I Should Know Better

Lisa writes: I am over 50 and I should know better.  I should know that life isn’t always what it seems, that everyone is just doing their best and that perfect is a dangerous fantasy.  But somehow, deep, deep into adulthood, I still hold on to childish dreams.

It is much easier to imagine that other’s lives are perfect and that I can never measure up, than to realize no one’s life is perfect and I just need to work hard to make mine better.

Perfect Marriage:

I have a very close friend, a go-on-vacation-together, close friend.  We brought our children up together from birth and forged a deep friendship that comes from sharing that pivotal moment in life.  Geography eventually separated us, but we barely missed a beat.  I love her and her husband, but my love for my friend was mixed with deep envy.  I wanted her marriage.

She had the best marriage I had ever seen. It appeared to be almost effortless perfection.  I would have sworn that to you any minute of the day, any day of the week until the day she called me in tears.  Her marriage was not as it had seemed to her or to me.  There had been deceit and the pain and shock of it was tearing her apart.
wizard of oz exposed, nothing's perfect
Over the course of years, she and I would spend hours examining why women stay in marriages and why we leave. We drew even closer together, and found greater honesty in our friendship.  We delved deeply into what we loved about the men we had married, the men we had chosen to be the fathers of our children, and why marriage is so hard.

I watched my friend rebuild her marriage, an effort that was never effortless to begin with.  In the end, her less-than-perfect marriage taught me far more than a perfect one ever could.

Perfect Mother:

I have another friend who is the perfect mother.  Before you laugh, let me explain.  She has seven children, some she received in the delivery room, some from other countries, some are multiple births and some are singletons and they all arrived in her home in the space of seven years.  It is a lively, happy well-adjusted brood of thriving kids.

My friend has a huge corporate job and never seems to be anxious, out of control, or even in-over-her head.  When many of us seem to barely be able to manage with one, two or three kids, she appears to effortlessly manage with seven. If she were not one of the sweetest people to grace the Earth, you could hate her.  But instead, you just want to be her.

We are long-time sideline pals and I have stood beside her, or her equally calm husband, at countless soccer games. Never has either of them said a sour word about a child or made a disparaging comment about a coach.  But yesterday she told me she was nervous, really nervous. I looked at her face and saw something I had never seen before. The kids were in a big game and as a mom she couldn’t help feeling tense for her son. She was truly shaken, and suddenly she looked quite mortal to me.

The danger, of course, in wanting what isn’t, is failing to see what is.  It is a lesson I should have learned watching The Wizard of Oz at age five, but somehow I missed it, or simply chose to ignore it.   I am over 50 and I should know better.



  1. says

    Very little is as it seems in this life, is it. It’s a hard lesson over and over again.

    • says

      You are so right and it is hard hard hard to let go of our desire to hold on to those easy childish fantasies! Thank you.

  2. says

    I am surprised again and again by how much I don’t know. I have watched so many couples divorce this past year, and if you had asked me two years ago how they were doing I would have said they seemed fine. Better than fine! And yet, what goes on where we can’t see can be so complicated.

    I suppose the lesson to remember is that no one escapes pain.

    • says

      You are so right. I too am constantly surprised, but then I figure it is because I do not know them as well as I might. I have finally understood that no one knows anyone else’s marriage. I was a long time coming to that understanding!

  3. says

    Wonderful lesson and timely reminder. I am always amazed at how totally I misread and misjudge the lives of others. Thank you!

  4. Dorothy says

    Well put and so true. We all forget this and need to be thankful for what we have.

  5. says

    Always important to remember this, learn and relearn every step of the way, no matter how old we get. Marriage and mothering may be the most challenging parts of adulthood, and it’s so easy to revert to childlike (and insecure) thinking, assuring ourselves others have it all figured out and we somehow missed the memos that gave us proper instruction. Funny thing is, at the same time we’re kicking ourselves for our inadequacies, someone else may be looking at us as the one with the perfect life, marriage and more.

    • says

      Lisa you are so right. We sit and think our friends have the answers and they think the same of us. This makes it so hard to truly share and help. “Learn and relearn…no matter how old we get.” You have said it perfectly.

  6. says

    I have come to the realization that though things look good on the surface for people, everyone deals with something–I do not find this particularly comforting, but it is true

    • says

      This has taken me so long to understand, and I do find it helps me so easier on myself when I remember.

  7. says

    Great post! Just as a very good man can be a very bad wizard, very good people can struggle in their roles as spouses and parents. Society expects and idealizes perfection in both these roles, and that is unrealistic. All families have their struggles, and overcoming them makes us stronger.

    • says

      That is the problem, as you suggest, this notion of perfection that is all around us and so hard to abandon. Love your wizard analogy, so true.

  8. says

    I think this is a lesson we’ve all needed to learn and, sometimes, relearn. We see the woman in the car next to us, perfectly coifed, and are certain her life is so much easier than ours. Or perhaps, it’s the family friends planning the “trip of a lifetime” when our husband has little to no vacation time. Or, perhaps we are the subject of a friend’s (misplaced) envy.

