Marilyn Monroe once famously said,
“I’m selfish, impatient, and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I’m out of control, and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
Like so many of Marilyn’s other quotes, our culture has absorbed this one and we have let it affect the way we view relationships. We use this mantra as we fight with our significant others, we post it to our Facebook walls, and we even sing along to it in Machine Gun Kelly’s new song “At My Best.” Young girls everywhere write “can handle me at my worst” on their list of criteria their future spouse must exhibit. I’m serious.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the quote completely. Unconditional love, even in spite of totally undesirable traits, is something to seek out. Having people around us who accept us just as we are is vital to our well being. I would never advise someone to continue on in a romantic dating relationship where they are not valued for who they are, taking the bad with the good. And yet I consistently get a bad taste in my mouth whenever I come across someone repeating this famous quote.
For one, this quote feels like a license to be a difficult human being. Of course we’re all overflowing with imperfections. They seem to continuously spill out, especially on the ones we love the most. But if someone is having trouble handling our worst traits, we cannot just conclude that they don’t deserve us and keep on being our worst self. When we do this, we put the weight of sustaining our relationships completely onto the other person. It takes all of the responsibility off of us and blames someone else even though we have just admitted that we are the ones causing problems by being at our worst. And that’s absurd.
On the contrary, we humans should try to put our best foot forward for all other people. Not because they deserve it. But because giving our best to others is one of the most selfless ways to love. It demonstrates respect and humility and a willingness to sacrifice our emotions in order to regulate our actions so that we are easy for other people to deal with. This should be our goal. Inevitably, we will mess up. We will fall short. Our worst traits will come out. We can’t help it. But when this happens we should look around at who is still loving us. These people have chosen to accept us in spite of our failures. They are special. When we’re around them, we don’t have to fear what they will do if our worst slips out. What a sweet, sweet gift. Therefore, we should try even harder to be our best selves around these people. They truly deserve it.
So I hope that our new mantra becomes this,
“If you can handle me at my worst, then I want to give you nothing but my best.”
Perhaps this is actually what Marilyn Monroe was getting at, but a little tweak in how we say it can change our attitudes and relationships big time.