Cover Photo: Rome

Learning to Take a Complement

As women growing up in this society, I think we are over invested in and trained too well to look for what’s wrong rather than see what’s right. We look for imperfection in ourselves and try to fit ideals, which the world sells us, that are unreal. We’re trained from when we're little girls to try and do things perfectly, fix ever flaw- write in clean perfect lines, have spotless skin and bedrooms and dishes when cleaning. Magazines tailored towards “self improvement” have hacks on everything from how to get the best summer bod to fixing your wacko personality to be more well liked. Flaws or mistakes are feared and reinforced as personal failings rather that what they really are which is just life.

When it comes to life and love, we continue to see where we can improve and what needs fixing. That discerning eye is too often trained on those who care for us most. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared into the eyes of my husband as he’s saying something incredibly sweet only to point out he missed a spot shaving. He’s sweet enough to laugh, hold me and repeat himself until I hear it but even then, I physically can’t absorb the praise until in my head I’ve critiqued it for all its hyperbolic features and ways it couldn’t be completely true.

In my 26 years, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a complement full on without shying away from it.

This cancerous perfectionism seems to only grow the more it goes unchecked and unabated.

Whereas my school work was once an arena where I felt confident despite what little flaws I had, over the years this perfectionism has riddled me with holes in my confidence about any and all submissions. Thus, grad school has been a grueling series of assignments at which every submission feels like I’ve just ripped a bandaid off. Even as I type this, I’m thinking to myself how much it must be edited before it’s even close to presentable.

What does this mean for me? What does this mean for all girls and women in our nation currently? What about my future daughter?

Is there a way I can raise her to not fear mistakes as I have grown to? Or is the world around us oversaturated with subtle messaging that it will seep into her no matter how hard I fight to keep her un-indoctrinated.

For me at least, I find the more I do things that scare me, the more I lean-in to all of life’s unpredictable messes- the freer I feel when everything turns out alright. Like somehow, even if I let go of control, I still have a force in this universe looking out for me.

Getting married so young reaffirmed this in me and the way we did it was another bold statement.

Wedding planning is a stressful mess and I have no idea why many women look forward to this day... a) it goes by in the blink of an eye and b) it’s never as perfect as you set it out to be, which as I have stated above can he anxiety producing for many.

Planning a Nigerian wedding with a non-Nigerian groom and many non-Nigerians in the crowd- not a simple task. Preventative measures were in place but mistakes were being made left and right in the flurry of trying to make everything perfect. By mid-way through the year of planning I was, burnt out from the pressures of making everything perfect on top of work and school. I couldn’t care as much and still function day to day.

So, I took a step back. I let my mother and cousins and people who could help me, help me. I kept everything in perspective- reminding myself it’s one day and the most important part of it is that my husband and I are happy.

On the day of the wedding, there were trip ups and awkward moments but I never stopped smiling despite it all and when I looked over neither did he.

Happiness wasn’t predicated on perfection. It radiated from between us to fill the day.

Our marriage has been the same. Imperfections only sweeten what’s so right between us. Imperfections are what make us, well us and perfect for one another. Understanding and accepting that little fact is beginning to transform my approach to every little thing in this life.

So maybe next time my husband leans over and whispers something sweet to me about my hair, glowing skin or beautiful figure- I’ll catch his gaze, smiling, believing him-

And simply say, ‘thank you’.

Chinemenma is a 26 year old living in Boston. An educator, and graduate student, she spends her off days exploring the complexities of life through her writing.