Quick hit: Hugo Schwyzer on the connection between perfectionism and unhealthy relationships

Hugo Schwyzer has been writing a lot about perfectionism of late, because as someone who teaches college-aged women, it’s a problem he comes across quite frequently. In his most recent post on perfectionism, he writes about the belief that he finds among some of his students that unless a woman is approaching physical “perfection,” she has no right to expect very much from the men she’s involved with:

Working with high school and college-aged young women, I’ve heard the same thing more and more often in recent years. These smart and amazing young women have somehow gotten the idea that in order to be treated with respect and love, they have to be damn near perfect. One student said to me last year, “If I were fifteen pounds thinner, I think my boyfriend would stop looking at other girls.” She didn’t feel like she had the right to ask her guy to stop checking out other women in public. “You have to be gorgeous for a man to want to be with you and only you. I’m not, so I can’t expect that.”

A mentee of mine has a boyfriend who uses porn regularly and plays video games for hours. “Sometimes he’ll just forget to call or text because he’s gaming”, she says. “I’m lucky to get a few minutes alone with him a week when we’re not doing something sexual. But this is the way boys are — unless you’re like freakin’ Megan Fox, you can’t expect a guy’s complete attention.”

Another girl told me that she doesn’t feel like she can have a boyfriend – because she’s not pretty enough. She has a lot of hook-ups instead. “I’m the girl you get with for a blowjob”, she said; “I’m not the hot girl you hold hands with in public.”

Schwyzer goes on to discuss how this self-imposed perfectionism affects intimate relationships, and how it poisons our ideas about masculinity, too. It’s not to be missed. Go read the whole thing here.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/evarlese/ Erica Varlese

    Damn, this was good. I’ve definitely done the same things and it’s a testament to how good of a writer he is that Schwyzer describes this so accurately.

  • honeybee

    Alot of people really don’t understand human relationships and sexuality at this age. Not only do these girls need to learn they don’t need to be perfect and value themselves more, but they also need some perspective on men and life in general.

    Case in point – girl #1 talks about her boyfriend not looking at other girls, but doesn’t realize that it wouldn’t matter what she looked like. People are always going to be attracted to other people no matter what you look like. The old saying is true – show me the hottest man or woman you can find and I’ll show you someone who is bored with banging them. Sounds crude and I don’t support it fully but there is truth to it. Truth is, NO ONE can ever be everything to anyone. It doesn’t matter how hot you are, at best you might keep someone’s sole intention for a short time but that’s it. Fact is, no matter what my boyfriend/husband looks like I’m going to be attracted to other people and look at other people. That’s how sexuality works. Even if my husband were Brad Pitt or whoever else you favour, Brad Pitt can still only be one person. He can’t be black and white and Asian and Latino at the same time. He can’t have long hair and short hair at the same time. He can’t be tall and short and thin and big at the same time. So he will always only be one representation of humanity, when humans in general are attracted to a whole range of people.

    In the second girls post I would tell her that even Megan Fox couldn’t hold a guy like that’s attention for long, because it isn’t HER that is the problem. It’s him and his priorities and lifestyle. She needs to stop blaming herself and blame the real problem. Unfortunately at that age she might have trouble finding other guys who are any different but ultimately it’s not our place to tell people how to live their lives.

    The last girl is the one who hurts me the most… I feel so bad for her that she sees herself this way. Though I don’t see why she thinks being “hotter” is the problem… to me it’s her self-esteem (which is the whole point of the article). In my experience guys are more likely to only want a hookup with a hot girl, and more likely to settle down with a plainer – but smarter and realer – girl.

    It’s such a shame that young women feel this way… I blame in large part the media who have constructed these INACCURATE portrayals of relationships and the “way things should be” in movies and TV. Real relationships, even adult marriages, are rarely like what these women think.

  • http://feministing.com/members/blondeintokyo/ Heidi

    I’d like to know why women are being told that if a guy looks at another woman or uses porn, it’s because she’s not good enough. There we have a problem- the problem isn’t that men like porn or like to look at other women. They are human, and humans are sexual creatures. Women like porn too. Women also desire other men. Yet men don’t seem worried that their girlfriend will leave when he catches her looking at a guy with a cute butt.

    The problem is that women have had it pounded into their heads that REAL love equals one man, one woman, forever and ever, amen. We all know it doesn’t work that way. We know people aren’t naturally monogamous, and that it’s a struggle to be monogamous, and it’s natural to desire others. The real problem is a culture that teaches that sex is dirty and shameful, that it is only to be shared with one person, after marriage. Without the shame surrounding sex, it would be a lot easier for people to embrace their sexuality, and understand that looking at someone else and desiring them isn’t a rejection of the primary relationship.

  • http://feministing.com/members/mindblast/ Terry Jones

    The problem might be that modern women discount a large portion of the “dating pool.” According to this article, one woman claimed that 50% of the men in her college were not viable for romantic relationships.
    Hence, the problem could be not that a modern woman’s self esteem is too low, but rather that she considers her sexuality a commodity which is too valuable for most men. Additionally, many women expect men to make the “first move” in a relationship, and hence allow themselves to be at the mercy of whomever comes their way and says the right things at the right time. She allows herself to be inept at initiating relationships with men she is attracted to, and hence becomes a product of a man’s actions.
    Perfectionism is not just an issue for women, either. Many men find themselves expected to act in ways which defy their identities to get romance. They are expected to act, dress, and speak in a way which caters to women. It would be unthinkable for a man to expect a woman to act in this regard.
    For anyone who wants to have a discussion with me, I have mirrored this post on my livejournal, which I check more frequently than this site.

    • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley


      I agree entirely. Even if you do not press the point enough – what, a woman claims that half the men are undateable? Imagine if a man had made that statement about the women in his college!

      The comments on this thread are horribly femino-centric. I mean, men have the same hangups, worries, pressures and worries. And yet women seem to think that unfairness in relationships, societal pressures act only against them and that it is up to men to change.

      I won’t go on because I’ll be considered inflammatory.

  • lindgren51

    That’s like the saddest thing I’ve read in a long time. Sometimes I hate us. ml