Have you ever heard the phrase “better half”?
Our culture is rife with this idea–that two partners are two halves of a whole. Lovers tell one another “you complete me.” In marriage ceremonies, we talk about two becoming one. Even the term “soulmate” refers to an Ancient Greek idea that true lovers were two halves of a whole body, split in two by the wrath of the gods and desperately seeking to rejoin.
These ideas are poetic, and it’s easy to see why they appeal. But there’s a darker side to them. What does this idea imply for single people? No one should have to feel like they’re incomplete without a partner. Yet many people do feel this way, and our cultural ideas about love don’t help.
This idea of the “better half” can create disturbing dynamics in relationships, too. If you feel like you’re not whole without your partner, a threat to the relationship becomes a threat to your very being.
When you feel like your relationship and your SELF is threatened, you are more likely to put up with treatment you wouldn’t otherwise endure, because anything is better than the relationship ending. Or, out of fear, you may attempt to control your partner, because you think that if they leave you will be diminished.
This also plays out in more subtle ways. In an attempt to be the perfect match for your partner, you may let entire parts of your self drop away, until you don’t even quite remember who you are. In the early days of a new relationship, this is part of the bonding process, but over time it might turn into resentment–even if your partner never asked you to sacrifice anything.
People just don’t fit into each other like two halves of a broken plate. We have all kinds of jagged projections and weird, nubbly edges. Your jagged edges will never perfectly match your partner’s, and if you try to force it, you’ll just end up scratching each other.
Loving someone isn’t about losing yourself in them, melting seamlessly into one whole. It’s about discovering a singular, separate soul, and being discovered in turn. If you squash your true opinions, desires, and preferences in an attempt to have a frictionless relationship, you deny your partner the opportunity to truly know you as a being like no other. Opening up in that way can be truly frightening. What if you expose your true self, and your partner rejects you? But consider: what if you expose your true self and your partner loves you, whole and entire?