    I’ve been on both sides of this fence. I think we all have at one time or another. And, that is also why I believe it is so important that we, as women, wives, mothers, daughters, etc., share openly and honestly with each other. Not only will we allow ourselves to be “more human”, we allow all of those whose lives we touch to be more authentic, too.

    • says

      The open, honest part cannot be overstated can it? Sometimes it seems we cannot really get there until the crisis hits. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful insights here.

  9. says

    I made it a goal very early in life to learn something new each and every day. In almost 59 years, I’ve pretty much kept that goal. Still, as you bring out, it’s amazing how much we don’t know. Let’s see, tomorrow I need to learn about the danger of too much blogging …. hmmmmm. Good post!

    • says

      Such a laudable goal, every day! Dangers of too much blogging, I am sure there is a post in that somewhere.

  10. says

    This is so very, very true. I’ve learned it over and over again – perhaps should go back and watch the Wizard of Oz again. I had a couple friends in the past tell me what a perfect marriage I seemed to have. I remember thinking at the time, “if they only knew.” That marriage ended in divorce after 26 years. I’m a case in point. Same, yes, with mothering. We never, never, really know all the dynamics behind closed doors and within others’ hearts.

    Thank you for an excellent reminder.

    • says

      Barbara, thank you. It is so hard when we just take a surface look at those who are close to us. Sometimes I wonder if it is because we don’t really want to see?

  11. says

    My parents attempted to raise my 3 sisters and me to be private (which is why I havent told them about my blog). I think a lot of people dont get that although my fam doesnt make our trials public, it doesnt mean we dont have them. We just know that once something is said, it cant be unheard and it’s better to err on being overcautious because you never know who will gossip (learned that the hard way).

    Your friend with what you thought was a perfect marriage held her husband in a high regard out of respect. Once he dismissed that respect, your friend sought guidance. She didnt think she needed it before.

    I think once everyone gets past the illusion of perfect there will be so much less pressure on everyone.

    • says

      It really is a lot of pressure and since it is impossible, needless pressure. Privacy in the age of blogging and the internet is something I wonder about a great deal. How do you walk this tightrope?

      • says

        I (and my husband) regularly remind myself that I write because it helps me. My sobriety issues are as deep as it goes because that strictly involves me. I know we are told to do things that are out of our comfort zone but I stay away from saying anything that would ever negatively impact anyone I know. I actually send posts to friends for their blessings if it seems they could be identified. Having a “successful number” of readers watching to see how I shame my husband, kids, family, or loved ones isnt for me! Again, I’d rather be tightlipped and overcautious than ever hurt someone. If I have one reader, or a million, it wont change my content or character. I blog my story, not others.

        Your site is a beautiful place with committed members. Just continue doing what you are doing and I’m sure success and growth will keep happening!!

  12. says

    My most treasured friends are the ones with whom I share my imperfections. They are my sounding boards and have saved my sanity on more than one occasion.

  13. says

    That is so true – we never really know what is going on in someone else’s life.
    Have the best day !

  14. Emily says

    Thank you for this — I needed this post today, for all kinds of reasons…I agree that we should know better. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at my best friend’s house and I always thought her parents had the perfect marriage, versus mine who argued at times and didn’t hide their difficulties from us all the time. My friend’s parents ended up divorcing and I remember being so shocked. My parents are still together, despite their ups and downs, which taught me a lot for my own marriage.

    • says

      Lesson learned at an early age, really a blessing. I find I cannot guess who is in a happy marriage and am shocked every time I hear of a couple separating.

  15. says

    Isn’t it strange how the older we get, the more insight we have into things? These are all good reminders that things are often not as they seem. Just because someone appears to have the perfect marriage doesn’t mean they do. Likewise, just because someone’s husband may not appear to be around much, they might have the happiest marriage ever.

    It’s always a good reminder to remember we need to not judge so much…whether it be judging in a mean way, or in this case, in a well-intended way of thinking someone has it all, when maybe they don’t.

    This was an excellent and insightful post. I’m a humor blogger and this is outside my element, but I found it quite enlightening. Great work! :-)

    • says

      Lisa, so glad you read us and commented. WIsh I could be a humor blogger, such a gift. Not to judge….such an important thing to remind ourselves of, thank you.

  16. says

    great post. sometimes though, it’s not so much that it isn’t what it seems, it’s just that certain pains are too private to share until a person is ready to hear the words out loud.

    • says

      Wonderful and all too true point. It is funny how saying something out loud seems to change so much, thanks Sandy for reminding me.

  17. says

    So true! I have to remind myself of this constantly! I try not to make my life look perfect, but some people still see it that way. I just like to focus on the good. Don’t we all??

  18. says

    Darn- I turn 30 next week and kind of hoped once I did I would all of a sudden know everything.

  19. says

    The moment someone gets real with you is the moment that real friendship begins. And if we all gave ourselves permission to do that with each other more, we would be a lot happier. Well said.-The Dose Girls