By Holly Herring
I woke up this morning with the sudden realization, once again, that I am my own worst enemy.
I’m the hard-headed type so I might have to wake up with this sudden awareness thousands of times before I finally get it, and that’s okay.
This morning in particular I woke up looking directly at my sleeping husband in bed. I smiled and thought to myself, “I love this human.” I do I love him, but I struggle with being in any relationship at all. I was pondering the idea of how I can love somebody so much and also really long to be all alone.
Then it hit me. I always look for the easiest way to reach 100 percent.
I wouldn’t go nearly so far as to say that I’m a perfectionist, but I do strive for perfection. I have been this way my entire life. I like to be the best at my job. I want perfect scores on my tests and perfect grades. I want to live in a house that is perfectly organized with everything in its place. And, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually accomplished any of that.
I went to the doctor once and, as usual, the first part of the exam was to put that little pulse oximeter on my index finger. That’s the electronic device that measures how oxygenated the blood is in a body. Well, it was 98 percent.
I frowned and I looked up at the nurse, “Just 98 percent?” The nurse looked at the display and explained that 98 percent was “perfect.” I knew that 100 was perfect and 98 was less than. When the doctor came in he said he was pleased with my vitals and I immediately had a question that just couldn’t wait. I interrupted his dialog on my health saying, “Doctor, I don’t remember any visit in my life where that little finger thing said I had 100 percent oxygenation in my blood. I have come in healthy, sick, you name it—but it’s never been 100 percent. How do I get from the 90’s to 100?”
The doctor sat on his little rolling doctor stool and scooted closer to me with the pulse oximeter in his hand. He said to me, “This is not a perfect device. It doesn’t give a perfect reading. It’s cheap and it works fast. It’s accurate enough that I can use its readings but I can tell you that anywhere from 95 and up is a perfect score for oxygen in the blood.”
Now, if you follow me back to where this began, I am in this marriage. It’s not 100 percent.
If I am honest with myself I will remember that I work professionally with people in complex social situations. So, I have had a unique window into many relationships in families and in households for a long time and I have yet to find a relationship that was 100 percent. As I was lying there in bed I thought about what it is I say to myself, and sometimes out loud, when I am really hurting in my relationship, “I want to be alone.”
I know that when I live alone and when I am not in a relationship with another person everything in my life is on my time, in the place I want it to be, and goes unchallenged. In short—it’s easy.
When I am alone I expect myself to be operating at 100 percent. I put my nose to the grindstone and I pull rabbit after rabbit out of the hat that is my life. I can absorb myself in my own pursuits and go after all my own goals. My life has a predictable order and it runs on time.
However, when another person is in my space and now it’s a shared space, well, the train that is my life often leaves the station a bit late and the trip doesn’t go quite as planned. I’m not comfortable with the kind of disruption another person brings just by simply occupying my living environment and having opinions and desires. That takes life from being easy to being challenging. I have to work a lot harder when things are challenging and I even have to adjust how I usually do things to accommodate another person in my life.
In short, I am not going to reach 100 percent, just like nobody else is.
I think about how I have viewed the division of labor in my house. I believe that if the goal is 100 percent then each person contributes 50 percent and it’s an easy win straight to 100. There’s that word again—easy. So if he does half the housework and I do the other half everything should be fine. The same goes for income contributions, 50/50.
But, it never goes like that. I felt like I was unfairly burdened with more than my 50 percent in areas and I was dissatisfied because, in my eyes, we weren’t hitting the 100 percent. Oh no! My life wasn’t a perfect 100. But recently I got really ill and had to take time off work and I wasn’t able to do as much around the house. My husband stepped up to the plate and he didn’t complain (not out loud anyway).
I mean, things weren’t 100 percent, but we made it through okay. Like the oxygenation of my blood on that little electronic device everything was well within acceptable levels, it just wasn’t a solid 100 percent.
I know where I got this idea that I need to be at 100 percent all the time. As a woman and a feminist I know that I have to work as hard as I can to stand out and get a raise or a promotion before a man will. As a white person in a nation that is infested with white supremacy culture I am aware that I have strong ideas about perfectionism and I have been raised with this all around me, practiced by my family and my white community.
As the unloved daughter of an abusive mother, I knew perfectionism was the only way I could get any kind of positive attention. I have strived hard since I exited the womb to operate at 100 percent because my survival depended on it.
I decided this morning that setting the expectation that living in a life shared with others will be 100 percent is causing my own suffering as well as the suffering of others. My actions have a ripple effect and my constant fretting over imperfection all around me isn’t doing anyone any good. I am setting a new expectation for myself and that is to not expect to hit 100 percent at work, at home, or in my personal relationships. I’ll just do my best and give myself and others grace.
That goes for my blood oxygenation too.
Holly has bonded her spirituality to her activism. She began her relationship with Buddhism through Fo Guang Shan, an international Chinese Mahāyāna Buddhist organization and monastic order based in Taiwan that practices Humanistic Buddhism. However, she finds herself more aligned with Stephen Batchelor’s more secular Buddhism currently. Holly works in homeless services and is very passionate about promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all people as well as eliminating stigma about homelessness and behavioral health.
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