“Are you going out with that spot on your shorts?” I asked myself.

“Yes, it’s okay. I no longer need to look perfect,” I replied.

Ray and I used to notice that our parents, and other older people, often had food stains on their clothing.

“They must not see the spots,” we guessed.

Now that I’m their age, I have the answer to my question. They saw the spots, but changing clothes took too much effort, and besides, “So what?” 

When the first copy of my new book, “On Being Gay and Gray,” arrived, I immediately spotted thin perpendicular lines along the left margin of the pages, particularly those that had information on my previous books and DVDs. Years ago, I would have panicked and said, “Stop the presses!” but I decided I could live with the imperfections. 

Ray had worked for hours downloading the manuscript onto Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Each time he did so, we’d see that the spacing of pages was wrong. He finally got the spacing right, but the lines appeared. Not wanting to ask him to keep at it, I decided it was fine. You have to know that this is new thinking on my part, and I like it. 

It’s a good thing that I like it because we had a handyman string light in the trees in our courtyard this morning, but when they were illuminated tonight, they were a different color of white than what was already in the yard. Do we order new lights and have the trees restrung, or do we accept that it’s okay to have two shades of white lights in the courtyard? Might it even be better with the mix? 

COVID containment had a silver lining for me. We used to do a lot of entertaining, including game nights, dinner parties, and overnight guests. For years, I always took pride in having everything look and feel perfect, as if our guests were in a five-star restaurant or guest house. That ended with COVID and I realized how much more relaxed I was not worrying constantly about what needed to be done. 

Ray and I are very tidy, but I can live with things not being perfect. When we started entertaining again, I could feel myself tighten up with the pressure to have things be just so. We talked about it, and decided that we didn’t want to live with that stress. If we were going to have friends visit, it had to be okay that not every leaf got picked up outside, and not every picture frame had to be dusting. We do our best, and then let go. 

Younger people may have come to the same conclusion during COVID, but I think the wisdom of letting go of the standard of perfection comes with age. Accumulating experiences allows us the perspective of comparison. Ray and I have had picture-perfect parties, the memories of which are pleasant, but the most savored memories are those when we relaxed and focused on being present. 

We all remember our teenage years and the pressure we felt to hide pimples. Clearasil was kept in large supply. Bad haircuts that revealed cowlicks made some of us painfully self-conscious until the hair grew back. Wearing braces on our teeth was mortifying. “Hey, tin grin.” Our clothes had to be in style. Ralphie wasn’t the only one who hated wearing something Aunt Martha sent for Christmas. No garish sweaters, please.

The self-consciousness of imperfections lasted much of my life, and the pressure to look right, and live right was exhausting. Working for one’s idea of perfection can be obsessive and compulsive. It creates standards that are beyond the reach of most people. It also generates fewer reciprocal invitations, as some people feel they can’t compete. 

For Ray and me, it was the spiritual path, as well as aging, that helped us let go of the desire and need for everything to be picture perfect. The Tao Te Ching, especially helped us ease away from our preoccupation with things always being flawless. The Tao says nothing about wearing a shirt or shorts with spots on them, but it does warn against seeking the approval of others, because doing so makes you their prisoner for life.  

The best life, I have found, is that to which I am fully present. So that means that my mind isn’t preoccupied with the need for perfection. So, if you see me wearing a shirt or pair of shorts that have a spot on it, don’t assume I can’t see the spot. Trust that I no longer give it the importance it once had.  

In Japanese culture, the word wabi-sabi celebrates that beauty is really imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Like nature, we’re all perfect in our imperfections.


Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.

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