There’s a particular scene in the Julie & Julia movie that inspired this article and never fails to move me to tears. It’s the scene where Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep on platform shoes) is tearfully telling her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), that her massive tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking has been rejected by publisher Houghton Mifflin.
Paul paces back and forth a bit, then turns abruptly on his heel and yells, “Fuck ’em!” And that’s when everything clicked for me.
Narcissists have conditioned us for years to blame ourselves for everything. No matter what goes wrong nor how tortuous the logic, blame must be assigned and they always assign it to us and insist that if we were only different, things would be better. They never stand behind us and beside us, supporting us all the way.
Had a job interview but failed to be offered the job? What did you do wrong? What can you do differently? Was it your hair, your suit, what you said?
Had a disastrous date? What can you change? How can you be more pleasing to every potential mate?
Struggling at your job with lazy coworkers? What can you change to make them straighten up and fly right?
The list is endless. What’s shocking by its absence is, excuse my French, an attitude of “Fuck ’em! You’re just fine exactly as you are. Their loss! It wasn’t meant to be. There’s something better out there for you.” No, narcissists and their codependent flying monkeys are more than happy to “helpfully” point out all of our failings and all the ways we supposedly need to change for our lives, relationships and careers to run swimmingly. If we follow their advice, we spend our lives twirling and changing colors like chameleons, vainly trying to please everyone (but ourselves) simultaneously. C‘est impossible!
I’d heard the whole “Fuck ’em” thing before but didn’t learn the lesson. When I was 30ish, recently dumped and tearfully convinced that no one ever would nor ever could love me, my grandmother said these words: “There’s a cover for every pot.” What she’d basically said, boiled down and condensed into language Grandma would never, ever use, was “Fuck ’em. You’re okay, kid.”
It was hard to believe her, in fact, I didn’t believe her. History, my personal history, was not on her side.
Then, just a few months later, there he was … loving me in spite (or maybe because of) my OCD, my strong emotions, my tendency to mumble, my hyperness, my need for solitude, my inability to not burst into tears when reading the obituaries of perfect strangers, my weight, my hypothyroid fatigue and all the other things that society categorizes under the heading “Change Immediately if You Ever Want to be Loved.” (He chuckles and affectionately calls me “Dingbat” when I’m extra annoying. “Oh, Archieeeeee.”)
Grandma was right all along. While my narcissist was telling me that God was actively preventing Mr. Right to come along and blaming it on me, the truth was exactly the opposite. God was expertly pulling strings “His wonders to perform.” The underside of the embroidery was a tangled mess, but the topside was a beautiful tapestry. Step #1: Must get away from narcissists. Then everything fell into place beautifully!
All that to say, sure … try to be a nice, polite, normal person. It’ll help you at job interviews and suchlike. But there’s nothing organically wrong with you. If that job interview, that date, that party didn’t go well, it just wasn’t meant to be. The chemistry wasn’t right. Don’t blame yourself! Don’t pick yourself apart. Don’t change. You weren’t meant to have that particular job, that particular partner, those particular friends. The right ones will come along sooner or later because “There’s a cover for every pot.” But the right cover won’t fit you if you’re always turning yourself into a different kind of pot to please thoroughly unpleasable narcissists.
It’s true for you, it’s true for me and it was true for Julia Child, both personally and professionally. Standing 6’2″ tall with a tendency to gasp when excited and that unforgettable “honking” voice, it took a very special man to fall in love with her. But fall he did. At the age of thirty-four, Julia wed Paul Child (age 44 and much shorter). You can tell how smitten he was by all the very artistic photographs he took of her. Theirs was a beautiful love match full of friendship, wonderful meals and wines, art, support, help and comfort, cuddles and sex!
It was his belief in her as a woman, a cook and an author exactly as she was without changing that spurred her on. He gladly became a Kitchen Widower (and ate the evidence) as she spent seven years and untold thousands of dollars and hours perfecting French recipes and banging away on the typewriter — writing, re-writing and re-re-re-writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking with a very narcissistic co-author…only to have a very short-sighted Houghton Mifflin wash its hands of the project.
Paul could have gotten mad. He could have blamed her. He could have told her to change. But he didn’t! He didn’t blame her … he blamed Houghton Mifflin and he was right! It would take two more years and a very special, very daring editor, Judith Jones, and a trusting publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, to bring Mastering I and II to the American public.
And the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, forty-eight years after its first release, Mastering became a bestseller again with approximately 1.5 million copies in print. Even Anthony Bourdain had to admit, when in a culinary conundrum, trust Julia Child. Her recipes always work. High praise from a professional chef for a woman who never worked in a professional kitchen!
If Julia had knuckled under, American history and food as we know it would be completely different. There’d be no Mastering, no Julia Child honking and dropping things on The French Chef, no Dan Akroyd hilariously lampooning her on SNL (she loved it so much, she kept the VHS of his skit queued up in her kitchen to show friends), possibly no Jacques Pepin and other celebrity chefs. Maybe even no Masterchef and Top Chef! Life, TV, American history and food would be completely different if Julia had blamed herself and changed to please others. Her kitchen would never have ended up in the Smithsonian. I never would have felt the healing creativity of making Julia’s recipes for homemade Hollandaise or mayonnaise or realized food can be a transcendent experience and narcissists should never weaponize it!
My point is that we need to get behind ourselves and, when tempted to blame ourselves for being ourselves, do what Paul Child did. Spin on our heel and yell “Fuck ’em.” Metaphorically, of course. We’ve taken the blame for too long. We’ve twirled round-and-round, changing chameleon-like to please everyone much too much. We’ve taken responsibility for, well, pretty much everything that wasn’t our responsibility for too long.
Yes, we’re not perfect. So what!?! We can be happy, we can be loved, we can be successful exactly the way we are! If we change, we cheat the world, we cheat ourselves, heck! We might even be cheating history and that is a totally unthinkable thought!
This is my Christmas present to all of my readers this year. Be authentic – warts and all.. 😉 Thank you for reading Narcissism Meets Normalcy so faithfully. I appreciate it very, very much. It is you who’ve made this blog a success for three years and I look forward to exploring new ideas together in 2019! “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”