If I can’t accept you at your worst, then maybe you should stop being so horrible

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I remember the first time I was awarded the “game ball” in my Little League. I don’t recall the details exactly, but I’m pretty sure my stat sheet looked something like this:

Zero RBIs, zero home runs, zero hits, zero stolen bases, zero plays made on the field, seven errors, four innings spent sitting on the bench.

Most of my team probably performed similarly, but I know we put a few runs on the board, so SOMEONE must have done something notable.

Alas, that kid — whoever he was — got jobbed this tragic afternoon. They gave the game ball to me. You can only imagine how I felt.

That is, confused.

We capped off the season with a trophy ceremony in the local middle school auditorium. One by one, they called every team up to receive their participation awards. You played a game for a few weeks and achieved no amount of success at all! Congratulations on your mediocrity, kid! It was a plastic gold-colored figurine of a guy hitting a baseball. Ironic, really, considering I hadn’t actually made contact with a ball all season.

I still have my pity-trophy, it’s right up there on my pity-mantle, next to my pity-game ball and the mandatory Valentine’s cards I only received because elementary school rules required every child to give one to every other child.

When visitors come by, I show it to them and proudly say, “Look at all of the mandatory recognition showered upon me as a matter of routine policy!”

Then my guests will often cringe and weep, and the evening ends early and uncomfortably.

See, I think all of this nonsense — this “everybody is special, everybody gets to have a trophy, everybody gets a card, everybody gets recognition” idiocy — can produce only two possible results, neither desirable. One, it can make perceptive, self-aware children even more embarrassed and insecure. They know that they are undeserving of these accolades, and they’d rather not be patronized.

If a severely impoverished child wore a burlap sack to school, he would be utterly humiliated if his teacher, with all good intentions, decided to award him the honor of “best dressed.” That’s how many kids feel when their mediocrity is put on a pedestal and treated like it’s something exceptional. They aren’t fooled, as much as they’d like to be.

Then there’s category 2. These kids, perhaps not equipped with the same critical thinking capacities as the first type, will eventually buy into the hype. They will look at those trophies and gold stars, unearned and undeserved, and begin to develop an inflated image of themselves. What is born from this is not confidence, but narcissism and arrogance. These are the kids in possession of the much-heralded “self-esteem.” Indeed, they hold themselves in high esteem. Why? Because they are themselves. They are spectacular, beautiful, athletic, and brilliant, all by their very nature. Whatever they do is the best thing anyone has ever done, simply because it was done by them. Whoever comes in contact with them ought to be grateful for the privilege. Success and happiness is what they are due, and the entire universe is in their debt. They are the people who expect the Lord to descend from heaven and hand them a  game ball and a participation trophy every day.

I’m sure you’ve met this type. Maybe you’ve voted for this type. Maybe you work with, or under, this type. Maybe, God help you, they are in your family. Maybe you’ve been in a relationship with them.

In fact, it seems statistically likely that you have been in a relationship with them. The divorce rate speaks for itself. Beyond that, although there aren’t any statistics (as far as I’m aware) for non-married break ups, it appears obvious that we are experiencing a crisis of failed relationships at every level and in every form. People don’t know how to be in relationships anymore, and I think this epidemic can be traced, at least in part, to the delusions of grandeur we instill in our little snowflakes from an early age.

Shielded from failure, insulated from criticism, covered in emotional bubble wrap, our kids are venturing out into the world with little discipline and even less humility. You can see this manifest in many arenas, but I think it’s most pronounced in the way we approach relationships.

Here’s one example. It’s minor, probably insignificant, but it represents something quite serious. I was perusing my Facebook Newsfeed today and I came across a status that said this:

“Yea I’m a b*tch but deal with it. I wont be with anyone who cant accept all of who I am!!!”

This was a grown woman. Apparently college educated. Older than me.

It reminded me of a meme we’ve all seen a thousand times. It has a few variations, but it usually goes something like this:

If you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.

