Friday, May 15, 2009

Dispelling the Perfection Myth

Someone recently told me over the phone that they wished they had a perfect life like mine.

I about choked and aspirated on the glug of water I was taking at the time. I didn't know whether to be horrified or to double over in laughter. Wait, was that a joke? No joke.

She said that on my blog everything always seems so happy and perfect. Smiling people.

I told her that I tried to only focus on the positive on my blog, you know, not make it a dumping ground for all the garbage that I deal with. People don't really want to see pictures of crying and stewing and slamming doors and loneliness and anger and frustration, and praying people shouting, "Why me, Lord?" Do they?

And then I realized with no small degree of embarrassment, that I do.

Does that make me sick? No, it makes me not want to be all alone. It means that I read blogs to fulfill all kinds of needs. I want to laugh; I want to be inspired. I want to learn things, and nod my head knowingly with a "I gotcha, sister!" But a big part of me also wants camaraderie in the trials I'm facing too. I don't want to be the only one burning in the fires of life. But I realize that I've been more of a taker than a giver as far as my blog goes, as is apparent when someone tells me that they want a 'perfect' life like mine.

I do try to focus on the positive. Very true. Not just on my blog, but in life. Those positives include my children, for sure. I am proud of my mothering. In my darkest days, I can at least thank God that (so far!) I have really outstanding children who love and honor me as their mother. Positives would also include my opportunity to go back to school, which I am so grateful for, despite how it tests every fiber of my determination and will at times. My positives would include my unfailing, abiding testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the personal relationship I have with my Savior. My positives would include books I've read, food storage I'm accumulating, health I'm building, and of course, the absolute best friends in the world.

My positives do not include my marriage. This is sad to me. Heartrending, even. A mystery sometimes. And often a black secret that I hate to keep.

But I don't keep it in the name of pretense. I'm not in denial, and I'm not trying to be anything I'm not. I keep it because I hope it will change, and I work very, very hard in that vein. I keep it because I know members of my husband's family lurk in the background of my blog, and I never want to dishonor them, or make them ashamed of me. I don't want to let them down.

Having said that, I am sure that I am not the only one with a failing marriage. I have stumbled across a few blogs whose authors have written with such poignant honesty about their lack of marital bliss. Those posts have resonated with me to depths I am sometimes afraid to admit. I appreciate that kind of honesty, and I have felt such gratitude for the risks they took in sharing such personal information. It gives me perspective, makes me feel like we're in this together, gives me hope even. I would like to be brave enough to be that kind of honest, without being offensive or hurting sensitive feelings. I would like to do for someone else what has been done for me when I have read and felt, "Oh my goodness sake. That's exactly what it's like for me too."

I guess the truth is that I am failing at unconditional love in marriage. The truth is that this marriage has been excruciatingly difficult from Day 1. We've had every possible obstacle to overcome, and yes, we're still here, but neither one of us is standing. He's over there, I'm over here, and we both have our arms folded across our chests with our backs to each other. Wondering is now the right time to throw in the towel? Have we done enough? Aren't we both bloodied and bruised to the point that the final match bell should be ringing any minute now? We know about forgiveness. We know about service. We're learning tolerance. But I have to think that not everyone has their marriage on their mind every blinking minute of every single day. Don't some people just get to be married and enjoy it, and not always have to fight to stay married? Yes, I know it's work. I'm willing to work. But work is supposed to pay dividends, and we're both over here with depleted bank accounts.

There are small bits of happiness. I always try to mention those on my blog. The great new blender he bought me. The beautiful flowers on Mother's Day. He tries in his sphere, I try in mine, but mostly the fact is that we're just in different spheres.

The bishop told me, "Just try to focus on your children and your own spirituality." And I replied, "But, Bishop, something tells me that learning to love my husband is my own spirituality." How can I separate the two? But then again, we learn from failure too.

