Things That Won't Complete You

Things That Won't Complete You

“You complete me” is not just a memorable quote from high-stakes sports rommy commy Jerry Maguire — it’s a popular sentiment that plenty of folks buy into, this idea that someone, usually a romantic someone, or some thing, usually an accomplishment or material item, will “fill in” your missing piece, your gassy void, your melancholy nothingness, your gaping abyss. But it ain’t true! The following things, in no particular order, will not do this, not really:

Cashmere Sweater

I don’t have a cashmere sweater — it’s just never worked out for me to have a cashmere sweater. I know how I’m supposed to feel about cashmere sweaters, thanks to that Seinfeld episode and also How People Talk About Them — it’s as if my life would suddenly become a never-ending exercise in good tea and refined gentleness. But cashmere doesn’t take away the literal or figurative bloat, my friends, and that we must acknowledge.

Perfect Skin/Hair/Whatever in all Climates

I’m two elimination-diet items away from perfect skin. Don’t look now — WORK IN PROGRESS. Kidding, but seriously, the idea that with the right mix of diet + product you might wake up and forever-more not “need” makeup, thus appearing to be a person who has just eaten kale and wild salmon at all times, is a highly appealing imagined completed picture. But in reality, having perfect skin will simply allow you to focus on other imperfections, the ones kale can’t fix (if such things indeed, do exist). Yes, good health affects everything and happens to make a person look and feel better, but this will not remedy all that is deep and unsolvable within ye.

That One Pair of Jeans You Saw That One Time

You know the jeans. You saw them once online and they were too expensive but then you forgot and now you can’t find them again and they were going to solve everything?

Month in Europe

I’ve still never been to Europe. I’m convinced one summer on the Mediterranean coast will instill a sense of worldliness and slight world-weariness combined with a vaster wisdom than I can acquire being around buildings that aren’t that old (ahem, West Coast/earthquakes). And while travel is great for expanding the horizons, jetting around, learning about other cultures, and feeling the overall largeness/insignificance of things, it will not in and of itself make you any different inside. You’re still you, no matter the time zone (family motto).

Spanish House

One day I will live in a chalk white stucco house with a Spanish-tiled roof and it will be glorious. Maybe something built in the 1940s with a nice yard, original hardwoods, a couple of lemon and avocado trees and a lot of natural light? I’m convinced this will be the answer to everything, I tell myself, this simple place with bold, mismatched colors. But real estate, no matter how quaint and lovely, is not the thing that will patch up the cracks of an incomplete life.

Perfect Hobby

There’s a bunch of stuff I find extremely interesting and engaging up to a point, at which point I bail, but nothing as yet that strikes me as a life-calling hobby — the satisfying volunteer opportunity, the dreamy, years-long side project of historical research, the ability to knit whenever boredom strikes. When I figure out exactly what this thing is, I will have solved the problem of existential restlessness, I think. But finding ways to occupy oneself during the downtime of life will not answer the question of what one is meant to really do with the amount of time one has on earth.

Giant Portrait

I have no idea what you have to accomplish in a life to have a giant portrait of yourself in your home, but I feel like it’s a lot and that would be a good thing.

Lottery Ticket

Oh, to pay off the student loans with the one lump sum, to buy the cashmere sweater, and complete all items in list above. But you know the old (highly paraphrased) saying: You have a better chance of being bitten by a shark and struck by lightning while driving the wrong way on the freeway fending off wild monkey attacks than winning the lottery. Or something. Plus, it destroys lives. The point is, no.

Perfect Job

No one is ever like, man, can’t wait to reconcile ledgers for research grants 30 hours a week, but we end up in random jobs all the time that don’t seem real, were never expected, and couldn’t even have been predicted to us 15 years ago. Many of them could, in fact, be called “bullshit,” the sort the world can do just fine without. It’s seductive to think the right job could make everything fall into place in the world and you’ll be content from there on out, but no job is likely to provide that perfect blend of challenge and validation forever to complete your existence.

Higher Education

But I went to college and read the books and thought about the things! Ideally you will continue to learn things until the end is nigh and this will provide lifelong satisfaction. Yes, a degree or a certificate or a completed course of study will certain add depth and interest to your life, brains and conversations, it will most certainly not fill the entire void that is being alive and having to do stuff with yourself all the time.

Perfectly Diverse Friend Group

Having good friends is awesome — especially a blend of rich friends, poor friends, artists, and corporate powerhouses, all representable backgrounds, ethnicities and sexual orientations included so that any time you are out in the world you are being challenged and entertained to the ultimate-perspectived maximum. But that alone will not singlehandedly solve the issue of being a truly well-rounded, complete person.


A baby will explode the disco ball that is your life into a thousand pieces that you’ll never envision the same way again. It will give you a higher purpose and endless joy (and sleeplessness), but that baby is still her own person, and does not exist to give your life meaning, rather, you exist to give her life.

A Lifemate

Even the greatest person in the world, the one who gets you, the one who is awesome, the one who is a testament to good personhood and who seems designed expressly for the purpose of being with you for good times and bad, will not complete you.

This shockingly reasonable bride intimated just that when, at her one year anniversary party with friends, family, and community, explained that she was over the moon to be married for a year and share it with everyone. But in a piece called “Why I Told 150 Wedding Guests That My Husband Doesn’t Not Complete Me,” she lays it bare:

I’ve got to be honest about something though. As great as he is, Dan does not complete me. He certainly makes life funnier. Busier. Happier. And tastier. (Dan’s a chef.) But he does not complete me. And I do not complete him. Our lives are so much bigger than each other. Today illustrates that in a beautiful way.

The author goes on to say:

Later that night, Dan told me my speech was great, but probably went over a few people’s heads. “I understood what you meant…and I’m not offended at all. But it’s just not normal to say that your husband doesn’t complete you. Society doesn’t teach us that,” he said.

Later, she writes:

My life is so much bigger than my marriage. My community, my faith, and my experiences complete me. My relationship with myself completes me.

All the Things

Sorry, you might get everything you think you want and find that it’s still not quite enough to make you stop looking. This essay about searching for contentedness (and often mistaking temporary joy for contentedness) makes that point, lamenting that it’s much harder than it looks to find contentment, because it is so very elusive and maybe we will have to search for it forever.

But perhaps that is actually the point. See Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece, where an incomplete circle spends a lot of time looking for that just-right sliver to fill the void, and eventually gets it. But getting “it” ends up getting in the way — of everything the circle loved doing in the first place.

This is definitely not the answer we wanted, but at least it takes all the pressure off of getting that one Spanish house.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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