Jerry Maguire stood disheveled and slightly desperate in his estranged wife, Dorothy’s living room. He crestfallenly set down his briefcase and addressed a roomful of divorcees, putting his heart on a metaphorical platter and making what is overwhelmingly considered a heartfelt declaration of love to his wife. “You complete me,” he said. “Shut up,” she replied. “You had me at hello.”
What a load of baloney.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – I cried the first time I watched that movie scene. I also cried during each of a dozen or so subsequent viewings. I was sold on the concept of true love that was fed to me by movies such as Jerry Maguire. I was absolutely convinced that I would become a complete and whole person once I found my other half – my soul mate.
To the core of my being, I absolutely believed that I had to find the right partner, and I’d finally be complete. Decades of reading romance novels, watching chick flicks, attending weddings, and observing friends and family members gave me all the proof I needed. Adam and Eve, Cinderella and Prince Charming or Jerry and Dorothy – everywhere I looked, I saw evidence that two broken people could find complete happiness, joy and love with each other.
We often hear one member of a marriage jokingly referring to the other member as “my better half,” and everyone nods and laughs along in understanding. We accept this phrase without a second thought. Why? Is it because we all buy into the false belief that we need to find another person to complete us? Do we feel incomplete on our own? Why?
The false belief that I had to find someone to complete me set me up for some pretty disastrous relationships. I became obsessed with finding “the one,” to the point that I put aside all of my own needs and desires in my quest to find him. I was always on the lookout for a potential partner, and I would happily morph myself into whatever I thought a potential partner would want – blonde hair, for example, or a love of WWF – instead of honoring my own values and preferences.
It was impossible for me to find love when I was looking for someone to complete me. The gaping hole I felt in my soul was not any other human’s place to fill. No one could ever have given me enough love or support or acceptance to make me feel like a complete human. Though it took me far too long to realize it, I had inflated the job of Soul Mate to such a degree that it was impossible for any human to fit the bill.
I suspected this was true when I had a few break ups, but I felt it most acutely after I got married. As a newlywed, I was in love and on cloud nine most of the time, and I felt like I had finally found the love I had been looking for my whole life. Our wedding song was “Bless the Broken Road,” and I took the lyrics a bit more seriously than perhaps advisable. I thought Lancelot was the answer to all my self-doubt and loneliness. I thought that marriage would finally fix me.
To my surprise, I found myself just a few months into marriage when I started to realize that I still felt incomplete.
I started to panic. What was wrong? Why did I feel a little lonely in a beautiful house with my beloved husband? Why did I feel insecure? Did I pick the wrong guy? I didn’t understand why I didn’t feel all love, all the time.
When I thought I had to find the right person so I would feel complete, several horrible things happened.
I started demanding that my husband be perfect. I held him to a standard he could never attain because I was asking something of him that was outside his power. I was asking him to make me feel good enough. No human can bear the weight of that kind of inappropriate responsibility.
I viewed my marriage in terms of what I was getting from it. I looked at what I was doing, and also what I was getting in return. I asked, “What am I getting from this relationship?” It was all about me! I was selfish and self-centered, looking at our marriage as if it was a transaction. If I didn’t feel loved, then he must not be doing something for me. If I did X, Y and Z for the marriage, I expected A, B and C to be done in return. I forgot that the point of loving was to give love, not take it. I became a user, not a lover. I became the epitome of entitlement and acted self-centered in the extreme. I treated my loving, kind and generous husband terribly.
I compared my husband to other husbands, and to other people I had dated. I got out of the present moment with my husband and lived only in the past or the future. There was no opportunity for intimacy or connection when I was always living in a different time zone. Comparison is the thief of joy – not only when we are comparing ourselves to others, but when we are comparing others around us to other people, as well. There is no joy in comparison. There is only lack.
I started to hate myself even more. Did I make a wrong decision? What did that say about me? If I was incapable of feeling love once I got the one thing that was supposed to bring me love – a marriage with my soul mate – then what was wrong with me? Was I incapable of receiving love? Was I downright unlovable?
I started to not only wonder but truly believe that I was the problem. I was fatally flawed and incapable of happiness. I was obviously unlovable. I was demanding, unable to please, needy, clingy, annoying, judgmental, fat, ugly, mean and dumb. It was unreasonable for a loser like me to think she could be loved.
I hated feeling that way, so I turned to things to distract me from my discomfort. I threw myself into work, often working more than 80 hours a week at a job that honestly didn’t require that kind of effort. I drank too much. I binged on terrible foods, and then deprived myself of any food at all as a form of punishment. I meddled in other people’s lives and got a little obsessive with reality TV. I lost myself in online games late at night while I waited for the Ambien and red wine to kick in. I became aggressive, and then passive, and then complacent with my marriage. I pushed my husband and my friends away. I did anything I could do to escape the feeling of disconnection and emptiness I had inside of me.
I did everything I could think of, and nothing seemed to work.
Nothing could work, because I was looking in the wrong place.
At a certain point I realized that nothing I was doing was working, and I realized that I was insane to keep holding onto a belief that my completeness had to come from someone else. I made a decision to become a whole person all on my own.
My decision took me down some unexpected roads. I stopped drinking alcohol completely, and I started nourishing my body with life-supporting foods. I changed my daily habits, exchanging endless Netflix binges with inspiring books, podcasts and documentaries. I cleaned my house, revamped my wardrobe, ran a half marathon, learned to meditate, attended healing retreats and empowerment conferences, nurtured my friendships and rediscovered things about myself that I had forgotten. I started writing again. I filled my life with music and signed up for a dance class.
I started to see that I had been ignoring the stirring of my soul and dishonoring my essence with the destructive daily habits I had built, so I started listening to myself and expressing my unique truth in the world. I showed up as who I truly was instead of the person I thought other people wanted me to be. I stopped demanding love from other people and instead started to give it to myself.
On my journey to self-love, I opened my heart to something greater than myself. I also opened my heart to my loving, kind and compassionate husband, who had always been perfectly loveable and had always loved me for who I truly was at the core of my being. I started to feel good enough, and I began to treat myself as someone I loved.
I found out that I was the person I was looking for all along.
Love isn’t a noun. It’s not a thing we can get from someone else. It’s a verb. It’s an action, or a series of actions that we take every single day. We don’t get love. We give love, we feel love, and we experience love. We can accept love from other humans only in direct proportion to the love we are willing to give to ourselves. Therefore it’s not just our right but our responsibility to find love for ourselves and inside of ourselves.
I thought I had to find the right person to complete me. My thinking was backward. I didn’t have to find the right person. I had to be the right person.
Just like another Dorothy – not the one from Jerrry Maguire, but rather the one with the ruby slippers – I finally realized that I had everything I needed with me the entire time. I have always been whole and complete. The love I spent so long looking for was always inside of me.
And it is inside of you, too.