Four Buttons

Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash
Four buttons almost did me in.
I obsessed over their number, color and placement. Whether they could be seen or were nearly invisible to the eye. Whether they distracted from the overall look or disrupted the silhouette.
They made me realize just how perfectionistic I’d become.
It all began seven months earlier while my daughter and I sipped champagne after she committed to a wedding dress. That day ended a quest started months before and was equal parts exciting and frightening. We certainly enjoyed the process, visiting numerous shops and trying on many, many beautiful dresses. We clinked glasses and celebrated that the big decision was finally made!

While the dress was on order there were many other wedding details to keep us busy. Having planned two of my own weddings, I’d forgotten how many options and choices there are and how time consuming the decision making process can become.
I began thinking about the wedding incessantly and obsessing over details. You’ll probably think I’m crazy but here’s a true confession about just a few of the things I lost sleep over:
The font on the invitations.
Whether the invitation envelopes should have a liner.
The kind and color of rose used in the bouquets.
The shade of purple for the ribbons around the hotel guest boxes.
The size of the hair comb in my daughter’s hair.
What illustration to put on the sign for the flip-flop basket.
What kind of size tag to put on said flip-flops.
What color lipstick to wear.
….and the list goes on and on. This is just a sampling. I kid you not.
And here’s the best one: after I chose a lip color (which required multiple trips to Sephora), I hunted down a toenail polish color to match, despite the fact that I wore a gown! After sampling the third polish color, I started to get an inkling that my attention to detail was over the top.
But my ah-ha moment didn’t come until the last fitting. Yes, ten days before the wedding. The seamstress had worked out the bustle in the previous fitting, and now the maid of honor and I were learning how to button up the bustle for the reception.
A total of twelve buttons were needed to anchor the long train. But four of those twelve were placed on the back of the dress along the curve of my daughter’s bottom. Four small, clear buttons.
They were all I could see. I asked about moving them but was told of their necessity and the fact that “nobody will even see them”. I wasn’t convinced.
My daughter and the maid of honor were fine with them. We realized her veil would cover them. I still obsessed. Finally, I was told by both of them, in no uncertain terms, to let it go.
I tried.
And that’s when I realized how perfectionism had taken over my well being, sense of reason and objectivity.
I’d like to tell you that the moment of epiphany about my perfectionism helped me let it all go. I tried, I really did. But it required more soul searching than I had time for, so I bookmarked the issue for later consideration.
It’s later.
I haven’t always been a perfectionist, although there were red flags of my susceptibility from a young age. But I think it’s time to rid myself of this thief that steals contentment and peace.
So the main question is what purpose perfectionism serves.
Perfectionism values end product over process. It doesn’t allow one to enjoy the journey because the eye is always on the finish line. Many people advised me to enjoy the wedding planning process and time with my daughter, and I truly did, but I also admit that my obsession over details wasn’t always welcome or productive, and sometimes derailed conversations and outings.
Perfectionism can be about control. Somehow perfectionists believe if we attend to every minute detail, everything will turn out exactly as planned. Of course we know this is an impossibility, but we dig in our heels with fervency to win the battle against the unexpected. The unanticipated becomes the invisible enemy that we wage war against with our lists, questions, and contingency plans. We rarely win because as much as we hate to admit it, there are many, many things beyond our control.
Perfectionism can also reflect a fear of failure. Planning for every possibility can prevent that failure and subsequent (anticipated) humiliation. Or so we tell ourselves. Life has too many moving parts to guarantee any certainty. Things happen. But again, we try.
So now that I’ve thought about perfectionism and am committed to renouncing it in myself, have I? It’s easier said than done and will be a process. Especially because it seems to pop up in various areas of my life, and maybe yours too. There are many things I can accept and appreciate that are far from perfect. But others where my struggle is real.
So was my daughter’s wedding day perfect? In every way that mattered most. We had some unexpected twists, but in all it was a beautiful, fun and joyful day. My daughter and new son-in-law were radiant all day, glowing with happiness. I felt extremely blessed.


And I’m happy to say I forgot all about looking for four small, clear buttons.
Do you suffer from perfectionism in any area of your life? If so, (and if you’re willing to share) how do you keep everything in perspective?

  • Mary Ellen
    February 1, 2018

    Such great insight Jo. I think I had a bit of a perfectionist tendency when I was younger, and only in some areas. I wanted dinner parties to be perfect, my classroom bulletin boards and lessons of course, and my house decor. I took great pride in these things. As I am aging, gracefully I hope, I have been able to let all those things go. I’ll try a new recipe for the first time on guests and if it’s a flop, oh well, order pizza, because I realize my guests came to be with me, not for the food alone. If it’s the middle of February and my house still has a few Christmas decorations up, oh well, more time to enjoy them. If a bulletin board has something a skew, it no longer drove me crazy, my main focus was always on the students anyway. So maybe when you get to be my age Jo, 😉 , you’ll be able to let it ALL go too. Love you !

    • Jo-Ann
      February 4, 2018

      Thanks for your thoughts and insights MaryEllen! Yes, being able to let go of perfectionism sounds like it may be one upside of getting older and wiser – a recognition of what’s truly important. Love you too!

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