You (Do Not) Complete Me

There comes a time in every relationship when the blinding effect of the proverbial rose-colored glasses wanes ever so gradually into unfiltered vision. It's in that process when you realize, hey, maybe this love thing isn't always so fun and exciting, because sometimes it's harder than hell. I call this the exiting honeymoon phase.

I've been in the exiting honeymoon phase for a bit of time, and I can attest that it is neither easy nor fun to push yourself into the discomfort of growing and learning about what it truly takes to pursue a life with someone, because life and relationships are guaranteed to be messy and hard. Just think about it: as if figuring out how to live your own individual life wasn't hard enough, let's add another person with his or her own differing perspectives and set of baggage to that process. When you add a second human to the equation of your individual life, you suddenly have to learn how not to be so damn selfish all the time, alongside learning a lot of disciplines and skills that are honestly impossible to enact 100 percent of the time. Where's the fun in that? To call entering the exiting honeymoon phase a learning curve is a gross understatement. Choosing to love someone through the difficult task of accepting them for all they are - and aren't - is at once exciting and deeply vulnerable. The people we choose to love and share our lives with are the people that can simultaneously bring the most joy to our lives and yet hurt us the deepest. When we bring our socially (or personally) constructed expectations into any relationship, we're bound to meet disappointment.

The phrase you complete me runs so rampantly in the structures and language of our culture, whether we believe it or not. Sam Smith's song, Make it to Me encapsulates this idea perfectly:

You're the one designed for me
A distant stranger that I will complete
I know you're out there we're meant to be
So keep your head up and make it to me

You complete me is the idea that we need someone else just as broken and messed up as we are to take our brokenness and fix it completely. But when you think about it in those terms, isn't that brazenly crazy?

Not only is this idea of completion in another unrealistic, it is more importantly unfair. And I'm not just saying this because I believe Jesus is the only one equipped, able, and meant to mend our broken lives, scarred memories, and bruised hearts. But rather because it's simply unethical to burden another human being with our high expectations of complete salvation from our faults, no matter their relationship to us.

And yet we're all guilty of doing this.

Heck, I'm so guilty of this it's embarrassing when I catch myself projecting my skewed and selfish expectations onto my boyfriend. That's a lot of pressure he shouldn't be burdened with to begin with. Pastor Tim Keller addresses this in his book The Meaning of Marriage when he says,

A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put - today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.... Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations.... We look to sex and romance to give us what we used to get from God.

Though I should be wholly cognizant of this truth, having worked with a nonprofit focused on providing young adults with the tools and attitudes to form and develop healthy relationships, it's taken getting to a place of wrestling with my socially derived expectations and the contrasting reality of relationships in light of considering a lifetime commitment to someone to land in this place where "you don't complete me" makes perfect sense.

It's amusing how I arrived at this realization (though it has been overwhelmingly frustrating, I won't deny you the truth of the process). While my S.O. provides unwavering doses of stoic rationality to balance my overtly emotional experience of life, I can't imagine it's too hard to see how such contrasting approaches can lead to the frustration of not always feeling emotionally heard when he's in rational land. On the other hand, where Nathan doesn't understand where I'm coming from when I come in full-fledged emotional breakdown mode after some mean-spirited woman yelled at me for riding my bike across a crosswalk, my closest girlfriends have a greater sense of empathy when I'm caught in a war zone of emotions. Over the past couple months, I've caught myself in the dialogue of, "Well, my best friend gets it. Why doesn't he?" to the point of wavering dangerously close to doubting my ability to be in a relationship with someone who handles emotions totally differently than I do, and even fails to understand them at times.

My answer to the question, why doesn't he get it? was finally answered a couple mornings ago in the most underwhelming manner, as if I'd been sleepily reading the same sentence time after time with no idea what I was reading before returning to it the next morning with a more attentive and rested mind. What I finally realized mid-sentence was that my S.O. (or any one of my friends) isn't responsible for completing me by covering all the relational bases I need to feel best supported. In fact, the answer was so obvious that I barely registered I'd had a breakthrough until moments after I'd casually word vomited: "God has been showing me over the past few months that Nathan isn't supposed to be my everything. I guess that's why my best friends are so important: they offer a different kind of support and love than he might ever be able to embody. So I need to change my expectations for how I think Nathan should be supporting me in this relationship." Now that I've answered my own question, I can only wonder, why have I been so frustrated for so long?

It all comes back to this latent expectation I've built up over the 24 years of my life, influenced by the media and assorted messages thrown my way about finding my worth and completion in a man who loves me. Now that I am in a serious relationship, I'm becoming more and more aware of the fact that social notions about love are complete BS. My deep need for acceptance and validation comes not solely from my relationships with other broken people, but from someone wholly perfect, and I will never feel fully satisfied or loved in a life devoid of a relationship with God.

While Nathan gives me the reality checks I so often need and does a great job listening when I'm having one of my intense emotional reactions to something like ridiculously rude women yelling at me for biking in a crosswalk, I know I can also rely on my trusted girlfriends when I'm really needing to sort through my emotional walls. That is not to say that I can't talk to my S.O. about these more emotional matters; my relationship with him is simply different. There's no reason to expect him to be able to wear all the different hats and be everything I might want him to be - to fulfill and completely understand me. He can only be who he is, and I get to make the choice to choose him - as he is and isn't - in all matters.

That's why I have friends of all ages and backgrounds who are able support me in different ways. Together, these diverse people in my life create a greater composite of support and friendship than any single person can - and should - ever provide. And that's why I need to lean more on God to be the One that completes and redeemed me instead of my preconceived notions about love, relationships, and marriage.

Leigh BaldwinComment