Dear Fiona: Be Complete

In this series of letters I’ve tried to introduce to you a number of concepts that sound contradictory at first blush, but aren’t. This one will be no exception.

In my previous letter, I wrote about being content with imperfection. We are all of us imperfect beings, and it’s easy at time to “make the perfect the enemy of the good,” never doing what we want or need to do because we can’t do it perfectly.

But while I hope you don’t spend too much time and energy obsessing about being perfect, I also hope you learn the difference between being “perfect” and being “complete.”

There’s a line from the romantic movie Jerry MacGuire, when the female and male lead finally get together, and Renee Zellweger’s character says to Tom Cruise’s character: “You complete me.”

I hate that line. Nobody should have to look to their romantic partner to “complete” them. In fact, in my experience it makes the relationship weaker when one party feels incomplete without the other.

This gets back to what I wrote in a previous letter about Marc Chagall’s Three Candles painting: A relationship is its best self when it consists of two complete people, bringing their whole selves into the relationship and, through that relationship, forging something that is entirely new, yet does not detract from the two selves that went into the making of it.

Tragically, much of our culture is built on making people – especially girls – feel incomplete without another person to “fulfill” them.

This is most vividly apparent in romantic relationships: I grew up in a very conservative culture where men were deemed incomplete until they found a “help-meet” for themselves (if you’re not familiar with that word by the time you read this, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s an out-of-context reading of Proverbs 31 . . . an interpretation of that passage to which I hope I can avoid exposing you for as long as possible.)

But if Proverbs 31 is used to shame men into feeling incomplete without the perfect woman, then it’s used to absolutely bludgeon women into feeling inadequate and second-rate unless and until they’re capable of essentially performing the equivalent of running several small companies . . . all for the benefit of their husbands.

Because in the culture I grew up with, most women were taught from a very young age that they needed a man to complete them. First they were to live at the behest of their fathers, until such time as they caught the eye of a young man. Then, once the man (always the man) initiated a romantic relationship (designed, of course, to culminate in marriage) they were to live at the behest of their husbands.

That’s not what I want for you. As your father, it is not my job to complete you. As a grown, adult woman, it will not be your husband’s job to complete you.

You complete you.

That is, again, why I want to train you up to be a strong, independent, creative and fearless woman. And that’s why it’s important to me to give you more latitude, more freedom, than many other parents feel they can give their one-year-old children. I am not most parents, and I do not want you to be most daughters. Because even as our culture becomes more and more aware of the ways in which women have been subjugated, relegated to second-class status, and made to serve as supporting characters in their own stories, most simply assume that passive awareness of these things will “fix it.”

I don’t think that. I think the only way to fight back against the pressures and tensions and expectations and shame that the world will heap on you – in many cases solely because you’re a woman – is to actively counter it, starting even now, so that by the time you’re old enough to comprehend those forces . . . by the time you’re old enough to read this letter . . . the habit of being complete will already be second nature to you.

And when you’re a complete person, all of those pressures and expectations don’t matter, because you can simply do what you’re going to do anyway, without letting them weigh on you. And then, if you decide you want to be a “working woman,” that’s ok, and the expectations of those who think you’re selling your family short by choosing that path won’t matter. If you decide you want to be an entrepreneur and go out and create something totally new, that’s ok too, and the expectations of those who think women are ill-suited for such endeavors won’t matter. If you decide you want to stay at home and raise a family, that’s ok too, and the expectations of those who think feminism means rejecting home and family won’t matter.

In short, being complete . . . being independent of the expectations and burdens that come with letting another person complete you . . . leaves you free to do whatever your heart desires.

And whatever that is, I’ll be behind you without caveat or reservation, cheering you on.


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