, “I love him and I think we could make this work.” Now you think, “I love him, but I’m only 17 and I will meet plenty more boys in college and then again once I’m out in the ‘real’ world, and even then if I haven’t found someone I can definitely find someone online.” The option of having options has expanded our potential to find the perfect [insert whatever you’re looking for here], which brings me to my next point:
Our dissatisfaction is due to having too many options.
This is the theme of the aforementioned TED talk, so if you want to skip my narrative and pop on over there instead, feel free. The point I’m trying to convey is that we, living in the modern world, have so many options and, as a result, have shifted our perspective from expecting something good to expecting something perfect. You have a million alternatives, so one of them must be perfect, right?
This, I think, is why so many marriages are failing around us, and why so many of my peers are resistant to even enter into a marriage. Because instead of comparing our spouse/SO to what we would like to see in a spouse, we compare our spouse/SO to the collective potential of a million other suitors. Why should you put up with a wife who, despite being pretty and intelligent and ridiculously cool, is horrible at cooking and not very creative when it’s pretty much a guarantee that that someone out there exists with all of those traits. Your husband doesn’t emotionally support you (enough)? I’m sure there are tons of guys out there that would.
“The way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to.”
As discussed in the article, the idea that there’s always something better out there is crippling our ability to be happy with what we have. We are constantly second guessing our decisions, comparing what we have to what could have been. And this is happening in every area of our lives. You bought a new car? It’s great, except that for some reason the light behind the clock goes out every once in awhile. If only you had chosen the other one instead.
Which brings me to the second issue of having too many choices–the only person you can blame is you. If only you had bought a different stereo system. If only you had gone on that date with that other guy. If only you…
We are depressed, guys. We are so afraid to make the wrong decision that we don’t make any. We graduate college and just stall out, treading water under the guise of trying to “find ourselves” because we are afraid to enter a field we don’t like, or to take a job we might hate, or to grow up too fast and waste away behind a desk. We are scared to have kids because we are afraid to lose the selves that we find, to lose our autonomy. And as a result, we are perpetually feeling disappointed in ourselves and in our lives. We are disappointed because all we know how to do is to expect perfection.
But imperfection is a beautiful thing. In every area of our lives it is our imperfection that makes our experiences our own. Your life is only different from everyone else’s because of the numerous little imperfections that affect you every day. Why would you want to expect anything different? A pleasant surprise is born out of low expectations, as is happiness. We can only be happy with ourselves and our lives if we expect nothing from them–if we let them unfold in their own beautiful and magical way.
And when it comes to marriage: people ask (every once in awhile) for relationship advice, and I have a few gems I like to offer up, all of which focus on the idea of expecting and loving imperfection.
First, occasionally think of your partner as a child. Now this is not to say that you should treat them as a child by any stretch of the imagination, but rather that you should remember the patience you have with children when they are doing things in a way that isn’t maybe how you would do things. When a child does something wrong, you simply think, “Oh, it’s okay, they just haven’t learned how to do that yet.” Well, I am here to speak from personal experience as a child of a lovely and beautiful helicopter mom that it is 100% possible that your partner has managed to make it to adulthood without knowing how to do things that you might consider pretty basic. In fact, and I’m speaking directly to my peers here, but you might as well expect that this will be the case. But as you would see a child learning a new task as adorable and an opportunity for growth, so should you see your SigO.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” -Nick Carraway’s Dad (The Great Gatsby)
Second, keep in mind that irritating things are also the most endearing. Unless you and your spouse intend to die holding hands in bed side-by-side, there’s a good chance that at least one of you will kick it before the other one. This is not a happy thing to think about, and it grows more and more devastating the more you dwell on it (so I would suggest avoiding that like the plague). But as it is unknown which one of you will go first, I always like to assume it will be Daniel. And I keep this in mind every single time he irritates the crap out of me. Why? Because I will miss the fact that he leaves paper towels on the counter or likes to poke me while I’m trying to fall asleep in the car. In fact, missing these things will probably bring me to tears one day as I laugh about it with my children at home the night after his funeral. These annoying things, all of his flaws, I will miss these as much as his charms, if not more. That kind of perspective makes it easy to deal with the things that can strain a marriage. Not just expecting, but appreciating imperfections.
Lastly, remember that marriage is between two very imperfect people. When you were a child, you discovered that you had flaws. Odds are, this was such a devastating realization that you tucked all these flaws away, choosing instead to highlight your good side to the outside world. You built an ego to protect yourself. And you probably went almost your whole life and even most of your dating life hiding inside of this, leaving all of the ugly on the inside where no one could see it. Then you decided to get married, and not only did those imperfections come to light–they’ve been hit with a damn spotlight. It’s like living under a magnifying glass for the first time in your life. Things you didn’t know you were bad at all of a sudden become very sensitive topics, like wounds you didn’t even know you had. And having a spouse to see these little uglies just adds insult to injury.
But that’s the point of marriage.
Only within a marriage (or super serious committed relationship) do you have this safe bubble where you can be flawed. Where you can acutely see your own flaws and work on them in a safe, protected place. Marriage is supposed to be a haven where you can help mold each other into better people who can offer more to this world than they could alone, often by bringing each others flaws to light. Not on purpose–you should never be cruel or insult your partner–but just by being there and being vulnerable.
Unfortunately, we expect perfection. We think we should be perfect, and we continue to hide these insecurities from each other. We criticize each other in order to protect our own egos. We try to cover ourselves up, unexposed to one another. And when that cover comes off? Everyone is disappointed. You can only pretend to be perfect for so long before you end up letting someone down. And you can only expect perfection from someone else for so long before you realize that they aren’t who you thought they were. And then it’s really easy to think, “Oh, well there’s definitely someone perfect out there.”
There’s not. Nope. And all the choices in the world won’t ever make it happen. And it’s true, you have no one to blame for your disappointment but yourself. Having more choices leads us to higher, unrealistic expectations, and those will always yield depressing results.
I’m not saying settle. Just stop expecting life to be perfect. Enjoy the imperfectness that makes your experience your own. Don’t let so many choices paralyze you–just decide and don’t look back. You will only be disappointed if you compare what is to what “might have been.”