Embracing Wabi-Sabi In Your Unavoidably Imperfect Relationship

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic theory that translates loosely to an appreciation of the transience and imperfection of things.
Publish date:
November 11, 2013
Dating, the frisky

Here is a example of something that happens to people in relationships: we strive for perfection at all costs. Things go well, things are proceeding according to the path you created in your head. Things feel perfect. Your relationship is a glorious jewel of correctness, shining in a world where nothing is right. There have been no arguments, you disagree on nothing and appear to have everything in common. The success of your relationship is a kick in the teeth to all your other problems, it’s the one thing that you can really and truly do right. It’s a contact high of the best kind and you never want it to go away. The problem with this feeling? The first crack in the veneer sends you into a roiling, spiraling panic. The truth: Perfection is impossible, it is unfeasible, and the struggle to achieve it will be the death of the relationship. Instead of striving for it, try infusing your relationship with some wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic theory that translates loosely to an appreciation of the transience and imperfection of things. A celebration of imperfections and the vagaries of everyday life, wabi-sabi embraces the little cracks and textures that make life interesting. It’s like this: an Ikea table is boring because it lacks faults — the edges are smooth, the surface is polished, its complete lack of fault highlights its sterility. It craves the touch of the human hand. The rustic farm table, on the other hand, hewn from a slab of reclaimed wood, supported by beams wrested from the eaves of a barn or an old farmhouse is an entirely different beast. There’s backstory, there’s a sense of a mythology surrounding the object, there’s a crackled finish or a rough spot that gives the item a personality with verve and wit. That table is a conversation piece while the other merely blends into the background.

How does this apply to your relationship? It’s simple. Perfection is boring, it’s uninteresting, it leaves nothing to the imagination. A perfect relationship is devoid of personality. There are no arguments — lighthearted or serious — over whether or not to watch that movie or go to that restaurant. Your sex life operates at a level that is neither excessive or lacking. Any “perfect” relationship merely relegates you and your partner to being two cogs in a machine, going through the motions. The urge towards perfection in relationships is a natural reaction to the general messiness of life. We want a relationship to be perfect because it can then serve as testament to our ability to do at least one thing in life without a hitch.

The natural inclination of humans is to tidy up the corners, line up the edges, make the piles of books and unopened mail and back issues of Us Weekly disappear smoothly into drawers or recycling bins. Everything in its right place means that you’re doing something right. An organized closet or an alphabetized bookshelf is one thing, but a relationship that has the same shiny smooth perfection is wrong.

But here’s the rub: imperfection is where it gets exciting. Imperfection drives conversation, it inspires thought, it creates discourse — all things that are key to a vibrant and healthy relationship. For example, maybe you and your partner have very strong, differing opinions about toasted versus un-toasted bagels. Maybe your partner has a predilection for leaving a trail of clothing, gym socks and musty boxer briefs by the bed, or an annoying habit of leaving a glass of water perilously close to where you groggily fumble for the snooze button every morning. Maybe you two have completely opposite ideas about what constitutes a properly made bed. It’s easy to pick fights over these tiny things in an attempt to restore gloss to something that feels tarnished, but resist the urge. This is the wabi-sabi of it all. These tiny imperfections are what make a relationship continue to flow.

Relationships are supposed to be messy. They are supposed to be fun and unexpected. You should embrace your small disagreements over the Netflix queue and buying toothpaste and the merits of lo mein versus chow fun. There can even be larger differences, ones that cut a little deeper than where to order takeout. These should be embraced as well. The fact of the matter is that these arguments that mar the surface of what you think should be perfect are only strengthening your relationship. Each difference is a little brick in the foundation of a strong, beautiful relationship. It’s important to disagree, because dating a yes-man or woman is no fun. If you find yourself struggling to right these perceived wrongs, remind yourself that nothing fulfilling is actually perfect. The imperfections are what made you fall in love with the person you’re with, and know that embracing the wabi-sabi of it all is the key to happiness.

Reprinted with permission from The Frisky. Want more?

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