Sometimes I feel like a happiness hog. I have happiness and success in so many other areas, but I really want to feel safe and cherished by my husband. I want a happy (though imperfect) marriage. And then I feel like I just want it all, and c'mon, Nobody has it all, Jenna. But I'm such a believer in marriage, despite my bad experiences. I want to be married. I can't give up hope in happy marriages, even if I don't get to have one myself.

This isn't supposed to be a depressing post. And this isn't supposed to be an anti-husband post. My husband is a good man. There are many things I love about him. There are many qualities he has that I just don't and wish I did. He can have the kindest, most tender love ooze from his eyes that just melts me. He has the sweetest touch. He has a sensitive heart. He tells a great story. He is a visionary when it comes to his writing and his artistic ventures. He's a dreamer. He loves God. He's happy when I'm happy. But we all have our 'stuff' in life, and sometimes missing puzzle pieces can show up, but end up being from two different puzzles. And that's where we are. Still trying to make them fit. And edges are getting all bent up.

So, let there be no mistake. Mine is not a perfect life. I'm really trying to do the spiritual work necessary to figure it all out. To find the reason in my trials, to learn the lessons. I know of a handful of really, extraordinarily enviable marriages, and sometimes I do catch myself in envy. But I have other blessings, and other things to learn that require the opposition I face. In the end, I have a feeling, it will all make a lot more sense than it does right now.

I'm banking on it. And I'm hoping that I'm okay, even though I'm far from perfect.


Annette Lyon said...

Whoever said that hasn't read your blog long enough--I almost laugh out loud too, because I know full well that you've had trials and heartache and make a point of looking for the positive moments in life.

I truly hope things get better in the marriage department.

Anonymous said...

Marriage problems are tough to discuss, especially in such a public forum. What can you say, without causing even more pain?

Sometimes I fear I blew my shot at marital happiness fifteen-plus years ago. My marriage isn't bad, but it's not good. And I have to wonder if it ever really will be good, despite all the work I put into it.

Yet would it be selfish for me to leave and try to find another marriage that would be good? What about the kids? Should I just tough it out? I don't know.

Thanks for letting us into this corner of your life.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Perhaps I'm just extraordinarily perceptive or something - but I've seen glimpses of this in your writing here. Just glimpses, but no, of course everything isn't perfect.

My own marriage has had its moments of heartache. Much love, much laughter, much joy, but those puzzle pieces you speak of. Oh how I understand that. And there is nothing so hard as being hurt by the person you expect to be able to trust not to. The key seems to be to want to see that completely puzzle more than to live a painfree life. Because trying to put it together hurts abominably at times.

We're still missing pieces here, I can't pretend we're not, but trust is slowly blossoming again, and it's all the more beautiful for having been absent. I hope it can be the same for you. ~hugs~

Anonymous said...

I read your blog often and am posting anon for this. I am entirely jealous of your fabulous (yes, almost perfect) interactions and relationships with your children. And I find this particular corner of your life inspiring. I read how you are so proud of your kids and try to be more proud of mine...but I'm not. I see their failings, their lack of appreciation for everthing that my husband and I do for them and I'm ENTIRELY jealous that you feel they "honor you as a mother." Oh, how I WISH to feel that way.

And then I read today's post.

I look forward (this is why it's anon) to the day my husband and I can enjoy every day with each other, WITHOUT our kids around! The ONLY thing we EVER disagree about is our kids. We have listened to people tell us we will miss the kids when they are gone. The kids are getting bigger and the end is in sight. We still can't wait until they leave.

We are very happily married and I am grateful for that. As you have pointed out, nobody has it all. I love the way you focus on the positive and appreciate the inspiration I get from reading your blog. I sincerely hope you gain increasing happiness from your marriage.

Megan said...

One of the things people don't understand about true love, Godly love, is that it is NONconditional. UNconditional implies that love can exist with conditions. Conditional love is not love at all. And until we get that into our heads, we have no hope for true love here at all.

