The Lie Jerry Told Us

Jerry Maguire is one of those movies that is stuffed with great quotes: “Help me help you”, “Show me the money!”, and “It’s not show friends. It’s show business,” to name just a few.

But arguably two of the most famous lines in the movie come from the romantic interchange between Jerry and Dorothy at the end. The first of those is “You had me at hello.”

I love it, but personally, I like this spin even better:

you had me at bacon

“You had me at hello” is only the second most famous line, though. I’m willing to bet that the most famous by an order of magnitude, is the line that comes just before it:

“You complete me.”

I LOVED this scene in the movie at the time, but over the past decade I have developed a love-hate relationship with it, since I have heard that phrase “you complete me”, or “he completes me”, or variations on that theme on the lips of many young couples since. Dating couples seem to have developed a Jerry–Maguire-litmus-test for compatibility: do we fit together like two parts of a puzzle? Do we match? Is he or she the “half” I have been looking for all my life? Do I feel complete?

There’s a spiritualized version of the Jerry-Maguire-compatibility-standard too, which I have heard at wedding after wedding after wedding. It goes something like this: “We were single for all those years and we learned to depend completely on God, and now God has given me the gift of this spouse to complete my blessing. We are ONE.”

As if you were half before.

As if you were “incomplete”, but now are whole.

As if spouses were gold stars for good behavior as a single.

And frankly, friends, it both frustrates and saddens me. The “you complete me” mantra has capitalized on a deeply-held lie which we are fed: that singleness is lesser, that marriage is more, that lives without spouses are incomplete, and that lives with spouses are ipso facto magically, wonderfully full and rich and complete.

It’s just not true, and the lie does damage both to singles and to married people.

To singles, it slights and demeans their contribution. It puts them on social and spiritual “probation”. To married people, it places an impossible burden on both husband and wife.

Marriage was not ultimately meant as a “means for personal fulfillment”. Jerry and Dorothy, sweet as they may be, are misled to believe that marriage is the cherry on the top of a successful life. We live in a world which mistakenly believes that life is always about ME, and the corollary of that is a belief that marriage is also about ME-you and you-ME: it’s about US.

But life is not about me, and marriage is not about us. Making one’s life goal to be about personal fulfillment (whether as a single person or in marriage), is a Sisyphean task. No matter how much we try, no matter how good a “fit” our friends or spouse may be, “completion” can never be found that way. Marriage requires work and commitment. It has seasons of loneliness and feeling very incomplete, even when things are healthy. Relational challenges happen, and growth needs to happen – and we rarely feel “complete” when we realize how much room for growth is yet needed. “You complete me” is a relational albatross for those in the marital trenches.

Life is about me-for-others, which is another way of describing love. And love in marriage, is me-for-my-spouse, so that together as a family we can be us-for-you. The couple who spend their lives holding hands and facing inwards will eventually discover that there is a high cost to having turned your back on others. However, the couple who stand holding hands and facing the world side-by-side still have TWO free hands with which to serve and love the world, even while they remain connected to each other.

Ultimately, it is Jesus who completes us. “You have been made complete in Christ,” says Colossians 2:10. Single or married, we find our fullness and completion by being connected to God. If we are single – we stand fulfilled in Christ, with two hands free to reach out to the world around us. If we are married, we stand fulfilled in Christ, and as a couple we still extend two free hands to reach out.

So, be warned, friends: I love going to weddings, and I’d love to attend yours. But if anyone makes a “you complete me” speech during the toasts, please pardon me if I cough quietly in the corner. We sell ourselves short if we believe what Jerry told us.

“You complete me,” is a line for prayer, not for our partners. And said to the right Person, it never disappoints.

20 thoughts on “The Lie Jerry Told Us

  1. Another awesome post! Thank you. I totally agree with you and appreciate the way you’ve articulated this truth. Romantic ideas from the world do often creep in to poison relationships. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t watch the clip and totally tear up…Haha!

    Thanks again, Bronwyn!

