I have invisible braces that I never wear.
I got them because I am self-conscious about my crooked bottom teeth, and of my uppers, which will likely get gnarly because of two teeth I had removed in the last five years. They were removed because of cavities that turned into problems. Those problems happened because I didn’t do something about them soon enough.
I talk too much when I’m nervous. I ramble on about unimportant details and forget to include the important ones. I rehearse difficult conversations and then fuck them up when the time arrives.
I feel brave some days and very anxious on others.
I sometimes start things I don’t finish because I get worried I’ll fail at them.
I clam up when I’m frustrated.
I was married, became a mother, divorced, a businesswoman, a failed-businesswoman, and a debt-holder all before I was thirty years old. I feel frustrated about that but act like I’m not. I usually let it look like things roll off my back, when in reality I’m having a tougher time than it appears. I work hard at that when I should be working on fixing what went wrong in the first place.
I stretch myself thin and say “yes” to too much, have a distorted idea of what I am capable of.
On the surface, I appear as an animal with high energy because I’ve arranged it that way. I am social, likable, enthusiastic, even bubbly. In reality, I’m often uncomfortable but find it easier to navigate with a smile and conversation. Sometimes it shows. Sometimes, there is a stand-offishness about me because I don’t always know what to say, when to say it, and have a hard time masking when I don’t want to. I’ve heard I’ve got a pretty serious bitch vibe, when it happens.
I talk very quickly. It can get hard to understand. I have a hard time making new friends. I have hard time keeping in touch with old ones. I interrupt when I get on a roll. I shrink when someone fascinating is around. I get hurt when I feel ignored. I’m working on it.
I get excited about small things. I get very excited about medium things. I get excited about the wrong things.
I’m bad at math. I yell at my kid. I’m prone to exaggeration. I sleep in sometimes to avoid things I don’t want to do, or face. I’m bad at dating. I let the wrong people walk all over me. I apologize too much. I chew my fingernails and swear a lot. I can be impatient and distractible. I snore. I don’t cook very much and often eat separately from my kid. And I like Taco Bell even though I know. I know.
I am terrible with money. I have always been terrible with money. I’m late on paying bills, sometimes. I forget about deadlines. I procrastinate the living hell out of just about everything.
I don’t read that much anymore.
I use tidiness as a mask for my disorganized nature.
The list goes on and on. I could get into my many failures, other bad habits, or physical tics. In fact, I could spend an entire day wading through the things about me that some would consider flaws. Shit, I consider them flaws.
But as heavy as everything mentioned above sounds (including my insisting that they are, believe me, only the tip of the iceberg), I feel absolutely fine typing them out. Liberated even. And not in a cheesy, self-compassion, give-yourself-a-hug kind of way. Instead, I read them back with a blank shrug and a nod.
I am absolutely normal. I’m average as hell. It’s a good thing.
When I went through a significant break-up three years ago, I was absolutely sure it was because he didn’t know what the hell he was doing when he walked away. The blame I initially placed on his bewildering decision to give up explained, for a time, why I was left alone. It felt absolutely true that he just hadn’t done enough work to make the relationship survive. A few months in, I was still completely consumed in misery and self-pity. Desperate to feel better, I bought my first self-help book. It was called “How To Get Past Your Break-Up”. I know. Catchy.
I’ll spare you my getting on a soapbox and screaming the praise I truly feel toward this book, for this is not an article about healing after heartbreak. Neither will I share the total details of the actual three-ring binder full of notes and self-observations that pulled me through the next season of my life, delivering me into three glorious years of Finding Myself (cue Beyoncé).
But there in the middle of that little cheesy book was an exercise that started a way of thinking that I’m still grasping (yo, it takes time) and, more and more, reveling in: exploring and understanding what makes me flawed, difficult, and — above all — miraculously, beautifully average.
I remember sitting in the yard. I was probably chain-smoking, probably crying. The book first asked me to list out on blank paper every single thing he had done in the relationship to make me feel hurt. I filled exactly three pages. It then asked me to list out everything I had done to cause conflict. I also filled exactly three pages.
Next, the book instructed me to list out everything about his personality that I could consider “flawed.”
