You found me when I was a tween with big brown eyes and a little body that was only just beginning to stretch out, remnants of baby fat still holding on tight. You sunk your teeth into me at school, telling me that I was OK as I was, but wouldn't I be better with straight A's?
You spread your arms wide across my life, seeping in, like milk into a glass of coffee, until we were one. No longer me + perfectionism, but, instead, a new version of me, one that was obsessed with becoming perfect. You convinced me that perfect equalled good. And didn't I want to be a good girl?
You taught me that I'd be more lovable - better - if I joined more clubs in middle school. And, in high school, you convinced me that if I was going to join them anyway, shouldn't I run for office? Why just participate, when you can be a leader? You asked me. Leaders are better.
By then, you'd latched on to my appearance, too. You made me question my round face, wondering if I'd be more beautiful without chubby cheeks. You asked questions about why I was so tall. Most of the boys aren't even this tall, you reminded me. Why are you taller than them, when you're a girl?
You noticed, before I did, that I wasn't going on very many dates. You started to point out why that was. My mom told me I was intimidating because I was so beautiful and smart. (Bless moms everywhere.) But you told me she was wrong.
You told me it was because I wasn't as pretty as those other girls, that boys wouldn't find someone like me attractive.
You made me wonder if being so tall was manly. Maybe that's why they don't like you, you told me. They probably think you're manly.
By senior year, you'd won. I applied to seven colleges, got into six and was waitlisted by the seventh. Instead of celebrating, you reminded me that the waitlist was a failure. You waved it in front of me like a white flag, Surrender! You told me. Just give up. You aren't fooling anyone anymore. Everyone knows you're not smart now.
You convinced me to go to the University of Chicago. Not because I wanted to - I didn't even know what I wanted. I was too far into your game to understand my own thoughts or feelings anymore. I went there because it was the best school that accepted me. I'll never forget standing on the steps after Christmas break, hugging my dad, begging him: Please don't leave me here. But he had to, because I'd chosen this.
But you know what, Perfectionism? I'll never forget the first time I told you no. The first time I told you I wasn't playing this game anymore. It was just three months after my dad hugged me goodbye on those cold, Chicago steps. It was when I moved out of my dorm during spring break, without saying goodbye to any of my friends. You told me I was a quitter, leaving mid-spring. But I did it anyway. You told me people would see I wasn't that smart or tough after all, if I quit college my very first year. And did they? Maybe. But I was too tired, too confused to care.
And, for the first time, I began to see that I would be OK without you.
I wish, in that very moment, I'd realized you'd been lying to me all those years. But I didn't. I transferred to Indiana University and fell right back into my old patterns. I joined every club I could find, then ran for office in each one. I ran a marathon, took 24 credit hours in one semester, got a job, become a tour guide and cried to my mom on the phone when I got more than one B that semester. Those Bs were like blemishes across my transcript, shouting to the whole world that I had failed - that I couldn't do it all, after all. That I wasn't as tough as I thought I was.
You're burning the candle at both ends, my dad told me time and time again. You need to slow down and make time to rest, he reminded me when I'd call him between meetings, swinging from one to the next like Tarzan. I promised him I was fine - that I could do it - as you whispered to me, Perfectionism, that I had to do it all, so I could be the best.
I let you carry me through college, Perfectionism. And then, I packed you up and brought you to Atlanta with me. Like a truly broken captor, I did so willingly, sure that I couldn't live without you. You and me? We'd become one. I was sure that trying to be perfect, like you'd taught me, made my life better. Why be good, when you can be the best? became our anthem.
But then, everything fell apart. One hot May night, my life crumbled in front of me. I'd been perfect, I cried to you. I'd tried to be as quiet, likable and as good as possible!
But, I learned on that painful day, that as hard as I'd tried to be perfect, it didn't earn me more love. It didn't make me better or more whole. It didn't protect me from pain. It just made me hustle.
It's been six years since that day in May. Six years, countless therapy sessions, a few failed boyfriends, a broken foot and hundreds of tears later and I'm still standing. And today, I'm saying goodbye to you.
Nowadays, when you tell me my house has to look perfect so our friends like me, I know you're lying.
When you tell me I shouldn't take a day off from exercise - that my day isn't complete without it, I know you're lying.
When you tell me eating dessert or carbs will make me instantly fat, I know you're lying.
I know you lie, all the time, Perfectionism.
You taught me that standing in the ring with my head held high and arms in the air, like a gymnast after a perfect routine, was what I wanted. You taught me to perform like the whole world was watching from the stands, awaiting my perfect dismount. But now I know that being admired from afar isn't love. And standing out there in the middle of the ring, day after day, gets lonely.
Now I know we don't have to perform for love.
Because love is being up close and messy with someone - letting them see your tears, your laughter and, best of all, when you're laughing through tears. Love isn't about being better or the best, it's about letting our guards down. Love is admitting you're not OK when you're not OK. Love is honest.
Love sees us through a magnifying glass. Perfection creates a mirage.
I know today that I'd rather let someone see all my real stuff - the sticky, messy, crazy stuff - and feel deep love, than be a mirage, simply admired from afar, but never close enough to really touch.
So today, I bid you farewell. I won't miss you or the anxiety you've brought me. My life is sweeter, fuller and more joyful without you. Does it look as perfect? Probably not. But I've learned that perfect wasn't really all you said it would be, anyway.