This is such a popular sentiment that it has its own Facebook fan page with over 150 thousand “likes.”

It shows up all the time on memes and illustrations like this one:

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Of course, the original quote is from Marilyn Monroe. It’s even more vapid and nauseating when taken in its full context:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am 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.”

Out of all the profundities ever uttered, what does it say about our society that THIS is the quote we’ve decided to take to heart?

It says that we need to read more books.

Also, it says that we are horrible at relationships.

Yes, it’s true that, in a marriage, we must love our spouses in spite of their flaws. It’s also true that we all have flaws. But it’s ALSO true that only an infantile, spoiled, egotistical brat would ever treat a loved one with “her worst” and expect them to deal with it because her “best” will somehow compensate for it.

Newsflash: It’s not OK to be selfish, impatient, and out of control. These traits, while common, are UNacceptable. They should not be accepted, least of all by the people you claim to love. The onus is on YOU to change your behavior and your attitude, not on them to “handle it.” Are you such a gem that they should thank God for the opportunity to be emotionally abused by you, if only it earns them a chance to bask in the glow of your superiority?

Perhaps that’s how you see it, but I’ve never met anyone quite that charming.

This philosophy is poison, and it stretches beyond one offensive quote from a 20th century Playboy Bunny. Often I read or hear people whine that they ‘just want to find someone who will accept them, no matter what.’ But being “accepted” should not be our relationship goal. Healthy relationships are loving, but also challenging, edifying, and even occasionally painful.

Accept. Definition: to receive with approval or favor, to agree or consent to.

Should our selfishness, impatience, and weakness preclude us from being loved? No. But should these traits be “accepted”? Should they be “received with approval or favor”? Should our loved ones “consent” to them?


Big no.

Enormous, loud, screaming no.

Should we scoff at our husbands or wives or boyfriends or girlfriends and flippantly tell them to “handle it,” as we behave in ways that will hurt and offend them?

No. And if you think that — if you REALLY think that — then you shouldn’t be getting into relationships at all. You aren’t ready.

Further, does our “best” (which probably isn’t as great as we imagine it to be) make up for, or negate, our “worst”?

No. Your worst is your worst. Fix it. Be better. Nobody should have to put up with it. Least of all the people you love.

Love is a transformative force, and if you want to experience it you better be ready to change in every way imaginable. My wife does not “accept me”, and thank God for that. She challenges me. She makes me better. In other words, she loves me.

What kind of a pathetic and dreary goal is that, anyway — just wanting to be “accepted”, tolerated, put up with? That’s not why we’re put on this planet. Life is not about gaining “acceptance.” Life is change. It is not static and stagnant, do you really want your relationships to be?

We don’t emerge into the world as eternally entitled princes and princesses. We come into it as naked, crying, helpless babies. Our job is to grow out of that condition. And that will take a lot of changing and a lot of learning about what parts of us are unsuitable and insufficient and unacceptable. Sadly, some of us are unwilling to endure that process, so we never grow, and in failing to grow we fail to live. It’s a tragedy.

Don’t ask anyone to “accept” the bad parts of you. Instead, strive to improve those parts. Put in the effort. Make yourself worthy of the love they’ve offered you.

Forget what you learned in elementary school. The only “participation trophy” you’re awarded from life is death. That’s the one thing we all get just for showing up. In the meantime, if you want something better, you have to earn it.

That means if you want better relationships, you have to earn them, too.


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421 Responses to If I can’t accept you at your worst, then maybe you should stop being so horrible

  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I wonder if this has anything to do with the overwhelming sense of entitlement I see in a lot of people. I’ve also noticed that the majority of the kids I grew up with who were considered the all stars have fallen on their faces not long after highschool. They couldn’t figure out why the world didn’t think they were a big deal anymore..

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  3. kelsey says:

    Thank you!

