If your career is amazing and fulfilling, if your life as a stay at home mom is always blissful, if your children are brilliant and above grade average and they frolic on your manicured lawn in freshly ironed and monogrammed clothing, we can’t be friends.
If you sent your sick child to school because you couldn’t find a sitter and you had to get that work project done, if your house is more of a disaster now that you stay home, if your decision of what to wear is based not on fashion but on what doesn’t have to be ironed, I’m liking you already.
In my job, people confess things to me. They rationalize why they stole the money, beat the kid, lied to their constituents.
I get to have a complete relationship with someone in the span of a few hours. We meet as strangers, but by the time I leave, I know their greatest regret, what they wish they’d told their mother before she died, how they still hope to turn their lives around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into an interview knowing I will not like the person, only to leave feeling I’ve made a new friend. Because we cleared away the stuff that didn’t matter, and got to the root. Once the underbelly is exposed, we can move on. Okay, that was the dark. Now surely there is some light.
That’s why I’m perplexed by people who make a show of being perfect, of seeming to have a perfect life. The woman who talks about her extraordinarily brilliant child, the same child who hits me repeatedly and forcefully on the butt every time I’m within striking distance, while his mother coos, “Oh he likes you!” The woman who fake complains her size 4 pants are too big ever since she committed to that paleo/raw vegan/hoodoo voodoo diet — the manufactured confession made while my own pants bite into my waist from that burrito lunch. The yoga-gear outfitted woman at the grocery store in full hair and make up, insisting she just rolled out of bed, stuffing kale juice and kale greens and mounds of kale everything into her cart, while I try to hide my whipped cream and cookies under my purse. These people are my kryptonite. I can feel my life force fleeing my body as they speak.
The antidote is my friends, some wildly successful, some not — who admit their children drive them so crazy they want to put themselves in timeout, who find the way their husband chews his food/blows his nose/gargles, is face-punch-worthy at times, who confess they hate working/hate staying home, who lie to friends and medical professionals about how much they work out/have sex/floss their teeth/do breast self exams. These are my people. They are a mess. And I am them.
A few years ago I had coffee with one of these perfect women. Our children went to school together and she had repeatedly e-mailed me to get together. She knew me from the news and I couldn’t figure out whether she was pursuing me as a mommy friend or it was a tv thing. She arrived in a fancy car and fancy clothes with lots of designer logos blinking at me. It didn’t take long for her to mention their home on Sea Island, their membership to the Piedmont Driving Club, their jet. Seriously, their jet.
Now, during this perfection blitz I noticed that I had white scum all the way down the thigh of the black pants I was wearing for the second time that week. And I suddenly felt very bad and self conscious about my black orthopedically comfortable loafers that were so scuffed they were now grey. But the tipping point was when I mentioned that the specialized private school our boys were attending — because of learning disabilities — was expensive, difficult to pay for, but worth it. She looked stricken, beneath her swingy hair and shiny lipgloss — like I had just pulled up my shirt in the coffee shop and asked her to inspect a suspicious mole on my stomach. I never saw her again. Trust me, I was thrilled, but it was clear I had failed some initial perfect lady test by admitting to a struggle with something.
I prefer my messy life, with its scuffed shoes and black pants(sometimes worn three times if it’s a really bad week). I prefer my friends with big jobs and no jobs and low libidos and laundry piled high. I don’t want to hear how you’re great. I want to hear how you’re not great. It doesn’t mean you’re unhappy or I’m unhappy. It means we’re human.
I have bad news for my perfect acquaintances. You may live in a different zip code than me, but we hail from the same town and it’s called Crazyland. The difference is I don’t hide it. Afterall, perfect people almost never make it on the news.