Friday, February 26, 2010

Self-Assessment


I’m about halfway through Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book.  It is just as accessible and entertaining, while at the same time informative, as her best-seller Eat, Pray, Love.  I came across something yesterday that caused me to think about honesty in relationships.

While waiting out the INS decision on whether to allow her intended Felipe (not his real name) to re-enter the US, Liz and this older Brazilian man she met in Bali are biding their time in Laos, a country that obviously could not care less about their citizenship, their relationship, and their intentions.  Neither of them had intended to enter into marriage again after each having had a disastrous first marriage and divorce.  But their only hope to ever live together in the US seems to involve marriage.

They both do a lot of soul-searching, trying to make sure what they are about to do doesn’t end in another disaster.  At one point Liz compiles a list of her 5 most deplorable faults, just so Felipe will be forewarned.  This is what she comes up with:

1.  I think very highly of my own opinion.  I generally believe that I know best how everyone in the world should be living their lives -- and you, most of all, will be the victim of this.

2.  I require an amount of devotional attention that would have made Marie Antoinette blush.

3.  I have far more enthusiasm in life than I have actual energy.  In my excitement, I routinely take on more than I can physically or emotionally handle, which causes me to break down in quite predictable displays of dramatic exhaustion.  You will be the one burdened with the job of mopping me up every time I’ve overextended myself and then fallen apart.  This will be unbelievably tedious.  I apologize in advance.

4.  I am openly prideful, secretly judgmental, and cowardly in conflict.  All these things collude at times and turn me into a big fat liar.

5.  And my most dishonorable fault of all:  Though it takes me a long while to get to this point, the moment I have decided that somebody is unforgivable, that person will very likely remain unforgivable for life -- all too often cut off forever, without fair warning, explanation, or another chance.

As she said, it is not an attractive list.  I love Felipe’s response to this list:  “Is there anything you would now like to tell me about yourself that I didn’t already know?”

If nothing else, I applaud her for her honesty.  It seems quite unusual to be so up-front about one’s faults before the knot is even tied.

I look back at the 3-year courtship my husband and I had and wonder if we ever once even discussed our respective faults.  Probably not.  Most people are all too busy trying to keep those closets shut as long as possible.

Fortunately love has the capacity to overlook some serious shortcomings of our intended, partner, or spouse.  It often causes us to look for compromises or alternatives instead of walking away.

I've made my own mental list, which I'm sure my family would not disagree with.  Let's just say my list starts off pretty much the same way Liz's does.  But after #1, I have other deplorable faults than the ones she listed.

What’s your take on this form of honest self-assessment?  Is it more likely to ward off problems or create them?

9 Comments:

Blogger Rayna said...

I laughed at this list because #1,#3 and #5 would be right up there if I were to make out a list. But it's too late for me. I do like the idea of asking the other person what he (yes, HE) would say were his biggest faults - but this is good to do after you've been married for a few decades. Then you can see whether, in retrospect, you agree.
Ha - I can see tonight's dinner conversation taking shape...

4:26 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Rayna -- It would be most interesting to compare the list we would make just prior to marriage with the list we would make decades later. I wonder how similar they would be?

5:08 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I've made the list for myself but haven't reached the point of sharing it with anyone else. I keep it, though. On hand. Double check it from time to time and try to work on some of the things.

Maybe someday, the list will change into something less negative.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- Hopefully we all view ourselves more harshly than others do.

9:47 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

My take on this form of honest self-assessment is that it's great to be aware and honest, but I wonder what purpose might be served by announcing your faults to somebody who has so far loved you enough to overlook them or accept you in spite of them. As someone who's gotten the old (half joking) "You knew that when you married me" routine, I would definitely not want to hook up with somebody who had actually announced a particular fault as if to say "You're just going to have to accept this as one of my traits." That just sounds like someone isn't planning to have to work on improving that particular fault for the sake of their marriage.

I think that the first ten years or so of marriage is the time when both partners are still learning how to be flexible with each other - hopefully. As Rayna said, this is a more appropriate conversation to have after the relationship has settled into a solid and comfortable place, faults and all.

If I were in a new relationship I would run the other way immediately if someone presented me with a list of their "permanent" faults. Yikes! I think that's kind of creepy and sort of narcissistic. Everyone can try to improve themselves if they want to. Can't they?

12:37 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

I have never done this--listed my faults. Perhaps my greatest fault is believing I have none! However my husband and I questioned each other endlessly in the months before our wedding. "How many children do you want?" "How would you feel if you had a child who was gay?" "If you won the lottery what is the first thing you would buy?" If he had said, "a boat" the wedding would have been off. BTW, neither of our children are gay, but we were in agreement that it would have been fine had they been.

2:36 AM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Reading the comments put me in mind of Maria in Sound of Music confessing that one of her worst faults was being too outspoken, but she said it with regret and the regret gave promise to at least a willingness to change.

Liz's list in the book sounds like a pronouncement - a kind of this-is-me-so-suck-it-up-because-it's-set-in-stone way of looking at herself, and at Felipe's role in her life. By the time I got to #3 where she tells Felipe he will have to mop up every time she falls apart I was thinking, "Fat chance of that darling!"

Honesty is one thing - selfishness is another.

7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto what Cyndy wrote!
As I once wrote in a song, "every day can be your work of art"...

F.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I think if two people are about to get married, they probably already have an understanding of each other's faults.

I also think stating your own faults is sort of silly, because you may not even see your most severe ones. Sometimes it takes another person to detect your true weaknesses, you know?

6:55 AM  

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