  4. Here’s a response, kind of. Though I agree with the general message about relationships and selfishness.


  5. analyticalperspective says:

    Now this is an article, which I can align myself. I agree. And since this is belated I bet you won’t mind if I stamp it because if I said all I want my reply would be 2000 words:




  6. Caitlin says:

    Well stated.
    I also like this article I found called, “Raising Resilient Children” and it seems you will agree with the discussion in the article. Here is the link,
    also, the audio link if needed:

  7. Melissa says:

    Oh Matt, while I normally agree 100% with your views on just about everything…. This post is one I’m with you only 75%. I do agree that nobody should have to deal with grown up tantrums and outrageous behavior just to see a person at their “best” but I also believe there are multiple definitions of being at your “worst.”

    For instance, I would say my “worst” was when I miscarried my first baby. This wasn’t in the sense that I went all ballistic and was screaming at everyone, but I was in my darkest moment. I just lost something so precious to me. All I wanted to do was cry all day everyday (though I mostly kept it in til I was alone or just with my husband). I didn’t enjoy things that I normally would. I was depressed for a time. The reason that I call it my “worst” is because my husband didn’t understand what I was going through and he didn’t know what to do to help (men want to fix things) and it made me close off to him because I felt I couldn’t open up to him about my feelings. This is my fault because I should have communicated more.

    I also believe you can’t define a person’s worst…at least not all the time. Not everyone even knows what their worst is…. Most probably have to be able to experience it to realize what it is. One person’s worst could be hitting and beating, another’s could be name calling, and another’s could be simply not talking to their spouse when they are angry or sad. Not saying that someone should hit to realize that’s their very worst. We all have different sides and meanings of worst. I’m sure your article was meant mostly about the tantrums and overreactions that you were touching on, but I figured I would let you know how many different ways “worst” can be taken. I’m grateful my husband and I got through my worst because I don’t believe I am my “best” without him. (If I’m even at my best. Ha)

    Anyway, love reading your posts. Keep them coming. 🙂


    • Allie ONeal says:

      Thank you, Melissa for sharing about your miscarriage. My husband and I didn’t cope with our second very well, spiraling into a crisis of faith that separated us from our church family because they didn’t know how to handle our grief. At the end of that darkest time in our life, we had fewer friends, but we knew they were true gifts from the Lord.

      • Melissa says:

        I’m so sorry Allie that you had to experience two miscarriages. I understand losing friends. I lost a few as well in my dark moment, but I also gained a few strong ones as well. An acquaintance I went to high school with heard of my miscarriage and eventually she became my best friend because she too experienced a miscarriage and neither of us could confide in anyone around us what our feelings were. So we confided in each other. It didn’t completely take away the pain of the loss, but it made it easier to handle and I started gaining confidence again and I started seeing brighter days. We got pregnant later the next year and now we have a beautiful 2 year old daughter.

        • I was also able to comfort a friend of mine from college, and we’ve grown closer than ever. Her baby is now 8 months old. The friends who walk us through the valleys are the most precious.

    • I don’t think by “worst” Matt is implying that your loved ones shouldn’t have to deal with your emotions while you cope with tragedy. I think it’s aimed fully at the whole “grownup tantrum” and self-entitled B.S. that seems to be infesting our society lately. Your emotional state through grief is something else entirely. Thank you for sharing… you never know when words like yours could help bring someone through their own sense of grief and loss!

    • but, did your husband accept you at your worst? or did he encourage youto get better? you can be gentle and understanding when you approach someone at their worst, but im sure you realized at some point that you couldnt go on the way you were forever. so, as understandable as your behaivor was, it wasnt acceptable to go on with, so it needed to change. and im sure your relationship was better after it did.

    • Melissa, Clearly you misinterpreted the article. Your grief is not your worst. Grief is vulnerability and fear. The definition of worst here especially while referencing the entirety of the quote is you at your most incorrigible. And even then, were you accepted or were people trying to make you better. Because after all the quote implies that the “acceptance” be synonymous with putting up with that person. I’d hate to think people were simply putting up with my grief just to see me at my best. So please don’t call tragedy or grief worst because it really isn’t.

