The myth of the perfect partner

Transcendent happiness isn’t about who you both are in the beginning. It’s about daring to stand together as you figure out who you’re actually going to become.

Early selfie, months before our 2001 wedding, at the windswept edge of the Australian Outback.

Here’s a secret:

The things we’re taught about true love completely miss the point. We grow up hearing that there’s some magically perfect person out there — already fully formed and meant just for us — and we’re utterly perfect for them. We’re prepared as kids for this grown-up mission to go out and hunt for this perfect being and try to convince them that we’re perfect for them.

If we fail and this perfect union doesn’t magically materialize, it’s on us. We picked wrong. Or maybe it’s on them — they just weren’t the one. Either way, we’re left believing that all we can do is nurse our wounds until we’re strong enough to return to hunting for that elusive perfect being.

Only that’s not how it works.

Yes, we must find someone who clicks with us in a hundred ways — who sees the world in ways we’ve always hungered to describe, and who values the things we believe ought to be valued, and whose sparkling eyes and striking face send a ripple of electricity through us in ways we can’t deny or forget.

But that’s only a starting point.

True love, it’s taken me all these years to realize, isn’t about already being perfect for each other. It’s not about impressing each other or having everything figured out on day one. It’s not about one person rescuing or saving the other.

It’s about helping each other grapple with the strange and complicated experience of confronting who we really are and striving to become who we yearn to be before our all-too-brief lives are over. In its very best incarnation, it’s about taking turns being strong, taking turns doing the saving and taking time to actually see — in all our beautiful imperfection — exactly who the other person is today and tomorrow and the day after.

It’s about inspiring each other and not being afraid to need each other, and it’s about getting lost and getting found and finding ways to keep on seeing each other amid the maelstrom of kids and bills and work and aging parents and basements that flood and travel that can exhaust you even as it awes you.

It’s not about perfection. It’s about daring to be our best imperfect selves, and showering each other with so much love that even the deepest, darkest places become possible to navigate.

And here’s the thing:

If we really do put enough of ourselves into helping our partner on their journey, and we actually stick with our own journey in spite of the fear it strikes in us, then we might just find moments of that life-changing, soul-affirming love that all those Prince Charming stories falsely promised us.

I love you Ted Anthony, for learning this with me and teaching it to me and being the most fascinating person I have ever met.

On a far less snowy Saturday 17 years ago today, we stood in Heinz Chapel and vowed to spend our lives together. I am as deeply grateful for that as ever.

Melissa Rayworth is a writer and editor exploring pieces of daily life — the homes we live in, the ways we pursue our relationships and raise our children, the ways we attempt to balance work and home, and the impact of pop culture and marketing on our daily experience — in hopes of helping readers understand their world more fully. She currently does her storytelling from Pittsburgh and New York after three inspiring years in Bangkok. Find a collection of her stories here. She tweets at @mrayworth.

©2018, Melissa Rayworth