The Perfect Friend
So did anyone see Desperate Housewives Sunday night?
As far as I know, only Empath Daught and I own up to watching Desperate religiously. We hadn't discussed it at all this season, but a couple of weeks ago, right after the tornado episode (great television) I called Daught traumatized and pleaded with her.
Yes, in a word. But Sunday's show, the one following the storm, had only a few good moments, only a few scenes that really got to me emotionally.
"I know, I know you're busy with the job and the kids, I know. But by any chance, have you watched Desperate lately?"
"OMG yes!" she cried. "Did you believe that tornado?! Isn't the show amazing this season?"
They're usually the ones with Felicity Hoffman. I'll watch the whole show, alternating between treadmill and exercycle, knowing that some of it will surely be boring and annoying. But oh, those moments! When it's good, it's splendid.
Anyway, I'm going to tell over one of the scenes right now to make a couple of points, one about friendship, the other about the need to be perfect. How I'll relate the two is anyone's guess.
So as you may know, one of the housewives, Bree Hodge (Bree Van de Camp before she married Orson Hodge) is a perfectionist. She casts a spell over everything she cooks, everything she bakes. Her house is immaculate. She irons her sheets. She has a spice garden. She's gorgeous, always dressed. Her make-up's perfect. Heck, she's Marcia Cross.
Her house is wrecked from the tornado and her friend Susan (Teri Hatcher), always the people pleaser, offers up her home as Bree's temporary residence. Susan's daughter Julie (Andrea Bowen) is really upset about it and correctly predicts that Bree and Orson (also a perfectionist, played by Kyle MacLachlan, I love him) will be moving furniture within the hour.
But Susan can't say no to Bree. Make yourself at home, that's what friends are for, she says. We help one another. The show thrives on hyperbole, which is why it's cute, of course.
By evening the next day Susan returns from work (I guess she works). The ambiance in the house is sensuous, the room lit by candle light, the table set. Classical music filters through the the house and remarkable smells waft from the kitchen. Julie sweeps down the stairs to greet her mother:
"Welcome to Heaven," she says, obviously thrilled.And it is heaven. They realize they can get very used to Bree, very used to ironed pillow cases and the smell of lilac.
But of course there's conflict. Bree essentially pimps out her own son to a gay roofer, hoping the roofer will move along the construction. Susan squashes the plan because she doesn't want the roofer to hasten Bree's exodus from her home.
Bree sits Susan down To Talk.
Susan fesses up. She doesn't want Bree to leave so soon because having her there is keeping her sane. The only reason that Susan is functioning at all is that Bree is there, taking care of her. Without Bree, Susan can't make it right now. She has issues. She's pregnant and her husband is in drug rehab.
But basically, Susan is Teri Hatcher. She has to have issues.
It's not codependency, it's friendship. Bree softens up, bakes Susan cookies, brings her a glass of milk. That's what friends are for.
So we need to take a second look at this, my friends. Bree's natural care-taking qualities, the way she takes care of house and home. "Heaven" is holding Susan together. Susan feels nurtured. She's fed, literally.
But as much as Bree is a perfectionist at material things, and gets it that her friend needs her, as a parent she's a disaster. Pimping your son? Is the lesson here that perfection is in the eye of the beholder? Or is it that denial rules. I can make a perfect crème brulée and pimp out my son.
Pick Door Number Two.
Therapists tend to pick at perfectionists as O.C., obsessive-compulsive, but that's really not fair. There are people out there who can do it all, parent well, keep a great house, attend to their parents and spouses, call their aunts and uncles, deacon at the church. And they don't always crack under the pressure, either.
At the risk of simplifying, it depends upon the support system, among other things. Energy out versus energy in. A person needs balance and a vacation now and then to function consistently well. A rewarding job really helps, add exercize, maybe spirituality, too. And eliminate all those other variables like an onset of depression, loss. Resolution of family of origin and marital issues helps. Getting handed divorce papers, on the other hand, can blow your whole day, really put a dent in the vacuuming.
Add it all up, make your subtractions, and trying to to be perfect might just net you headaches, ulcers, sleeplessness, all kinds of stress related physiological feed back.
Sometimes it affects the kids, too, setting that bar too high, either for yourself or for them. Demanding, perfectionistic parents are a challenge. Most kids have difficulty flipping them off, as hard as they'll try to rebel. And if they don't rebel, they're the ones with the headaches. Or they become care-takers, possibly co-dependents. Surely I'm simplifying. There are other outcomes.
Like a child's self-esteem, for example, that can suffer in the process of making mental comparisons with the perfect mom, the perfect dad. To me, the perfect mom lives in the shadows. Maybe not in the shadows, but she tries to stay backstage, be there as the working memory on the family computer that never breaks down. She's not perfect. She makes mistakes and owns them.
I think the saying is To err is human, to forgive, divine. Error makes us palpable, it's what we can relate to, the fallibility in our personalities and in the personalities of others.
Bree manages to make the perfect quiche. Do we really care?
Well. . .
Listen, we LIKE a good quiche. That kind of perfectionism, making the tangible in life excellent, is only dysfunctional when it hurts, when it's achieved at the expense of self (too much energy out) and something more important, like a child or spouse's well-being, or neglecting an elderly relative.
And perfect, it's my job to tell you, is only one level of functioning. It's nice. It's a very nice level. But it all depends upon what you're measuring.
It's nice to make a great dinner and not burn anything :)
It's nice to fold the laundry well, make the beds, sort the mail and pay your taxes on time. But doing it really well when other things (like people) get less out of you might mean that although you're functioning very highly, perhaps you're not really functioning well enough.
So yeah, we therapydocs tell you to drop it. Drop your coat on the floor, leave the dishes on the table for awhile, give the brain a rest and play with your kids.
Although Bree's perfectionist home-making make Susan feel nurtured, it's questionable whether or not her perfectionism really mattered all that much to Susan. I'm guessing that the perfect crème brulée is what we call the spurious variable in therapy. It just so happened.
The variable that matters, surely, is Bree's understanding. Her empathy cements the friendship. And let's not forget. Susan confides in Bree, she trusts her. I'd say pick Doors Number Two and Three, Trust and that corallary, sensing the freedom to speak intimately. A real blessing if you have that. It's not a given in life.
Indeed, the television is probably the best friend for millions of people who live alone.
So if you've got a friend who will make you cookies when you're down, you're incredibly lucky. And if she's understanding, and on top of that, makes really good cookies? Luckier still.