MONOLOGUE: The Perfectionist

by Katherine Burkman

SETTING:            A room or an empty stage.

TIME:                 The present.

CHARACTER:      ROGER, a man in his 20s or 30s

ROGER speaks to the audience. He is dressed to perfection.


I have heard that one is allowed to make 26 mistakes a day. On bad days, one is allowed to make 50. Who has given this permission? I attend a 12-step program for perfectionists—I am a recovering perfectionist—and they provide these statistics at one of our meetings. I don’t know how many mistakes I make a day, but I don’t want to make any.

Needless to say this perfectionism has caused me numerous problems, probably about 26 a day and 50 on a bad day. When I was in school, I could never get myself to write or hand in papers that weren’t perfect. They had to be dragged out of me by the brute force of my mother, my father, my teachers, and finally even my shrink. Imagine a Jungian shrink dragging papers out of me. I don’t think so. But I was under a lot of pressure to produce.

I have found a job that allows me to enjoy my perfectionist tendencies. I sort things. Big things in this pile, small things in that pile, blue things in the other pile, etc. And I make the piles impressively neat. It doesn’t pay much, but at least I don’t lose sleep over my job.

It’s my social life that’s at risk, and this is where I need your advice. See, I met this really neat girl, well woman I suppose. And I want to ask her out. I met her at a party, a disorderly one where people were drinking a lot. I was very uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a drink of wine, but only one glass and I sip it. Well, this girl and I got to talking but she was slurping a glass of beer. Slurping. I liked what she was saying but I didn’t like the slurping. I had only just met her, so I could hardly say, “Look, I think you are attractive and intelligent and the right height, but I can’t abide the way you slurp.” I began thinking that if I married this girl, I could wait until we were married maybe six months and then tell her, but I don’t think I could hold out beyond a first date. There are other girls I haven’t taken out because of their slightly sloppy attire, their slightly too loud voices, or their slightly too big feet. You can see how perfectionism can inhibit one’s social life. I saw that movie recently, someone or other and the Real Girl. It was about a shy guy who bought himself a doll and got her organized. But that didn’t work for him and I don’t think it would work for me since I want some real love. Haven’t you found that when you criticize a date, she doesn’t usually want to go out a second time? I certainly have. 

Look at what happened to my mother and father, for example. My mother is supremely neat. She keeps a beautiful house, chairs covered all the time, couch too. No dogs allowed. My Pop, on the other hand is a slob. Can you imagine the fights they had…have? No wonder I’m in Jungian therapy. But I’m beginning to think that my shadow (that’s a Jungian term) is my perfectionism. I need to face it outright, stare it down, and begin to live.

What do you think? Can you empathize with my problem? Or at least sympathize? Do you slurp beer? Just tell me how to handle the shadow. He’s pulling me down, down, down. How do I face him? How do I outface him? Or at the very least, how do I tell Mary Jane that she is adorable except for the way she slurps beer? Isn’t it likely that she might reply, “And you, Roger my lad, need to relax. A good slurp and even a burp might do you a world of good.” A burp! That’s just too much. I don’t think this relationship is going to work out. But thanks for listening. You might, however, refrain from smiling, you know. As if I were a joke. You might give me some advice instead of just sitting there. Oh, well. We’ll just call you my first mistake today. Twenty-five to go.

copyright © 2010 Katherine H. Burkman. All rights reserved.

Katherine H. Burkman is a professor emeritus from The Ohio State University, and has published on Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and other modern playwrights. Former artistic eirector of Theatre Group, WOMEN AT PLAY, she is an actor, writer, and director.

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