Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Square pegs and round holes (Or: My new, random theory about dating)

I am a perfectionist. As a proofreader, I'm paid to scour copy all day long for errors, then circle them with harsh red ink. I kind of love my job.

But most perfectionists are hardest on themselves, and I'm no exception. I try and try and try to get things right. I try not to make mistakes. After all, I know that I'm right there waiting, poised to circle my own flaws with the harshest red ink there is.

I've enjoyed a lot of success because of my perfectionism. I've gotten good grades, earned scholarships, won awards, gotten raises at work. Where there is a box to check off or a gold star to earn, I can be found eagerly scurrying to achieve.

I've been much less successful with intangible achievements — namely, with relationships. They really, really frustrate me. Every time a relationship ends, I get that awful feeling, the one that perfectionists fear most: the sucker punch of failure.

Today I realized that my gut-wrenching fear of failure is what causes me to stick with relationships that I know, deep down, have gone long past their expiration dates. I've had several relationships, short and long, during which I remember having strong reservations throughout, yet I stayed in them. I've tried to change my expectations, tried to change myself and tried to change the other person all in the name of making it work, only to be frustrated and miserable the entire time.

Why do I do this to myself? Because I don't want to admit that the relationship is a failure — that I'm a failure.

If you'll indulge the extended metaphor, I've been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole purely for the sake of achievement. Logically, I know the incongruous peg will never fit, but I've falsely believed that I can make anything work if only I try hard enough.

If things don't work out in a relationship, my go-to thought process is: What's wrong with me? What's wrong with him? How can one or the other or both of us change to make things right?

But it's time for me to realize that there is nothing wrong with the hole. By its nature, it is round. And likewise, the peg's square shape is no fault of its own.

The fact that the square peg and the round hole will never fit together can't be changed unless one of them radically alters itself, thereby sacrificing its original shape. It might work for a year or twenty, but the mutilated peg will eventually suffer an identity crisis, cite irreconcilable differences and engage in a bitter custody battle with the hole.

Maybe I'm reaching here, but you know what I mean.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm usually the square peg. I tend to be less adventurous, more cautious and have higher expectations for the relationship than the other person. Many have tried to get me to relax, stop worrying so much, soften my edges. But I'll never be round. At best, I'll someday be squoval.

I've made the mistake of trying to change others, too, on top of plenty of other mistakes too numerous to list here. My goal now will be to recognize that things just won't work with certain people, and no amount of hoping or trying will make it right.

Furthermore, I've got a bit of work to do on myself. Even if I were to find an awesome square hole right now, I'm certain we wouldn't fit. Past hurts have left me with rough edges, a few pieces chipped away here and there, some scars that are still fresh enough to be raised from the surface. My shape is imperfect.

But I have hope that I will mend. Time will smooth my scars. Compassion will fill in my missing pieces. Trust will rebuild my chipped edges. And being OK with myself, giving myself permission to fail, will help me relax those sharp corners.

Someday, maybe, I'll find my perfect fit.

P.S. This may or may not replace my previous theory about Legos.
P.P.S. I played with a lot of children's toys when I was a nanny. Can you tell?
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