Questions, Part 1: Good Enough?

There are certain questions that are, in the moment, unanswerable. I was once posed this question: “I can never be good enough for you, can I?” I have considered the question often in the intervening years and realized why I was so dumbstruck. I have concluded that I could not answer the question as asked or in the time allotted.

The question was emotionally charged (the charge is still palpable even typing it out), had a presupposed response, ascribes to me more than I warrant, and is layered like one can scarcely believe.

Emotional Charge

Any time we ask a question that is emotionally charged, we render it unanswerable at worst and dangerous to answer at best. Emotion pushes logic aside. With logic removed from the equation, the situation becomes muddied and difficult to decipher. More, any response to an emotionally charged question will be filtered through the attendant emotions. It would be like trying to pass magnetic media through an electromagnetic field and then look at the document saved on that media. Some of the information might survive, but it will — at a minimum — be garbled and potentially incomprehensible.

Looking back, I find that I am just as glad I did not answer the question when it was asked. Not because I harbor any animosity or ill-will toward the person who asked it, but because of the emotional charge inherent in the question; the despondency wrapped up in the asking at all leaves no good answer. Answers? Absolutely. None that would resolve the conflict implied by the question’s asking. The form of the question and the fact that it was asked at all further imply, to me, an underlying weakness in any relationship that was built on that kind of foundation. If one party in a relationship wonders whether or not they are “good enough” for the other, then that relationship has serious problems.

A Presupposed Response

The way that the question is phrased indicates that a response is already presupposed. The supposed response is “No, you cannot be good enough.” Whether accurate or not, this presupposition colors any further conversation on the topic. The phrasing of the question implies an underlying presumption that the sufficiency of the asker is dubious in their own mind and that any answer that is not the expected one would require persuasion. All answers, in short, will be suspect.

Perhaps it is just my own vanity or pride, but I think that one should proceed from the starting position that one is sufficient to one’s partner or friends so long as the relationship is maintained. Keeping a relationship going requires energy and time and sacrifice of nearly every variety. It is a far simpler matter to allow a relationship to die quietly than to nurture it. If one begins with the premise that the other party finds one, in some fashion, sufficient to a need or desirable to have around, then addressing shortfalls or areas of weakness is gentler on all parties and begins from a position of strength.

Questions Are Like Onions

I wish I had realized, in that moment years ago, that some of the layers of the question were answerable even then. Not every question has layers. I suspect that most of us intend far less than we ask. But I would like to peel back the layers of the onion a bit and address the areas of sufficiency that might have been inquired after.

Physical Attractiveness

It is possible to ask whether or not one is sufficiently physically attractive to please one’s partner. This is, to my mind, a question of aesthetic appreciation which can be divorced from sexual desire. This is simply a matter of a person being pleasant to look on. The comparative likelihood of a person being a relationship, particularly an intimate one, with someone whom they do not find aesthetically pleasing is marked. Using myself as the plumb line for male behavior, I find that males must overcome an innate aversion to those whom we do not deem aesthetically pleasant. We must consciously put forth effort to get past something within us that does not want to be around someone we find disagreeable to look at. By contrast, my experience with women is that they are perfectly capable of looking past the exterior and forming meaningful relationships with others based on character. My wife once told me that she did not find me physically attractive when we first met, but my character and personality were attractive to her, so our relationship was formed.

That said, the answer to this aspect of the question could be a resounding “Yes.” and still not completely or accurately answer the query. In addition, this answer given alone might be misleading, as other aspects might not be answered in the affirmative.

Sexual Desirability

While I find certain things pleasant to look on — for example, certain types of vehicle or flowers — there is nothing sexual in that appreciation of their aesthetics. I appreciate a well-designed car for the artistry that I perceive in it. The same is true for a flower. However, it is possible for the aesthetic appreciation to include a dose of sexual desire when a member of the opposite sex is involved. It is also possible for a person whom I do not find aesthetically pleasing to evoke sexual desire due to some part of their person inviting that response. To be transparent, one’s sexual arousal does not excuse one’s actions in response to same. The body responds to what the body responds to and the mind likewise, but the two need not agree. They often do not.

Is it valid to ask whether or not one’s partner finds them sexually desirable? Of course. If there has been nothing to provide guidance in this, the question is perfectly valid. If, however, actions and words have together indicated that one is desirable, then the question is moot. As before, so now. This question could be answered in the affirmative and the question in its totality left unresolved. And, again, this answer given in isolation could be misleading.

