Paul and I passed the six-month point this month. Romantic soul that he is, he wrote me a note and made me a beautiful present that I’ll show you soon (it’s for the kitchen!). Pragmatic soul that I am, when he knocked on the door for a surprise visit, I was cooking in my underwear and thought it was the Mormons paying me a visit. Apparently I lack his sense of romance, or maybe I’ve had so many boyfriends who break up with me at six months that I’m kinda spooked by it. I didn’t do anything romantic for him, but I did invite him to join me for dinner and it was suprisingly good: spaghetti in a sauce made of butternut squash soup and sautéed onions, topped with chopped soysage and fresh basil. Tasty!
Paul and I are living in such a sweet spot right now. We’ve been together long enough that we’re comfortable with each other, but it’s still very new and happy and full of promise. A few weeks ago, we had an amusing conversation with our friends Amber and Jeremy in which we aired some secrets. We talked about annoying habits (mine), unconventional bodies (his), and the topic of today’s post, my inability to create a façade of perfection.
I’ve been a perfectionist ever since I was a child, when, after reading about an anorexic’s quest for perfection, I decided that I too should be perfect at everything I do. It was a terrible decision. I never went down the eating disorder path (and I’m eternally grateful that I did not), but perfectionism seemed like the right thing to do. I grew up in a family culture where failure was not acceptable, where mistakes and missteps were blown way out of proportion. Perfectionism was the solution to these fears, and it followed me into adulthood, long after I moved out of my parents’ house.
And I know it’s not just me who feels like she needs to be perfect. It’s a very common belief among women that our role in life is to be perfect while we do all the things. I suppose in a way I’m just a terrible cliché in that regard, but I think each story is unique and beautiful for its own sake. We should tell our stories! You never know whose life you might touch.
Paul and I started dating in February of this year. By the time we had our third date, I’d been handed the news that I was going to lose my job (fucking NIH!), and I had no idea what was going to happen next. But it was clear to me that Paul, so funny and sweet and wonderful, wanted to stick around. And I wanted to get to know him and enjoy our budding romance.
Before we went out for that third date, I cried as I told him the news. He handed me a hankie and listened. Then we put that behind us for the evening and went out for drinks and dinner. My job loss put me in a mild depression for the next two months or so. Looking back, I think the humiliation of losing a job—and knowing that it wasn’t the sort of thing I could hide from someone I’m dating—created the space for me to let down my guard. I was already so fragile, so vulnerable from the job stress and disappointment that I just didn’t have the willpower to fake perfection. My imperfect nature was staring back at me every day for the last months of my first postdoc position. Rather than trying to compensate in other areas of my life, I let it all hang out. This meant that Paul saw my strengths and talents, but he also saw my flaws because I didn’t try to hide them. He saw that my apartment is not perfectly neat and clean all the time. He saw that sometimes I’m so tired that I wear pajamas on our date night at home. He saw my anger and frustration over academic science and its labor issues. Sometimes I yelled; other times I was irrational. Paul let me have my moments, but he also called me out when I was being unfair. Our relationship gave me a safe haven during my transition. I will always be grateful he chose to stay during that time.
And together we learned that we are a great team. Paul is happy to do the grocery shopping for our date night, and if I ask him nicely, he’ll help me clean up after dinner. I tend to be the brains behind our menu, but he’s pretty happy to eat anything I cook (Paul is easy that way). Our dinner arrangements sound like such a small thing, but since we cook at home every week, our teamwork has its own routine. I think dinner is a mighty fine thing on which to build a relationship.
Perfectionism is such a heavy weight to carry. I can distinctly remember the feeling I had after our first date: it was lightness. I felt a lightness in my heart that I had not felt in a long time. I know Paul so much better now than I did after that first date six months ago, but that feeling of lightness has remained. Truly, his companionship is everyday joy to me. I feel incredibly lucky that we found each other.
I hope he sticks around.