It’s one of our favorite romantic movie lines. You complete me, from 1996’s Jerry Maguire, instantly became a go-to line for many of us who saw the movie.
It’s an excellent line. And a dangerous one.
It’s excellent because it captures, succinctly and poetically, the depth of feeling between two people who love each other. Without wasting words, it describes how it feels to suddenly understand we don’t have to be alone, that the person standing in front of us is the person we want to grow old with. It’s truth, in a sense, but not the literal truth so many have taken it to be.
That’s why it’s dangerous. It perpetuates the idea too many of us have that we can’t be complete, we can’t be whole, until somebody comes along to fill the holes in our heart. It tells us we aren’t complete in ourselves.
In that sense, it’s a lie.
My wife and I have been married almost twenty years. I have known and loved her more than half my life. Her skills and temperaments complement mine, and mine hers. It’s absolutely true that each of us is better because we are together.
If she died, or we separated for some reason, I would be devastated. For some time, I would probably be emotionally crippled, merely making the minimum effort to get through my life, feed and clothe and house and love our children. There’s no question that for a time, I would be worse than I am today.
And over time, weeks and months and years, I would get back on my feet and get on with my life. Because she makes me better, but I am complete with or without her.
But I am complete without you, but you make me better is not nearly as poetic or romantic as you complete me. So we keep using the second one.
And too many of us believe it, believe we can’t be whole unless we have somebody else to magically complete us.
Here’s the secret: you are who you are whether or not there’s someone there to love you. Someone else can help you become better, can help you become your best you–but they can’t do it for you. Nobody can complete you until you decide you are complete in yourself. If you think you need someone else to do that, you will be alone no matter who is in your life.
It takes courage to complete yourself. It means trying new things, paying attention to what you tell yourself about them, following up on the things that make your heart sing, abandoning the things that don’t. It means seeking friends and lovers who can hear your song, and letting go of those who can’t, or who make fun of it because they don’t know their own songs. It means learning to love what you see in the mirror and behind your eyelids. It means asking for help when you need it. It’s scary and sometimes unpleasant. And it can lead to the greatest rewards of your life–because when you complete yourself, you free yourself to love others the way you deserve to.
That’s what I want for you. Not the loneliness of needing someone else to complete you, but the courage to complete yourself.
[There will be no new posts here next week; I will be on vacation with no Internet. The next post will be July 12th. Happy Independence Day!]