A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. Well, maybe not an epiphany, but it was a moment where I actually paid attention to the words coming out of my mouth at the exact moment I was uttering them. I had met up for dinner with an old friend and since I was on his turf I asked him to pick the place. We walked around the neighborhood near my hotel and while I was tapping away on Yelp my friend stopped in front of a restaurant that, as luck would have it, he'd been wanting to try for quite some time. So I put my phone in my pocket and declared, "perfect!" before heading inside and motioning for him to follow. Once inside I didn't need Yelp to tell me that this was a happening place - it was packed, so packed that two would-be diners who, like us, had walked in off of the mean streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, were quoted a wait time of 40 minutes. My friend looked worried but then the twosome ahead of us decided that this was too much of a scene and they folded like an over-the-knee boot sitting in your closet. At their departure, I exclaimed, "perfect!", and then headed for the bar after giving the hostess our name. At the bar, adorned with mixologist gear of almost fetishtistic proportions and complexity, we ordered our fancy drinks served by our over-pierced, over-tatted, over-mustached drink specialists (apparently "bartender" is so basic) to which I responded, "perfect!". Soon, I realized that I was vomiting perfection all over the place to the servers, to busboys, to the doorman at my hotel after dinner. This was distressing, but the worst was yet to come, because later that night as my husband and I were settling into our hotel bed and going over plans for the next day, I noticed that our conversation was being carpet-bombed by "perfects" - and we'll leave and get coffee by 8am? PERFECT!...then we can get back here, pack, and grab lunch? PERFECT!...and we have cash to tip the maids already. PERFECT!!
Just what the hell is going on??
I needed to trace this contagion back to its source, but that's easier said than done. But, I had to do something because this outbreak was almost as bad as the "at the end of the day" bug that spread from think-tanks, to boardrooms, to bad reality TV shows faster than you can say "PERFECT"! So I began stalking "perfect" and what I found was enlightening and a bit scary. I started by laying a trap - I told my husband that he had to stop using "perfect." He was puzzled why I should have a problem with such a nifty word, but he played along, in as much as every time he said "PERFECT!" he held his hands up to his mouth like a 5 year old who'd been caught saying a bad word. This little experiment resulted in him noticing just how "PERFECT!" he had been making things verbally. As far as I could tell, when he was talking to me or any other close relative, he seemed to use the P-word as a means of saying, "I hear you - no, I really hear you," but also as a means to stop all further conversations about a topic, so that "perfect" meant, "we're done here so stop over thinking things." So was he using the p-word to pacify or to give assurance or both?
I also made a mental inventory of my own personal p-word use. I always use it at work, but I also become a heavy user of the p-word when I'm planning anything with my family. I use "perfect" as a means of moving things along as my family can take a looooong while to get it together so when we're on our annual family vacation, things like selecting a restaurant for lunch or deciding whether or not to take my nephews to the pool before or after breakfast become bogged down in indecisiveness. Growing up in this atmosphere was bad enough but as an adult I've lost the ability to function according to the rules of my family's dysfunction so I plan everything and then verbally pound them with "PERFECT!" as I lay out the plan for the days. When I clench my teeth and say, "PERFECT!" that's the equivalent of the airline captain and crew doing cross checks before take-off, so sit in your seat and buckle up because this plane is taking off!
But, what's so wrong with being "perfect"? First, we're humans so it's impossible to be perfect. Secondly, striving for perfection might be great when you're running a marathon, but most of life involves working in groups and demanding perfection always leaves you some pretty thin margins for things like forgiveness and perspective.
So, I'm going on a "PERFECT!" cleanse, and what a great time to start this since I haven't started my Christmas shopping yet nor have I written one Christmas card! I don't know how long it will last and I don't know what I'll discover on the other side of perfection, but I have a feeling I'll like it.