Flawed? Was he flawed? The word “flaw” seemed harsh, even for someone I was so angry at. I tried to think of things that annoyed or bothered me that he sometimes did: quirks that made me angry, his constant tardiness, his tendency to cut me off during arguments or mansplain every little thing, his inability to take my interests or endeavors seriously, etc. They didn’t seem like flaws to me, but rather aspects of his character that, sure, I’d wished were a little easier to deal with, but aspects that I felt compassion toward nonetheless. I could explain why, for the most part, he did those things, I thought. But I did the exercise anyway. The list of annoyances I came up with was only about two pages long. And even then I had to reach.
When the book prompted me to list out my own flaws I hardly hesitated, and before long I had an astonishing twelve pages, front and back, that detailed exactly every single thing that I didn’t like about myself.
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Again, details spared, I spent the next six months slowly looking into each and every item on my list. Over time, some were removed entirely once I realized categorizing them as negative was unfair to myself (sometimes characteristics we don’t like are actually qualities that are awesome, ask your friends). For other flaws, I shifted the language around to eventually sound more like focus areas to work on. And others? They just became fixated truths about myself that, like it or not, I was stuck with. And so will be anyone in my life who loves me and decides to keep me.
Once this edited list came to rest at around five healthy pages (which, by the way, still exist in that very binder, on a shelf in my office), I got a damn therapist (Note: could have done that years before. Double Note: You could probably stand to get one too, therapy is a beautiful thing), and got to work at accepting, liking, and even fucking loving that I have “flaws”. Lots of them, in fact.
First came eradicating the idea that simply having flaws made me unloveable. The notion that every difficult thing about me was constructing a wall that was keeping the “real,” un-flawed, more adorable version of me locked up was an extreme nightmare I didn’t realize I’d been living for most of my adult life. I had spent so much energy assuming those two “versions” of me were mutually exclusive that I did anything necessary to keep the bad things unseen. If the “bad me” was hidden, the “good me” was visible, and vice versa. I’m still working on it (will be for life, I assume), but there is simply zero truth in thinking that if I have ugly sides of me out there interacting with the world, the good sides are locked in a dungeon.
Next, I had the difficult (and I mean d-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t) task of coming to understand that, in fact, it wasn’t my former-partner’s complete and utter insanity that drove him to end the relationship. I had to make peace with the fact that the truths that I was learning about myself were just as true for him as they were becoming for me. Just as we are aware of the insecurities in another person often long before they are, so it works the other way around. His frustration that I refused to acknowledge and work on my “flaws” were, turns out, at the root of so many arguments. Were mine any worse than his? Probably not. Did he do the same thing? Totally, of course. But once my flaws were known to me at the surface level, I got to get intimate with them and started to understand his point of view in conflicts that, honestly, I had always thought were his fault alone. It was a completely life-changing experience.
I did not throw myself on the fire, suddenly blaming myself for a failed relationship. First of all, the relationship ended because we weren’t good together. But more than that, from where I was standing at that time, what he did or did not do, the flaws he did or did not have, no longer mattered. Nor did what I could have done to be better, to be more understanding, more in tune with what I needed to work on. None of it mattered. The point was moot. Instead, the focus was on me. I was given an opportunity, even if after the fact, to get a little serious about who I was and how I affect other people. My own happiness was as at stake as was any future friend or partner’s. I started, with the help of my therapist and my binder, to pinpoint which of those “difficult things” I might want to spend time working on before trying a relationship again. I also got to know a little bit about what they looked like, so that I might be able to track them and stop them in the future, should they show up. Yes the fuck you can teach old dogs new tricks.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, came the idea that being flawed made me abnormal, and thereby less than desirable. Remember that bit about having a hard time finding and seeing my ex’s “quirks” as being “flaws”? Maybe it’s because we find it easier to forgive the natural and totally normal existence of those quirks in the first place when it comes to other people. We are so eager to see other people in a rose-colored light that we assume, once we notice our flaws, that we are the worse and they are the better. When we look at ourselves, all we see are the worse-by-comparison things that make us appear (to ourselves) as unlovable. I have just as many flaws as my ex does. I have just as many flaws as my friends who I fear will leave me when they discover mine. See how it works? I am not worse than they. They are not worse than me.