Moral Compatibility

While it may not seem so at a glance, people’s morality is rather a large part of who and what they are. It may simply be a moral incompatibility that leaves us perplexed about others as we look around. I know that there are things I find morally reprehensible that others regard as no more serious than jaywalking. Likewise, there are things that I have absolutely no problem with which others would gasp in shock at. It is not that morality is relative, but it is a question of which morals I own and make my own. Is drinking immoral? Or is it drunkenness that is immoral? Or neither? The short answer is that drunkenness is immoral and the rest of the spectrum is either limiting ourselves for reasons — some valid, others less so — or granting ourselves license because excuses. Which morals I choose to make my own is important and any partner in life must have a compatible morality. Notice I do not say they must have the same morality. I know of married couples wherein one abstains from alcohol while the other partakes — each for perfectly valid reasons. Neither is a drunk and neither judges the other. In this way, their moralities are compatible. If one were a drunk and the other abstained altogether, then the moralities would clash and cause friction. It may be surmountable, but it will absolutely cause conflict.

If this is the question being asked, then the actual formation of it is not about whether one is “good enough” but whether or not one has a compatible morality. Can the two moralities coexist within the relationship or does their friction cause too much trouble for the situation to be tenable?

This, by the way, is where things get serious. Relationships survive lack of physical attractiveness with very little problem. Time strips that away whether we will or no. Relationships survive a lack of sexual desire. It is challenging, but relationships are able to get along under those circumstances. When moralities are incompatible, things really begin to get dicey.

Spirituality

People’s spirituality is another of those major things that define who and what they are. Some people espouse a particular faith — I am Christian. Not a good example of one, but a Christian. Others espouse a faith in science or human nature (God help them). Regardless of where we find ourselves on the spectrum of spirituality — from pantheist to atheist — we want to know that our partner’s spirituality is compatible with our own. And compatibility is not just like ways of thinking. Compatibility also entails how seriously we take our spirituality. Are we devout or casual in our spiritual life?

If this was the nature of the question posed back when, then it might better be rendered, “Is my spirituality not sufficiently like yours in type and level of devotion?”

There is another way this could be understood. It could be understood, as I came to ask it of myself, “Is this person the type who will cause me to grow and go deeper in my spiritual life? Will we spur each other on to a richer spirituality than we currently have?”

Compatible Priorities

How do I handle money? Where does family find itself in my priorities? The list of priorities goes on for days and incompatibilities in this arena break more relationships than most anything else, in my experience and observation.

If this was the question being asked — “Are my priorities not able to become sufficiently compatible with yours?” — then we are moving into the deepest reaches of serious territory and complex responses. Some of the others are simple to answer, but this requires careful consideration before reaching a conclusion. If moralities are compatible and spiritualities are compatible, then their relative significance and importance to the individuals scales how beneficial or deleterious their effects will be.

Caramelized Onions

For years, I considered all of these aspects of the question posed to me during free moments (of which there are many when one has a long commute). I do not recommend a regular diet of long periods of time spent in a quiet car with nothing but one’s own thoughts and musings.

What I came to understand is that the question was too complex to have been answered with a simple Yes or No.

I can state with certainty that physical attraction and sexual desire have been present in every intimate relationship throughout my life. I can also, to my shame, state that very few of those relationships included compatible moralities, spiritualities, or priorities. Hence the end of them. It is not a matter of whether or not those people were “good enough for” me or I for them, but of whether or not we were beneficial to each other; whether or not we spurred one another to become more fully ourselves.

Ascription of Too Much

Who am I and who cares? The question was posed by a book title some time ago, but the question, with minor tailoring, applies here. Who am I to determine the sufficiency or goodness of another person? Moreover, who cares about my estimations? Therein lies a portion of the problematic nature of this question. I am not fit to judge another’s sufficiency or goodness. I am flawed and insufficient, decidedly not qualified to be passing judgment.

For someone to ascribe to me the judgment of their relative goodness or sufficiency is to lessen themselves and to elevate me far beyond my deserts. A person could be “good enough” for me to enjoy looking on them and “good enough” for our morals and spirituality to be compatible and still the relationship will fail for one reason or another. Despite our best efforts. Despite what we might wish. Things fall apart and the center does not hold and the reasons may be as opaque to us as they are clear to others.

Regardless, ascribing any human being the judgment seat of our fitness is a mistake.

Conclusion

Since this question has sporadically been on my mind over the last decade or so, I asked it with regard to my wife and I while we were dating and engaged. I have always found my wife to be an attractive lady and her desirability has never been in question. There is more. Far more. She challenges me to be more fully myself with regard to my morals and spirituality and priorities. She pushes me to adhere strictly to the morals that I call my own and to push deeper into my spiritual life. She has also drawn out my priorities and allowed me to evaluate them and rearrange them when they were not what I wanted them to be. When I was selfish, it became obvious and I was allowed the space to work through that while still being given the support that helped move things forward.

Does this mean that my wife and I are “good enough” for one another? I think that is the wrong question. We challenge each other and encourage each other and push each other. She challenges me to be more fully me. She urges me to make that me better. In both her loveable and challenging moments, she reminds me that she needs me to be the best me I can. And it is a challenge that I find I want to rise to more and more often. It is not a question of whether or not we are “good enough” for one another. It never has been and it never will be.

She is not “good enough” — she is who I need. And that is far more than “enough.”

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