Perfectionism as a disease

“Hi Dr. Ali,
I enjoyed your article in HuffPost and reading through your blog. I am a 29yo woman with very little (basically no) dating experience.  To provide you context, I received a BS in engineering and MBA, both from Ivy League institutions.
I would say over the past 2-3 years, I have tried to be more open, vulnerable, and transparent when I go on dates.  I am by no means perfect, and I don’t pretend to be.  I worry however, that the areas in my life in which I am a ‘damsel in distress’ aren’t particularly feminine.  I’m a horrible cook.  I haven’t mastered the ‘domestic arts’.  I have ambitious professional goals (to be an entrepreneur), but wish I had more emotional support and encouragement.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take that leap without having an emotional rock.  I miss my college friends, who live on the other side of the country.

These truly are the aspects of my life I am most concerned about, and I’d be happy to talk about it all on a 1st or 2nd date (or whenever appropriate). My health, finances, and family relationships are all very solid. Are straight men interested in saving damsels with these kinds of problems?  :)  Thanks!” — Nina

Thanks for the letter and the kind words, Nina!

So what I’m detecting here is that you may be afflicted with a very deadly disease. It’s called perfectionism, and like a potent antibiotic, it prevents most life forms from thriving.

Think about it: if babies were perfectionists, they’d never learn to walk. They’d fall 5 times, then say, “Well that ain’t ever gonna work.” And they’d spend the rest of their lives as oversized pink amoebas. If chefs were perfectionists, they’d never get past their first fallen souffle. If Thomas Edison were a perfectionist, he’d quit by the 2nd try and never get to attempt #1000, when he actually got the light bulb to work.

My suggestion: decide that you are going to stop judging yourself. Realize that there is no failure, only feedback, and go out there and HAVE SOME FUN! There’s no contest to win, and nobody’s keeping score. In fact, why don’t you go out on a couple of dates with the express purpose of screwing it up, just to see what happens. Go out there and get a little muddy. You don’t strike me as the kind of person who likes to get muddy, Nina. Which means that you must get muddy. Like, soon.

And to answer your en passant question about guys being interested in saving damsels in distress: um, no. See, dating is a lot like fishing: the kind of fish you nab has a lot to do with the kind of bait you put on the hook. So if you’re a damsel in distress, as you call it, you will attract either a guy who’s damaged in a similar way, or one who is into saving women. The guy who is whole and healthy will generally seek out other whole and healthy people and avoid the distressed. So if you nab a guy while you’re in distressed damsel mode, he’s damaged goods by definition.

That said, there’s nothing in your letter suggesting there’s anything wrong with you. Not being able to cook may be a deficiency — one that’s easily rectified — but it’s no sin. Making a stir-fry is orders of magnitude less complicated than getting an Ivy-league engineering degree, believe me. Not sure what you mean by the ‘domestic arts’, but most are overrated except for cooking, massage and sexual expertise. And those are easy to learn, too.

So the bad news is that you’re young and probably pretty, intelligent and capable — pretty much in the prime of life — and nothing’s broken. The good news is that you’re in the prime of life, and nothing’s broken. This is a good time to appreciate who you are, what you have, what you’re capable of contributing, and to start contributing immediately. And to get a little muddy in the process.

All the best, Dr Ali B

4 Comments on “Perfectionism as a disease”

  1. T. AKA Ricky Raw

    And to answer your en passant question about guys being interested in saving damsels in distress: um, no. See, dating is a lot like fishing: the kind of fish you nab has a lot to do with the kind of bait you put on the hook. So if you’re a damsel in distress, as you call it, you will attract either a guy who’s damaged in a similar way, or one who is into saving women. The guy who is whole and healthy will generally seek out other whole and healthy people and avoid the distressed. So if you nab a guy while you’re in distressed damsel mode, he’s damaged goods by definition.

    I agree and disagree. You’re totally right in saying that all guys are not white knight rescuers, and only damaged guys are. However, I do think an increasing proportion of men are turning out damaged due to bad messages they get from society. Both damaged men and damaged women are becoming more and more the norm. I think a lot more guys today compared to previous generations grow up with single moms, divorced moms, or physically present but emotionally distant fathers so they get recruited into this emotional spouse relationships with their moms that create this blueprint for rescuer mindsets later on in their adult relationships.

    So yes, not all men have these caretaker values, but more men than ever definitely do.

  2. JBarros

    So true I usually go to a date and I don’t expect nothing. Actually, when I think about this it doesn’t only apply on dates but on anything. If you go on a date or if you approach a girl on a bar and expect it to work perfectly. Those are usually the times where the outcome usually is more negative.

    Also I notice when I try to screw up and I really try my worse. Girls seems to like me more it’s weird but true. I guess it’s due to the fact that I am not putting in pressure on the situation and just having fun.

    Thanks for the article.

  3. Felicia

    I Love your Book ! To be honest I never thought that a guy can write so open and funny about this very complex theme . Stunning and funny really . I had a fantastic laugh about some articles and as a life coach I realize now how to explain my female clients that the wrong decision was taking the greasy oily hamburger instead of the marvelous filet mignon . Thanks you made my day !

  4. Anonymous

    Hmmmm…
    Those of us who really are damaged goods will now go back to sitting in our corners.
    How wonderful the most reassuring thing someone can hear is they’re not truly fucked-up and hopeless like us freaks who only want to be normal?

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