Do you really think that God would only love you if xyz occur... Or are you simply his child whom he loves and cares for? The same has to go for our marriages and our families.

And it's not easy. But strengthen your testimony there and you have a good starting point.

Just know that you've got a lot of cheerleaders in your corner. We know you're not perfect! We just want you to win the game--on the same team! *hugs*

Luisa Perkins said...

Yes, learning to love our husbands is our own spirituality. That's why God gave us marriage. That and childrearing are THE most refining, purifying (and therefore most potentially painful) experiences of mortal life.

Hugging you across the miles, and always praying for you and Adam.

Heidi said...

One of the reasons I was attracted to your blog was b/c of the second marriage and the challenges it brings--I do know people who are in second marriages but they don't happen to be my close friends. Plus, my parents as well as all 7 of my siblings are happily married to their original spouse (as am I) so I am fascinated by the situations that you deal with as a step mom and second wife. After nearly 23 years, my husband and I are still crazy about each other but that doesn't mean it has been a lark or easy or even fun, at times. It's been incredibly difficult at times and there have been some really dark days. I just wonder if the fact that you have one divorce behind you (each) if it makes it easier to consider that option a second time around. Having "failed" at a marriage might make it easier to believe that you can't make one work. I don't know . . .I just think that where you are at must be so extraordinarily difficult and I admire you for whatever it is you do to keep things going.

Anonymous said...

I know this kind of thing all too well--people assuming you have a great, perfect life (or marriage) when the opposite is true.

Almost no one knows the reality of my marriage--that it's one of the darkest parts of my life, that it borders on emotional abuse, that if I knew then about him what I know now, I wouldn't have done it. But I'm sticking it out anyway. I pray that some day things turn up. I'm sure working my end of things--I hope he eventually decides to work his, because I can't imagine living the rest of my life this way.

But no WAY would I ever post this kind of thing on my blog. Since I don't, others assume everything is hunky-dory and perfect, and many have left nice comments about what a great husband I must have. (And yes, he has his moments, but...)

Sometimes I wish I had an anonymous blog where I could rant with total honestly and openness.

So I'm posting here anonymously instead. Just know we're rooting for you, Jenna. We love you.

Rachel Sue said...

I'm so glad you decided to dispel the perfection myth today. Because your paragragh about you and your husband looking at each other with your arms folded across your chests is me. I think about my marriage and wonder how much more I can take. Think about how I didn't know marriage would be such a lonely place. And wonder if it's possible to fix it.

Wonder Woman said...

When I read your opening line, I actually chuckled. And I echo Annette exactly.

I don't know how so many people misunderstand you on your blog. I've never thought your life was perfect, or that you sugar-coated anything. I've always seen that you focus on the positive, and are delicate with the hard things. Your vagueness about the difficult issues has (in my mind) always stemmed from trying to keep private things private, since yours is not a private blog.

I don't think you've been more of a taker than a giver!! I love reading your posts and feeling uplifted and inspired. Your feelings about your mother, your children, your family traditions have all made me a better person. Or at least they've made me try. Seriously. Don't think that because you don't rant about the hard stuff all the time you're a taker. PLEASE don't think that.

It seems you have touched on a real issue here. We all have tough stuff in our marriages. Mys husband and I have differing opinions on having our next child. It's a struggle.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I think it says a lot that so many of the commenters on this post are anonymous. We all want to put our best front forward on our blogs and in our lives. I admire you for being willing to share your struggles and the darker side of things.

Erin said...

I have only just started reading you, so I don't know how you "usually" write. But it does make me think about how I portray things on my own blog. I want to be real. I want to be honest. And I certainly don't try to hide negative aspects in my life. But I wonder if I portray things in a positive light, just because I keep things safely neutral.

Thank you for your honesty today. It really makes me think...

Anonymous said...

