Have you ever been in a pet store? You see all the little hamsters and lizards in their glass cases, all stacked up so they're together, but separated from one another.
Have you ever felt like one of them?
Buying into the idea of "perfection" puts each one of us into those little glass boxes. We can see each other, but we put up walls that keep us apart. This can happen in all sorts of ways.
We look at the people around us and think, "Oh, they're so perfect. They must think I'm so awful." So we never climb out of our own glass box to extend a hand of friendship, just assuming that the other person would have no use for us. When I first started writing this blog, my dear cousin Tiffany sent me this email (which I use with her permission):
"In my ward [that's what LDS people call our congregation], there is a beautiful, petite woman with an incredible body that decorates and dresses well and eats healthy food... I automatically assume that there is no way these seemingly perfect women would want to befriend a chubby, out-of-control with clutter, working mom that is constantly-exhausted and needing-babysitters, kind of girl."
Now, this is exactly how I would describe myself, so I was really surprised to find out that Tiff put me in the "perfect women" category. But that's the truth of it -- we all see our own faults like we're looking through a magnifying glass, but we see others through a lens that only makes us suffer in comparison.
But Tiff has a very good head on her shoulders, and her next statement really struck home for me:
"Sometimes, I pretend that perfect ladies like this are incontinent or have thirteen toes or something. I always need a reminder that no one is the best of the best all the time. I imagine it's so hard for _____ if she knows how envied she is and thought she had to keep up to such insurmountable standards."
When we look at someone else's lifestyle or body or well-behaved children or job or whatever, we put them in a glass box as well, so that neither one of us can reach the other. We feel like we can never measure up to a standard that we've usually imagined up ourselves, and they feel like they can never admit to any weakness without disappointing people.
When you are in that glass cage, you can't ask for help, because that would be acknowledging that we are somehow not perfectly capable. You can't build meaningful relationships with the people around you because you have to hold back what makes you human. You can't appreciate the deep, complicated beauty of the people around you because you are too busy expecting perfection from them.
A couple of months ago, at a family function, my sisters and I were chatting with some of our girl cousins and revealed some little imperfection. Nothing serious or earth-shattering -- I would never have given in another second's thought -- but one of my cousins (not the aforementioned Tiff) was literally shocked at what I said. She said, almost to herself: "I thought I was the only one..." The moment passed quickly and the conversation turned to other things, but her comment has stayed with me. How often do we think we're the only one? We think we're "the only one" who struggles, who makes mistakes, who feels bad or lonely or misunderstood. We assume others are judging us, or definitely would be judging us if we gave them the chance by revealing our imperfections.
Isolation. That is the sad by-product of the myth of perfection. Instead of accepting and loving and helping each other, we lock ourselves away and try to be content with solitary confinement. It's all part of the prison we create by believing in "perfection."
Don't let yourself be isolated by creating some imaginary standard you'll never live up to. Don't isolate others by believing their perfection will never allow them to accept you. Break down those glass walls -- you'll be amazed how well you can love and be loved, just by being the "real you."