Here is a dangerous myth that is perpetuated in many books and movies and magazine covers and celebrity stories: a person can complete you.
I don’t live inside Jerry Maguire, partly because I eat way more sandwiches in a week than Renee Zellwegger does all year, my husband could put Tom Cruise in his pocket, and I’ve never been trapped in an elevator with two deaf people signing their hearts out to each other.
But also because I know that a person can’t complete me.
I love love. LOVE LOVE. I want to be a romance novelist when I grow up. THAT’S how much I love love. It’s a wonderful, buzzing feeling. I saw a couple walking down the street the other day, and the (pregnant) woman stopped to try and tie a shoelace that had become undone, but the man put her hand out, bent down on one knee and tied it for her. In my mind he was a devoted spouse that couldn’t bear to see her struggle with the shoelace on the dirty sidewalk and did it for her. Happy, contended sigh.
Well, no. Because maybe they were brother and sister. Maybe they were actually strangers. Maybe it was just a gesture and they were talking about divorce and child custody. I was just projecting my own picture onto them, of what I wanted them to be to me. But reality is no fun, and they will forever remain the sweet couple, because ignorance is bliss.
But it’s not bliss. It’s a temporary reprieve from reality, and fantasy can only get you (me) so far. And love, even undying devotion, even tying your shoelaces in the middle of the dirty sidewalk type of love, can only get you so far. It’s all up to you (me). This is an extremely pragmatic and unromantic and stark view of reality, but it’s also the thing that for me, makes love better.
I’ve been having this problem with my escapist romance novels lately. They are just fantasies and I TOTALLY GET THAT. And yet they make me angry. They make me angry that the end of the story is always a play on “and then life was good because they were together.” I asked this last week on twitter, but the problem keeps niggling at my conscience, especially as someone who loves to read and write romance stories: are romance novels unfeminist?
The answer was a resounding NO, definitely not. The romance genre makes money for women, from women. A woman should be able to read whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, and that’s what feminism IS. There were a few “but it depends on the book,” because of course there are the (numerous) stupid heroines of the romance genre, and lo, they give a bad name to women, as if half the population could be represented by Bella Swan.
But. But. Maybe the question I should have asked was, “Are romance novels bad for love?” Because they give a false impression that the man/woman is going to fix anything. And if there is anything I have learned in being in the same relationship for fourteen years, it is that love can cause more problems than it can solve. I think we admit this more openly with children: Children are amazing additions to our lives that fill us with boundless joy and love and HELL IT SUCKS TO BE A PARENT. It’s the dichotomy: I want this, but it is not easy to want this. It makes me happy in the long term, but it doesn’t solve my problems. If I were without this child, I could do/be/act in a freer way. We get this, and then we make the sacrifice.
But…but romance novels make it seem like we’re walking around with half of our souls missing. Are we? Are we as women and men not complete without the other person, the other half? I had a big discussion with Gregg this weekend where I admitted that I was a weak idiot to do a lot of the things I did for him in the beginning of our relationship. I was rolling around, looking for my missing half, and when I found Gregg, I thought, ‘Aha! Life is better now!’ But I was 20 when we met. And it turned out that the feeling of finding my missing piece? It was temporary, and fleeting, and I mistook my feelings of love for Gregg as feelings of being complete.
And so I did things I shouldn’t have done: I moved to Seattle when I really didn’t want to, for him; I lived in apartments and towns I hated, for him; I worked around his schedule; for him. Because he was my missing piece!
And then when I started to feel like I was still incomplete, I thought, “It’s because we don’t have a child.” And then we had some miscarriages, and I had woes that I would never feel complete. But then I had a child, and another child, and some more miscarriages. I didn’t feel complete. I blamed this as not having the “right” number of children. I was still missing a piece of my family. We were incomplete. I was incomplete.
I don’t have that feeling so much any longer, even though I always imagined myself having three children, and we “only” have two. I don’t feel like we’re incomplete, though. I think if we were blessed enough to have another child, it would feel good, but it would also be a sacrifice, and I would feel as complete as I feel right now.
I don’t feel complete, exactly, but more like I have all my missing pieces now. They weren’t found lying around in other people, in Gregg and Keshi and Sachin, in friendships or families. They were actually lying right next to my feet, waiting for me to look down and see them, and lock them into place. They were my fears and my wants and my interests that I squashed out of fear of failure and ridicule and successes that I wasn’t ready to face. I feel like now I’ve seen them, but I don’t have the courage quite yet to put them into place, and to roll around feeling this way. I don’t know why, but that’s up to me and lots of therapy to find out why.
But at least I know this: it was me. It was me who projected that I could be complete only with other people. It is me taking pieces of escapism like romance novels and movies and shows and celebrity gossip and making them into realities. It was me purposefully ignoring the missing pieces of myself.
And if I think it’s very much up to me, and to you, to show the world that we’re people. We’re not puzzle pieces waiting to fit into other people’s lives. We’re whole framed pictures all on our own, and one day maybe we can be grouped together in a nice frame cluster in a DIY blogger’s photos, even if we’re damaged or alone, we’re still totally and completely whole, all on our own.