  8. I’ve been thinking a lot about this post since I read it yesterday. It opened up some discussion on Facebook ( I liked it that much I had to share it ) I never had considered how arrogant that quote really was until I read your perspective on it. There are so many ways that you can fit it into a scenario. The recovering addict, the general hot mess etc. Sometimes when we go through things, we can’t see past our own nose on what we are putting other people through.
    I went through a rough patch from 2008-2010+ with an affair and a divorce. I know I was a pain in the ass during that time because of my own personal pain. I think that there may have been a few times that I overextended what I should have expected from the people who love me… And this really has me thinking about that and what I need to do to make up for that time…

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  10. Tina says:

    On the flip side, there are those like me…. Who hate all the worst in them, begged begged begged God to change them for years and years and years, with fasting and prayer. And when change doesn’t come… All I want to do
    Is give up and walk away, living the rest of my life in seclusion.

    • Marylamb says:

      Don’t give up. I have been begging God to change ME for quite awhile too. It will be in HIS time not mine. What do you want to change? Are you really listening to God? I just found out yesterday that I was NOT listening close enough. It will not be a MAGIC bullet that changes you. It will be YOUR hard WORK. Again, what do you want to change? Is it attitude, behavior? Look at what you want to change and pray and LISTEN and take a step. Do you need help changing? Look for it. God provides for the sparrows but he doesn’t put the worms in the nests. It says we do not receive because we do not ask rightly. Pray for the words to ask rightly!
      Bless you and don’t GIVE UP! Pray Pray Pray!

  11. joanie says:


  12. Mike Muncher says:

    I do agree. Every relationship takes work..but to focus on the opening portions of the post – I am a big fan of “The Incredibles”. The lines, “Everyone is special, Dash.” “That’s just another way of saying no one is.” Are almost a mantra to me, and not in a negative way. I regularly tell my students that, whether it be in my classroom or in others, in the workforce, or in their relationships, “Yo mama told you that you were special. Yo mama lied. You’re not. You have to work to achieve anything resembling ‘special’ in this life. The sooner you realize that, the closer you’ll be to that goal.”

    Thanks for a thoughtful and truthful post!

    • Kelly says:

      I remember my sister telling her kid, “You’re very special…. to us, not to anyone else. Everyone else thinks their kid is special.”

  13. Emili says:

    Loved this. I’ve had a long year of learning that we don’t “deserve” anything. As you said, life is about movement and change. If you want something, you have to always be working for it. People don’t want to work for anything these days, its all about entitlement and its sad.

    After reading your SOTU address post, I’m thinking someone got too many trophy’s as a kid.

  14. Brandon says:

    Well if there was blog post “game ball”… you sure deserve to get it this go round. Glad that you found your unique ability to provide the world value outside of the little value your glove was providing!

  15. Margo says:

    I happen to relate to Ms. Monroe on this one. It speaks to me because I have these same flaws. Every one of them, plus more. But what I require is someone who is not willing to blindly accept me for these flaws, but someone who sees those flaws in me and loves me anyway. Because the good in me is (I hope), more powerful than the bad. I would hope that the good my partner sees in me more than compensates for the bad. Otherwise, why would he be with me? Why would anyone be with ANY other person, being that we are all imperfect, if the benefits didn’t outweigh the cost? It makes common, rational sense. So, by that logic, certainly if someone is only willing to be with me for the good, sunshiney days, and bails on me during the stormy ones, he does NOT deserve me. Saying he does would be like saying that someone deserves to get rich without working a day in their lives; to reap the rewards of diamonds without getting dirty in the mines. Love is work. It’s a choice we make every day. Yes, we must continually try to be better. No matter where our flaws originate or what they are, it is our duty to grow and be better, and never excuse ourselves for our misbehaviors. And we surely should accept feedback from our partners and do our best to improve those flaws every damn day. But nobody is perfect, nor ever will be. So the person I am with needs to be realistic, and know that, just as I understand that about him. He needs to know that the ups come with the downs. And that the best thing we can do for one another in relationships is be there, unconditionally, for the difficult times when those imperfections flare up. To be consistent. For better AND for worse! By doing so I have faith that it will heal much of the damage that was done to cause these flaws in the first place. And as such both partners will grow into the best versions of themselves, although it will take a lifetime.

