Is the All-American family a unicorn? Comparison Kills

Normal. I have kicked this word around in my head for years. I was in a decade long relationship that I was told by various outsiders was not normal. It made sense at the time because by comparison, it didn’t look normal. By all clinical definitions, the relationship fell into the realm of abnormal. I even had a period of time where I had accepted that everything was dysfunctional because a few things were off kilter. It was a conflicted thought process for me. In the moments when no one else was around, no matter how screwed up things were by comparison, they felt right to me. I loved our little family. I was mostly happy with my life. Still, there were those other abnormal factors.

After my divorce (it wasn’t a quick process), I wondered for a while if I truly understood what it meant to love someone. Had that whole relationship been a giant co-dependent cluster fuck?  It took some years, and quite a bit of soul searching to realize that what I felt through all of that was because of what I held on to as being this idea of “normal”.

How could I have a normal relationship if I didn’t have a normal childhood? I had believed that I must have been broken because I did not grow up in a two parent home. I had believed I must have been defective because my childhood was not stable by societal standards. The truth was that I did not really understand what instability was until I had come face to face with it, but in understanding that, I also realized that almost everyone I knew was unstable in some way. What did it really mean to be fucked up if everyone was?

I have often wondered if the stable, understanding, and consistent human being even exists. Am I describing something along the lines of a unicorn? When I look around, it seems like most of what I observe is functional chaos. True, love is accepting things about another. It is accepting everything and choosing to love them anyway. On the one hand, loving someone who is incredibly screwed up earns the label of being co-dependent. On the other extreme is what appears to be the lack of deep emotion and working together with someone to complete the task of life.

If co-dependency is the definition of dysfunction, what is the opposite of that called? Is it fair to say that that kind of relationship is equally unhealthy? The bigger question is, what business is it of mine anyway?

Literature glamorizes and romanticizes co-dependency. Movies romanticize dysfunction. Clearly we love something about these things because there are best selling authors that have made a living out of writing dysfunctional relationships with complex characters. Dysfunctional relationships in film are big in American theaters.

Let us not forget Natural Born Killers...that movie was all about a dysfunctional relationship, but the movie was a hit and the love story was admirable no matter how gory and unconventional it was. Romeo and Juliet. The epitome of a dysfunctional young love story, but it’s a classic. Beauty and the Beast, anyone? Oh, how about 50 Shades of Grey? The entire Twilight series? There are so many examples of abnormal love stories that look nothing like the all-American, picturesque life, and they date back to man’s earliest recorded stories. I have to wonder if normal was ever a realistic goal for any relationship.

Is the All-American happy, functioning, thriving home the new unicorn? Does that even really exist anymore. Did it ever? Or were rules just made up somewhere along the way to make us all feel like we weren’t doing life the right way?  Human nature is just a little unstable in general. So everything else that follows will be a little unstable, too.

What is normal for one will almost assuredly not be normal for someone else. This is the thing about rules and regulations and societal standards versus reality…I don’t think anyone lives up to all of the standards set by those who are just as dysfunctional as the rest of us.

It brings to mind our need to judge and label everything as being right and wrong, good or bad. Have we been so programmed to judge and label everything that the true myth is this humanistic idea of normal? Maybe not everything fits into some prescribed set of ideas. Maybe life in general does not.

What is the definition of normal anyway?

As a good friend of mine used to say, “Normal is merely a setting on the laundry.”


Comparison is the root disease to almost every man-made issue in existence. Without comparison, there would essentially be no discontent. Without comparison, there would be no low self esteem because we would only be looking at ourselves. There would essentially be no abnormal. There would only be the understanding that what works for one, does not necessarily work for someone else. In that understanding, we might actually be happy. Suddenly, what we have might actually be enough. The person we chose in life would be exactly enough. What everyone else was doing, what everyone else had would not factor in to our own happiness at all.

My biggest problem in my first real relationship was that I focused so much on what I thought the relationship should be. I compared it to what I thought normal was. I compared him to what I believed the “right” guy should be. It wasn’t even necessarily because I believed he was all wrong.  In the understanding of  what’s done is done, I’ve also realized that I cannot compare the life I had then to the life I’m working on now.

When I examined the material I was reading in my Marketing class, it became very clear why advertising works so well. It is all about comparisons and playing on people’s insecurities. It is all about increasing the volume of the outside world and convincing people that what they have simply isn’t good enough.

To be successful in marketing one needs to be skilled at exploiting and capitalizing on insecurity. Advertising doesn’t point out that all people suck in some way. Its focus is targeting the individual and convincing us that what they are selling will make life better.

Your wife sucks, get a woman who wears these! She puts out! Your car isn’t good enough, have your mid-life crisis in this baby! Your kid isn’t good enough, drink this brand of wine to forget about him! Your cooking sucks, use this gadget! You are a terrible mother unless you buy your kids this! You aren’t attractive enough, wear this! Your job is shit, take this pill! You are a loser at life, buy this boat! Your neighbor has all of these things, lots of debt, and only looks happy on the outside. Inside he’s cold and dead. Be a joiner!

And the cycle of comparison goes on and on while we feel less and less secure in our lives. Wine is great, and boats are nice, but sometimes I wonder why all of the stuff is necessary in order to capture a moment of happiness.

If normal is merely a setting on the laundry, why are we all struggling to find it? If the disease of comparison is what holds us in a state of unhappiness, why are we so hell bent on doing it? We are bombarded with the truth of how easy it can be to feel happy, or at the very least, content in life…yet we are always worried about comparing. It has become second nature to us all.

I do not believe that the All-American life is some mystical unicorn. I do believe the idea looks vastly different from one household to another, from one individual to the next. It is possible that in a world where comparison were not a growing human disease, that ideal life and love would theoretically be obtainable.  One size does not fit all, so I’m not sure why so many of us spend so much time chasing what someone else has.

In a scenario where we are no longer using a measuring stick against what is happening next door, happiness would be abundant. Happiness would not merely be some often discussed, but rarely seen idea we spend a lifetime chasing, competing for, or trying to purchase. This may sound idealistic, but a thought can change a generation. It isn’t far fetched, only difficult to fathom because so few of us have lived that way.

It leaves me with the work of unwinding the programming I’ve had since childhood, the want to compare my life to everything on the outside. I’m not sure if it is possible to erase the need to compare, or if it now becomes a dimming of everything I thought to be true.

If life is full of possibilities, I have to consider the ability to re-wire bad thinking as being one of them. I hope to someday find that the only normal I’m regularly contemplating is the dry cycle on my laundry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.