When you're single you get a lot of conflicting messages from society. The messages are mostly subtle, unspoken. One of the most common messages, though, is not so subtle. You see it everywhere.
It's about being a "whole person."
The commonly doled out advice goes along the lines of "Don't look for a relationship to complete you. Learn to realize you are already complete in and of yourself!"
Or it might come across something like: "When you stop looking for a relationship, that's when you'll find it!"
It sounds so healthy, so wise.
I think it's bullcrap. Here's why.
First of all, it assumes that each of us should be a "whole person." What does that even mean? I take it to mean "self sufficient." Your value lies in your own personhood, and you don't need anyone else to make you happy. But this is ridiculous.
From a social sciences perspective-- Nobody is truly self-sufficient. We are all part of a huge web of interdependence. Let's bring this down to a very basic level. Nobody would chide someone about trying to be a "whole person in and of yourself" because they go to the grocery store to buy groceries, instead of growing all their own food. "Why can't you be happy with what you produce by yourself, Jane Doe? Why are you relying on other people's food to meet your needs and make you happy?"
How about a step higher on Mazlow's hierarchy? (I'm not sure how much stock I actually put in that way of characterizing human behavior, but we'll go with it for today's post, for the sake of making a point.)
Above biological needs are safety needs. Are we, each of us individually, to try to be completely self-sufficient when it comes to safety? Are we somehow lacking in maturity, because we rely on other people, (say, the police department, for one example), to keep us safe sometimes? Of course not. Could we be happy if we tried to rely on our own "wholeness" and didn't have the comfort of knowing there's somebody, or a group of somebodies, keeping us safe? Probably not very.
Romantic relationships could be put neatly into the third category, directly above safety needs. Why, all of a sudden, at this point, are we supposed to be self-sufficient and self-complete in this category, when it's so obvious that we need the help of fellow humans to meet our needs in the first two categories?
From a psychological standpoint-- Is there even such a thing as a "whole person?" All of us have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are good at managing groups of people, some of us are good with children, some of us are good at speaking our mind boldly, some of us are good at diffusing tense situations... the list goes on. Nobody can be good at everything. All of us are bad at something.
But life throws lots of things at any one person, and many of those things lie outside of that person's preferred skill-set. When things happen to me that I am just not very good at handling, it's normal, healthy, mature, and wise, for me to ask someone else--who's good at that thing-- to help me.
Why is it somehow unhealthy for me to recognize that it would be great to have a long-term life partner who is better at dealing with social situations than I am (for example)? Or to realize that I'm generally so freaking intense, having someone around who can lighten the mood would be good for my health? Where is the line drawn between an unhealthy obsession, and an objective understanding that finding a quality life partner is a very reasonable, mature, and desirable goal?
From a purely practical standpoint-- Having someone around can be very useful. I can hang a shelf on the wall by myself if I absolutely have to, but how much easier to have an extra set of hands? I look forward to the day, for example, when I can briefly leave the kids with a responsible adult so I can go take a "quick" errand. (Right now, no errand is ever "quick." I have to tear the kids away from whatever they're doing, make sure they have shoes and acceptable clothes on, strap them into the car seats, keep them from getting into trouble wherever we end up going, and do the whole thing again to go back home.) Heck, many studies even point to the possibility that people in committed long-term life partnerships are healthier and live longer than those who aren't, as a general rule. (There are always many exceptions, of course.)
Relationships are a need. A basic human need. We are social animals, and for millenia our very survival has depended upon our ability to stick together. It is not wrong or unhealthy to want a relationship.
I get that some people become a bit desperate, and can allow their desperation to blind them and drive them to making unhealthy choices. I get that there's a thing called co-dependence (though I think, like ADHD, it is rather over-prescribed...) These people need our support, MORE relationship, not our condemnation and withdrawal. They need help in lessening their loneliness, not accusations that they are supposed to be complete, and what the heck is wrong with them for not being complete?
It is such a hypocritical thing to say. If you really think you are a complete person in and of yourself, then go prove it. That means no relying on anyone for anything. No more going to the grocery store or living in a house that somebody else built.
And of course, I'm not trying to say that relationships aren't difficult, exhausting, time-consuming, and problematic, themselves. They are. And many of them fail and cause great suffering. Overall, though, if both parties are mature and committed to working through the problems, I think I am well supported in my opinion that the pros outweigh the cons.
My overall point, though, is to challenge this individualistic assumption that we should all be self-complete. How narcissistic!