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  17. Julia says:

    I have already commented, but I expanded on my remarks here: http://happy2dayuna.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-trophy-is-not-to-blame.html

  18. Elijah says:

    I am opening a pandora’s box here: I agree with you Matt, but when it comes down to it, from experience it seems that God has (generally) made women weaker than men in terms of controlling their emotions, and, therefore there will be many of them who haven’t developed their character traits as well as men have. Some women (and men) will be deeply offended by this view because they may not have the inner strength to contain themselves when stressed and under tremendous pressure (life, family, hormones, insecurities, inner demons, etc.), and therefore may feel like there is no hope to ever create a meaningful relationship when they have such flaws. The truth is, they must tirelessly work on themselves like the rest of us; pray hard to heal; and marry a very patient, humble, and find an understanding partner who does not expect perfection from them.

    • Kelly says:

      Better to leave the box closed when you don’t understand women at all. Spend some time with battered women or rape victims so that you can firsthand see the effects of all the superior control of emotions that men have. How ironic that on a blog that deals with the sense of entitlement that comes from giving everyone awards, you want a trophy for being male. And you are entitled to your feelings of superiority because God made you superior. Sorry, you have to EARN your accolades. And you’re not God’s favorite, however much you may believe that.

      Here’s a hint so that you can figure out how to stop revealing your misogynistic thoughts. If you substitute an ethnic minority for “women” in your comment and find it offensive, then the comment is offensive when directed towards women. I dare you to take that statement you made and substitute “black” or “muslim” or “Chinese” for “women” and post it ANYWHERE. Good luck with that.

    • Kris says:

      Not being in touch with your emotions doesn’t automatically mean that you, as a man, have better control of them. It means that you pretend they don’t exist. My husband comes from a dysfunctional family, in which the only safe emotion one could express was anger. I’ve had to work on myself and on my children not to follow that same pattern. I don’t see that as better control, personally. I see it as masking one emotion with another, more destructive one.

  19. Dwayne says:

    Elijah, telling the truth, at least when it is not convenient for who’s in the wrong, is in itself opening a Pandora’s Box, but keep telling it like it is and don’t let those anti-male jerks get you down.

  20. Liz Szilagyi says:

    I found this piece wholly ironic. You see, I decided a while ago that I would stop reading your blog (I was tricked into reading this one when friends shared it via huffington post — a site I never expected to find you). You are a fabulous writer and I have enjoyed many posts. But you also come off as mean spirited and rude in many other posts. So, long ago I decided I’d stop reading. I decided I wasn’t going to accept this blog at its best, because it was too horrible at its worst. Truly ironic.

  21. michaelacummings says:

    Reblogged this on Cummings America.

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  23. prashal goyal says:

    I haven’t read a lot of blog posts on the internet, but this is easily the best out of all I’ve read. Should read more blogs from now on

  24. Katie says:

    I really enjoyed this! Wow what a wake up call. This definitely changed my perspective. I never realized how selfish I’ve been in my relationships. Thank you so much for the insight 🙂

  25. ivan says:

    too bad you couldn’t take 10 seconds to google the quote that you and countless others on the internet keep choosing to attribute to Marilyn Monroe. (spoiler alert: it’s not a real quote.) also too bad that you had to insinuate that someone who died decades ago and who i’m sure you never met “vapid and nauseating”.

    while i do agree with most of the sentiment behind this essay, i don’t think the quote which you’re leveling your grievances at necessarily says or even IMPLIES that that person isn’t going to, isn’t trying to or doesn’t want to change ever- just that, as they are currently (human/imperfect), there are things about them which aren’t absolutely enchanting and amazing, and they shouldn’t be rejected just because of a perceived lack of perfection. but maybe i’m just reading too much into it…

  26. Ed Durso says:

    Good Morning Matt,

    I admire your courage and conviction.

