I’ve never liked the phrase, “You complete me.”
Even though it’s generally uttered in a complimentary context, the implication is that the person saying it to you was not whole before you came along. They were a fraction of a person, a decimal-pointed floating number, hoping to become an integer.
But then there was you. And you being you, and they being them, added together are complete. The implication there is that you, too, were not complete before them. Otherwise, rather than becoming a round whole number, you might become something awkward, like 1.56. That’s not complete. That’s another incomplete. “You incomplete me,” would be more accurate, but far less Hollywood-worthy.
In my mind, one should never be incomplete, if one can avoid it. One should be whole by oneself. One should be 1.
That means when two complete people, two people who would be living wonderful lives without each other, are together, the math remains integered and wonderful, but also magically increases in value. Your 1 and their 1 doesn’t equal 2. You end up with 3. Or 7. Or 229.
Why does it work this way? Because if you have a good relationship with someone else, any kind of relationship, you both become better versions of yourselves for having that other person in your life. We’re all 1’s if we’re self-aware and live our lives to the fullest. If I find someone who adds to my life, who causes me to be a better version of myself, I might become a 4.
There are cases in which a person who is normally a 1 becomes a -3 when around certain people, meaning they’re probably not choosing their friends or significant others optimally. This doesn’t mean these people who negatively them are bad — they could be a 1, just like you — but it does mean that their needs and wants and goals and lifestyle choices don’t mesh well with everyone’s. And that’s okay. Let math be math and move on. Maybe introduce them to a friend with whom they can be a 9.
I’m sometimes told that this way of looking at relationships is too simplistic, or that it’s cold and mean. Relationships, I’ve been told, are all about emotion, and that means you have to lose yourself in them. If you’re quantifying the impact someone else has on your life, you’re not taking the bad with the good. You’re ruining it.
I disagree. For me, it’s important to know who adds to my life and who subtracts from it. I trust that those around me will do the same: if I don’t add anything to their life, I’d hope they’d spend their energy and time elsewhere. I don’t want to be a drain on their happiness or keep them from being the best possible version of themselves.
To approach the issue otherwise would be to resign oneself to unhappiness like one does with the weather or taxes. It’s something that will always be there, so why even worry about it? Let’s stop fretting and hope we draw the right straws.
While it may be true that weather will happen regardless of how much we learn, that doesn’t stop us from studying it and trying to adjust our lifestyles to achieve the optimum balance and safety within the confines of what we can control. The same is true with taxes: we don’t unquestioningly pay whatever we’re asked. We fill out forms and speak with professionals. If the government were to demand that we give them everything we own, few people would just hand over all their money and possessions, no questions asked. At least, I should hope not.
The same is true with relationships. We should question. We should measure where possible. We should surround ourselves with people who make us more than 1, and hope those around us are doing the same.
Becoming a 1, complete by oneself, is only the first step. Run the numbers of your relationships and make sure the sums are something to be proud of. If not, adjust the equation.
Update: February 17, 2017
A version of this concept eventually worked its way into my book, Some Thoughts About Relationships. I didn’t realize I was writing about such things so far back.