"I'd rather be connected than perfect." (Me, too!)

I finished Jane Fonda's autobiography this week. I guess it's fairly obvious by all the quotes I've shared that I really enjoyed it. She's a good writer and I connected with her early in the book. I felt like I was spending time with her these past two weeks, getting to know her, not just reading about her. So, now that I'm done, I think I may even miss her a little.

Toward the end, she talked about finally learning to find her voice in a relationship with a man (Ted Turner). I guess this may have been the biggest surprise for me about her life. I would not have looked at someone like Jane Fonda and suspected that she silenced herself in any relationship because she feared abandonment if she didn't. She has been so assertive and outspoken in public areas of her life, I could never have imagined many of the inner struggles she wrote about.

There is a C. S. Lewis quote I have always loved...
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'"  

And Donald Miller recently wrote on his blog...
"It’s true we impress people with our supposed perfections, but we connect with each other in our flaws...
I’d rather be connected than perfect."

Yes. So true. I love people who share their imperfections and struggles. I love feeling connected to others (even through a book). I love to spend time with someone who is genuine, real and flawed; someone who doesn't need to impress me; someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable and exposed! And I love having the freedom to be who I am and say what I think and feel in a relationship. I'm so blessed. Not only have I found that freedom and safety in so many friendships, I have found it in my marriage to John.

As I read the last chapters of Fonda's book, I could relate to a quote she included from psychologist Carol Gilligan, describing how women have "often sensed that it was dangerous to say or even to know what they wanted or thought -- upsetting to others and therefore carrying with it the threat of abandonment ... [That] the justification of these psychological processes [of silencing the self] in the name of love or relationships is equivalent to the justifications of violence and violation in the name of morality."

I grew up in an environment that highly valued silence. Being an emotional woman was defined as weakness and/or instability. Expressing my opinion was a sin, at worst, or unladylike, at best. But most of the time, my opinion just wasn't wanted or tolerated (especially by the men in my life). I've been called abrasive and aggressive because I dared to speak from my heart openly, with passion. And I have effectively "gotten the message" many times that it would be so much easier for some to love and get along with me if I would not have to express what I think or feel. Thank goodness, I have finally reached an age where I don't want or need that kind of love and acceptance anymore.

Although I won't always agree with everyone (including John), I have no desire to silence anyone. I think it's partly because I want to know what others are thinking and feeling. Even when it makes me uncomfortable, I want to know. My desire to know and understand and be able to relate to another person is far greater than my desire for them to make me comfortable. That is the kind of friend I want to be and the kind of friend I value most.

As I finished the book, I couldn't help but reflect on how far I've come and how much I've grown in the last few years. God has put a lot of people in my life who have contributed to that growth. But the most significant is John. I was a wounded soul when we met. I was far more damaged and vulnerable than I realized. But, to my continual amazement, he loved, respected and valued me without wanting to change me in any way. He has given me the most unselfish love I have ever experienced. And I hope I have given him the same. His love has made me less needy of approval and more resilient to criticism. I know I am never disposable to him. I can disagree. I can be emotional. I can have my own opinion. And whether he is in agreement or not, my feelings and viewpoints always matter to him. If he thinks he has hurt me, he can't stand it. He values our relationship as much as I do. Which is saying a lot.

Recently, he came home from a hard day and told me how the stress was taking a tremendous toll on him, mentally and physically. He said, "You probably don't even realize how bad I feel sometimes, because I love and respect you too much to dump it on you or take my frustrations out on you." And I thought, "Wow." I am certainly well aware that he doesn't take things out on me. But to hear him verbalize it in those words meant more than I could probably even tell him. He said the word respect with such emphasis. (My husband: the person who lives with me and sees me at my worst!)

I have never been one to focus on being respected. (Quite the contrary, in fact.) I have never felt like respect is something you demand anyway. It's something you inspire (unless you just want the military kind). I have certainly not gained John's respect by shutting down and shutting up. He knows my heart, my thoughts, my strengths, my weaknesses, my quirks .. and always my opinions. He doesn't want to change me or silence me. He loves and respects me for who I am. As I do him. And for that I am so very grateful. Not only because it feels so good, but because it has been like Miracle-gro to my soil.

Maybe as a direct result of this one nearly perfect man (in my eyes) and relationship, I have finally learned to let go of those who demand something I can never give: the silencing of my self.