Getting to know my difficulties began to humble me into a soft understanding that I didn’t need to try so hard to appear flaw-less. It began (I say began because, as I’ve iterated, this is still something that I work on daily) to occur to me that self-confidence wasn’t about seeing ourselves as REMARKABLE. Rather, self-confidence and self-tolerance – even self-love – might be better-linked to seeing ourselves as AVERAGE and, honestly, feeling happy about it.
I’m not on a “like yourself no matter what” kick. While we’re at it, all of the social media, billboard-culture propaganda out there that suggests all we need is a New Attitude and Positive Vibes, Some Self Care, and Some Self Love and, presto, you’re happier, is total garbage and actually quite harmful. If I hear “Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe” one more time, I will probably light something big on fire.
I’m talking, instead, about getting to know the parts of ourselves that make us messy people instead of stressing out about their being dead giveaways that we are, uh, perfectly normal.
I’m talking, instead, about learning to stop viewing those flaws as barriers to getting to know ourselves and instead using them to get to know ourselves, in order to be better equipped to hang out in the world with other humans (See also: Enneagram), and then taking the necessary steps toward “fixing” only what can and ought to be fixed through due diligence (See also: Therapy, self-help books, etc.). And the traits that remain? Fuck it. Learn to live with them and make them work.
I’m not talking about embracing every flaw. I’m talking about embracing that you have them. And even embracing calling them “Flaws.” That’s okay. Don’t let anyone police your language around that. Instead of worrying about what to call them, worry instead about how to feel about their existence.
We spend so much time trying to convince ourselves that we, deep down, are everything the people in our lives might want that we forget to understand all the tiny things we worry they might discover about us when they get close enough.
Covering up the basic, every-day realities that (we think) keep us from standing out as “Remarkable” becomes an addiction. We want to be “Remarkable”. We want our friends or partners or crushes or whoever to think that we aren’t going to challenge them. We push way down our fears of rejection and any evidence that we aren’t as smart as (we think) the world wants us to be, and we replace it all with a surface that keeps hidden our true selves. We see those things as deficiencies because we think they will make us unappealing. We are obsessed with not seeming unappealing.
We try to keep our needs at bay. We overcompensate when we are uncomfortable. We worry about being interesting enough, funny enough. We worry about asking too much of others. We dread pauses or even longer periods of silence, lulls in the conversation that tell us we aren’t captivating, or that there isn’t chemistry. We look to our friends to help highlight the things we offer that are irresistible, so much that we forget to ask them what we could stand to work on. We side with ourselves in arguments. When we get feedback that we don’t like – from a break-up, or a fight with a loved one – we reject the information they’re giving and try to find a way to justify our point of view (“It’s her fault it didn’t work out, she smothered me!” when, perhaps, you have a tendency to be neglectful and dismissive).
But avoiding our true flaws creates a dangerous subliminal message that we give ourselves. We start to believe that those things are problems that we will one day, in the far future have to fix in order to be truly likable. “When they find out,” we say to ourselves about the people we love now, “They will leave, and I won’t have any meaningful relationships until I actually work on the things that suck about me.”
Well. True. At least the second part. Sort of.
Yes, there are things that could be better. Yes, if we do the self-work to analyze and address some of the more harmful versions of our personalities, we can ultimately find a way of meeting our loved ones in the middle. Yes, we can adjust some things to be more fair-minded, less self-focused, more disciplined, better at listening, better at communicating. Yes, we can learn to set boundaries. Yes, we can learn how to be more flexible about the boundaries we set. Yes, if we do these things, we and our loved ones can live together more happily. Yes, yes, self work is good. Yes, yes, yes.
But those things can happen now. You can be flawed and good for the people in your life. You can be flawed and work on those flaws. You can be bad and wonderful. You can be bad and totally, gloriously average.
Back on being “Average” :
When we start to accept that everyone around us is dealing with their own twelve-page lists, — which we would only render into two pages — there lies a little bit more permission to be curious about them as people, while staying curious about ourselves (also people). Understanding that our average-ness is linking us together more than our flawed-ness is pushing us apart can ultimately lead us into a closeness that perhaps isn’t easily accessed by the latter mindset.
Finally, understanding that being Average is perfectly fine, and definitely true, doesn’t detract from the many things that make you unique, exciting, charming, talented, and also Remarkable. Those two realities aren’t mutually exclusive either. Just maybe stop chasing the second of those more than the first.
Oh. And did I mention that this is a process? Give it time, love.
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