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.