    One of my students recently sent me a link to this post. It was refreshing and encouraging to read. Thank you for giving voice to this without the usual blame rant.
    “Make yourself worthy of the love they have offered.” This is beautiful. If you can live this truth, you have uncommon integrity. And from what I have read of your posts, you understand how unlikely it is for people to endure the work necessary to change. Its painful and people will avoid it.

    I also see the problem you speak of here and have dedicated my life to addressing it. I have been the entitled asshole that is a threat to love and sanity. I met my wife and understood that I needed to work to be worthy of her love. It went from building integrity to be safe with the people I love, to a method for dealing with people who believe they are entitled to harm with impunity.

    I feel so strongly about the importance of addressing the patterns you speak of, I founded The Fire Mountain School in Nyack, NY. I teach a method for empowering the best of us and refuting the worst. We harness the power of conflict and love to become better people. It appears you practice this with your wife. That is beautiful.

    Ill stop here. I didnt write to make a sales pitch. What you wrote inspired me, and I wanted to let you know a school exists for the purpose of making ourselves worthy of the love we are offered. Thank you for giving voice to this conflict with integrity.

    Best wishes to you and your wife.

  27. Well you sure as hell won this trophy: Best damn article I’ve read about this topic EVER! Seriously, well done. And this trophy is given to you from someone in the know: Jonathan Sherman, LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist)

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  29. Thom says:

    Thank you for this article. You took the words right out of my mouth.

    This may sound extreme, but I think if you are a completely selfish human being, you do not deserve to be loved. Love is give and take. If you are in a relationship and you only take, you are not a lover. You are a cancer.

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  31. Neinei says:

    I really agree with you. please have a look at my blog: midnightneisense.wordpress.com

  32. olivia says:

    while I agree that most people take this quote as an excuse to act childish and out of control, I do love the quote. For me it means if you cant understand that I have flaws and still love me regardless of them, you don’t deserve me. Yes it is unacceptable for people to behave that way all the time (or even most of the time),but nobody is perfect and if you truly love someone you will look past their occasional selfishness (we all are sometimes) and impatience to see the greatness of the person.

  33. Vee says:

    Matt, I couldn’t stop reading–I was so drawn in. I so agree. The problem will continue if such people go unchallenged.

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  36. analyticalperspective says:

    I reread this post after reading my own post about my attempted murder. It’s difficult knowing I failed that way so I try not to look back. The following quote resonates with me:

    “Our job is to grow out of that condition. And that will take a lot of changing and a lot of learning about what parts of us are unsuitable and insufficient and unacceptable.”

    You’re correct and I know more than anyone. There are three general ways to move forward from birth:

    1. Stagnation
    2. Forward
    3. Backward

    Some parents don’t hurt or help their child’s growth. These children stagnate, unless….

    Some parents hurt their children until the children become a mutated version of who they might have been, unless….

    Some parents are aware of what children need and they provide it accordingly.

    Most people are in the first group. They stagnate. They hold their hand out, waiting to be filled. They are self-serving.

    I am from the second group. I became a monstrous version of me.

    Now about the “unless….”

    Unless these people are willing to see the errors in their parents’ instruction or lack of. Unless these people learn personal responsibility.

    I was fortunate, but it was a painful decade long process to reverse 18 years of abuse and I’ve only begun to truly live this past year.

    I set myself free in July 2013.

    • analyticalperspective says:

      Correction: *I don’t truly know more than anyone, but I’m probably in the top 10%.

  37. read says:

    Heya! I understand this is sort of off-topic but I needed to ask.
    Does running a well-established website such as yours require a lot
    of work? I am brand new to blogging however I do write in my diary on a daily
    basis. I’d like to start a blog so I can share my personal experience and feelings
    online. Please let me know if you have any recommendations or tips for brand new aspiring
    blog owners. Appreciate it!

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