Jenna, I've been reading your blog for about a year now. I, like many of the others that have commented, enjoy reading about your relationship with your children. The joy that you write with just kept me coming back! I think it's important for you to keep writing about your positives. Sometimes when we "air our dirty laundry" and vent to others, this just makes the situation worse. I think many wives have had to focus on the positives just to make it through the hard times.

I usually do not comment, but sit back and enjoy your posts. But today, I just could not. Call it irony, coincidence or God, but last night I watched the movie Fireproof. I know we come from different religious backgrounds and I'm not familiar with what your faith dictates. However, this movie, and the book that came from it, is touching. When you wrote about standing across the room from each other, I pictured the two characters in the movie. The book, The Love Dare, not only reminds us of our love for our spouse, but also for our Savior and the love He has for us. I know you can get the book at the library as well as many bookstores.

I don't know you personally, but please know I will be praying for you and your husband. Keep focusing on the positives!

Jenna said...

Thank you for your kind and supportive comments. I completely understand the need for so many 'anonymous' comments, and while I know who some of you are, it doesn't even matter, except that you are friends.

See, the thing is, I don't want to think of it as 'airing my dirty laundry'. I want to be able to acknowledge both my strengths and my weaknesses, and be able to connect with others on both counts. I know that marriage is very, very difficult. I know that almost no one who has a stellar marriage has achieved that without sacrifice and toil. But others of us, who are still struggling, can take strength and inspiration from knowing about those sacrifices and toils, and learning from them. It helps to know one is not alone. It helps to know that what one is currently experiencing, one can overcome. I gain a tremendous amount of strength and hope when I hear of a marriage that I perceived as being "solid", that went through a very rocky period, even close to divorcing. It gives me perspective and wisdom from 'further down the road'. So, see, this post was not intended to be scandalous or offensive to anyone. I didn't intend to make anyone squirm. Rather than be the 'happily ever after' story talking about the past, I'm the one who is currently 'stuck in the mire' and telling the story from this vantage point. I have not given up, and I hope to be able to tell the story from the happier end one day too.

To the last Anonymous, I have seen Fireproof, and read the book too. I have implemented many of those Love Dares, and I have spent many an hour on my knees pleading for a change in my heart. I did all of the same in my first marriage too. The thing is, in the end BOTH people have to choose to fight, forgive, and be humble.

I wish it was safer to discuss marriage more openly. Since we all want it, and we seem to be doing a worse and worse job at doing it well, maybe a little more honesty would be helpful. Some of us rely on those tendrils of hope more than others could know, who are safely and happily enjoying married bliss.

I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have upset in any way.

* said...

My sister went through a divorce and remarriage last year. And oddly, I'm grateful for it because our extended family (myself included) has become more sensitive to others struggling with failed marriages.

On another note, my mom-in-law has been married and divorced numerous times (we lost track at 5). Strong, dynamic LDS mom of 4 kids (one of them being my husband). And at last, in her mid-fifties she found "the one" -- a humble, sweet, PhD LDS man whom we all love dearly. Amazing woman, amazing man, amazing life. I stand in awe of the many battles she's fought and lost, and then stood to fight again

Funny thing, we all have different challenges. Mine (at this point) is my children. But other friends of mine, LDS and otherwise -- it's their marriage. We all keep striving ahead, despite the odds, to make something beautiful. And hopefully we can. (sigh)

amberwatt said...


As one who has been very close to you for more then 10 years I must tell you that you are a wonderful wife. I am in awe of your forgiving nature. You are such a great example to me. I am so proud of how you never seem to give up when so many others would have. You are constantly in prayer and reading anything that can help make things better. You are always looking for a solution and not a way out....even when most would be running for the door. You don't ever pretend to have the perfect life...but you never stop trying to make it happy. You amaze me how you never blame and how you are quick to point out the positives. You are open to looking in the mirror to see what you can change. You haven't ever given up. You inspire so many. You inspire me.

I love you, Amber