  2. The interesting thing is that we forget Ephesians 5. Nowhere are we (husbands or wives) ever told that it’s a relationship that, when done right, will benefit us. When it is truly done right the other is always put in front and served above ourselves. I could go on and on…but I promise I won’t. Great article.

  3. I love the way you express this. I’ve though a lot about this ever since reading Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage.” Do you think that perhaps this shift towards a “self-fulfillment” marriage is a result of problems in previous views of marriage? Historically and still in many cultures the tendency isn’t to make marriage too centered on my happiness but to make it too centered on social responsibility. While there is so much that marriage does for society, there are times when the desires of one or both spouses were sacrificed for society in ways that were unhealthy (such as in the Victorian idea that women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, but give their bodies over to their husband’s pleasure and to having kids). I wonder if today’s pitfalls are an imperfect (even failed) attempt at solving past issues…

    • What an interesting thought. Some years ago I read Christopher Ash’s book “marriage: sex in the service of book” which was an excellent biblical exposition on the place of marriage in Gods economy. In the first section he talked about the inward focus of marriage which developed in the 20th century, but I don’t recall commentary on the 18th and 19th. It was an excellent book (very thorough, very long, very helpful). Tim Keller’s book is at the top if my list for next books to read on marriage!

  4. This is really great, Bronwyn! It makes me think of the two talks College Life gave on marriage. I agree with you but I think it’s also hard as a young person to know what marriage IS supposed to be like. I know it’s supposed to be about God and service to my spouse and others, but what does that really look like, played out in marriage? And where is the balance, too–because there is such a thing as a self-sacrificing love that spends itself on doing but never actually sits down in the arms of the beloved and says, “I love you.” I think I see a lot of wives, and moms especially, who sort of hate their husbands and kids because they are so tired of serving but there never seems and end to it. Their love isn’t really love…it’s just service. Somehow, somewhere in there, we have to stop and rest too. C.S. Lewis says that the greatest love of all might be the love of someone who is incapacitated and allows others to help them.

    I read a book recently by a mom who says that the verse where “the older women should teach the younger to love their children” (Titus 2:4) is not saying to agape your children but to phileo your children. She points out that while of course we are to serve our children, it’s more important to be affectionate towards our children. You can serve all you want, but a lack of affection and they will never know that you loved them. The same can be true of marriage.

    So what does this all mean for how we are to love one another in marriage?

    • Good questions, Liz! asking what something should be like is a different question to asking what it should not be. Both are healthy things to ask! Are you familiar with the startmarriageright.com website? I joined them as a contributor a few months ago, and they have good resources for young couples on many topics, including the question of “so what DOES it look like in practice”?

      The thought of phileo love rather than agape love for ones children is interesting. I would have thought t was agape love because my understanding of parenting is that it is to model one aspect of God’s relationship with us as a parent. The unconditional, forgiving love of God as father suggests to me that as parents we should be aiming to agape our children. Similarly, our marriages also model an aspect of our relationship with Christ, and so I thought would also fall into the agape category.

      Then again, at the end of John, Jesus calls Peter to phileo him AND to agape him…. So maybe our relationships with god, our spouses and our children have a mixture of love types? Interesting thought!

  5. Thanks I eally enjoyed reading that; I often think for Christians especially, our expectations of the person who ‘completes’ us often means our expectations of marriage are sky-high, leading to the inevitable lows of reality – none of us is perfect so marriage is always a work in progress!

  6. Great article!
    Many excellent points. My amazing husband and I have been married twelve years this summer. While that doesn’t make me an expert by any stretch, I have observed a few things: it’s about “us” not “me”; and, while one may be aware of the other’s “primary love language,” one may never improve in, excel in, or even “get” “speaking” in that other’s love language, be it primary, secondary, or tertiary, and vice versa, but that’s not grounds for quitting.
    On phileo/agapao, my publisher challenged me once on my interpretation of what was going on in Jn. 21, according to an interesting read in Don Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies. Carson is critical of using the different Greek words (agapao and phileo) to interpret that scene. May shed light for some on understanding each in marriage-passage contexts.

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