PQ 8.4 — Do I feel that most other people are sexier, more good-looking, more worthwhile, funnier, smarter or just generally better than I am, and I am not able to compete with them?
Why hello there, Ghost of Christmas Past.
I’ve been on a lifelong quest to prove to myself that I was good enough. And of course, I judged this by other people’s assessments. And especially lovers. It didn’t matter what I achieved or accomplished, I only had value if a lover said I did.
Like the old jazz ballad “You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Loves You.”
And if that were to change? If that lover had a change of heart or I fell out of favor with them? Well, there would go my self-worth.
It’s understandable under these conditions that I would obsess about how I stacked up against others. Even if the neurotic fixation on doing so caused me to act in ways that were offputting. It was feedback that I got often from partners: My biggest shortcoming was how much I worried about what people thought of me.
But the trouble is that the fix is not as simple as just throwing up your hands and yelling “eff other people’s opinions of me!”
As I wrote in Customer Qualification and Having the Right Haters: While being a people pleaser can be the road to ruin, I also think it’s possible to take things too far in the other direction. The hands-down most despicable people I know don’t care what anyone thinks of them. Furthermore, social referencing is an integral part of healthy interdependence.
However, it’s important to be selective. Just like you wouldn’t judge your beauty in a cracked mirror, you shouldn’t let just any old jackass determine whether what you’re doing is right or wrong.
But there are 2 vital things to remember here:
1. Evaluation Is a 2-Way Street
Evaluation is a 2-way street. In relationships, we qualify one another. You don’t have to accept their assessment of you, just like they don’t have to accept your assessment of them.
And think of it this way: Are you constantly comparing your partner to other people and wondering “How does this new person stack up to what I have? Could I do better?”
Now you may be quite different from me, but I don’t run around explicitly comparison shopping like this. Occasionally, I’ll see someone new and shiny and go “hot damn, that’s a fun prospect” (occasionally I even date them, if the logistics work out), but I don’t view one person as an “upgrade” to another. I’m certainly not on the prowl looking for upgrades. The Hunt for Something Better. But for some reason, I strangely expected this sort of thought process in other people. And when I push past the fear of change and potential loss, it occurs to me that if someone approaches people in this manner that I’m likely incompatible with them. Losing them would do me a favor. It dawned on me that I was competing vigorously for a prize I wasn’t all that interested in winning.
2. Caring What Other People Think Isn’t the Same as Letting Them Determine Your Self-Worth
And there’s a big difference between caring what other people think re: what you’re doing and granting them the power to unilaterally determine your self-worth.
As Paul Hauck writes, “Why do you insist on making someone else a judge of your worthwhileness? How did this one who loves you become an expert of your merits, your total value? Did your partner obtain a degree in college in how to grade human beings?”
This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions & answers, please see this indexed list.