Updated: Sep 8
Do you ever feel that your life and family don’t match the happy images you see on commercials?
Glennon Doyle, author of Untamed, in a recent FB post, referred to happy-family commercials as “family porn”. Like porn – videos or images produced to elicit sexual arousal – commercials are produced with the intention to make a profit. By portraying perfectly happy people consuming this or that product, we are programmed to want and need something outside of ourselves to be happy. We are likewise destined to feel dissatisfaction when our lives don’t match the perfect images we see displayed on our favorite screens (and we don’t consider that it took an entire team of professionals several weeks and several millions of dollars to produce a 30-second clip of “perfect” happiness).
As we all know, our lives and relationships aren’t perfect and we aren’t happy all the time. We feel a myriad of different feelings from minute to minute, peaceful to triggered and anything in between. Our lives are complex, a mixture of what we want and what we don’t want. Our relationships are complicated, sometimes blissful and sometimes messy. Our bodies bring us both pleasure and pain. Every day we are greeted with the beauty of new things born and the death and passing of things we have loved.
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Our lives aren't captured in a single snapshot
Our lives don’t look like commercials, nor are they in total captured by a single snapshot. But when we look deeper at all that is not “perfect”, we see something sacred about our ordinary lives, a precious revealing of the human experience. Whether wincing at a pain in our shoulder, crying over a broken mug from = special friend who died, or laughing out loud from an unexpected burp at the table, life is felt, witnessed and shared. The richness that lives in each of these “imperfect” moments touches the heart in a way that our images of perfection can never do.
Many years ago, I had the privilege of listening to high schoolers at the Sacramento Waldorf School debrief their production of a play that received standing ovations for the several nights it ran. As each student spoke, they didn’t talk about the perfect parts. They shared and laughed hysterically about the mistakes and mishaps and forgotten lines, a spontaneous “blooper reel” from their production! Those were the moments that stood out, the times outside of “perfection” where real life happened! That is what they loved!
The perfect relationship videos
Many years ago, Christian and I took on the task to make the perfect set of relationship videos. We picked out matching clothes, set up carefully controlled lighting, wrote out the scripts, did our hair just right and devoted a Saturday to the endeavor. Each video was only a couple of minutes long, so we figured we would be done in an hour. But it took us all day of takes and re-takes to achieve this perfect product! Not only were we exasperated and fed up by the process, but we were shocked to discover how flat and lifeless perfection looked in review! Our over-determined effort to create the perfect product resulted in videos that were, in essence, useless and quickly thrown out. They looked nice but lacked any semblance of aliveness.
One couple we worked with, by outside appearances, had it all. Magnificent home, prosperous work, attractive healthy bodies, academically gifted children, paradise vacations. But unbeknownst to the world, they were disconnected, lonely and unhappy. It wasn’t until the messiness of an affair and the near loss of everything they thought they cared about, that they got real with each other about what really mattered, and in the end, after much messiness, truth, pain and raw vulnerability, rediscovered love.
In our work, we make a distinction between form and experience – the difference between how something looks and how something feels. As the example above illustrates, no amount of perfect looks as satisfying as that which feels good, and what feels good might not look at all like what we think it should look like!
Imperfection is where human shows up. It is real and messy and beautiful and awful all at once. Someone shared with me today that one of things he is most grateful for from the last year, is learning how to better manage his triggers. “I definitely had LOTS of opportunities to practice!” Our flawed lives provide a steady stream of opportunities for us to deepen our ability to love, listen, learn and grow. It is in the imperfect realness of our experience that we connect with the depth of ourselves and discover who we are, what we are about and what really matters.
We will all be happier when we quit comparing ourselves to perfect pictures of other people and families in the media. My body, my relationships, my family, my work, my life and my home might not be perfect from an outside image material sense, but it is wholly perfect in another. I agree with Glennon Doyle when she says (paraphrased) “I will take real over porn any day.”
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