I Complete Me

“You complete me,” sighed Dorothy, collapsing into the arms of her date, Jerry Maguire, in the popular 1996 romantic comedy film. Did those three words push women two steps back?

In fact, that false phrase reversed the forward movement of both sexes who were sold a bill of goods around the nature of healthy interdependence in a couple relationship.

The film’s main character, Dorothy Boyd, played by Renee Zellweger, falls in love with Jerry (Tom Cruise) as they try to make his business venture work. As the film develops we watch Dorothy question herself. Is she good enough for Jerry? Like all women—and men—Dorothy is complete. She is enough.

Early social grooming conditions women to accept that they are incomplete without a requisite man. Then biology tricks her into feeling incomplete without his children. An entire patriarchal system sets her up to feel not quite good enough and insufficient if she hasn’t fulfilled society’s expectations (mandate) of her: wifedom and motherhood.

The fundamental problem with this search for completeness through partnering is the thick, distorted lens through which a woman seeks a life partner. If she’s had a terrible template for a father, someone who’s disrespected and even abused her, she is primed to look for a partner who likely exhibits the same characteristics. Why? For many reasons:
  • A defective partner is better than none
  • She may believe she can change him where she may have failed with Dad
  • This is all she knows – the pattern is entrenched
  • She has a blind spot: her bar is not high enough and she doesn’t realize her value 

Or, it may seem she’s made a good choice, but slowly, over time her partner changes or finally reveals himself as the person he’s been all along. The relationship sours. She’s unhappy and unfulfilled. She might even be noticing dysfunctional behaviors or personality traits that prove difficult to live with. But still, she stays. She perseveres. She is pathologically loyal to someone who merits less. Maybe by now, the ties bind even tighter because there are children and a home.

Women face a myriad of choices in our postmodern era. We work, we attend studies, live alone or with others, and even have children, all without being in a relationship. Many women shrug off the systems and institutions once viewed as the only trajectory for both sexes and especially for them.
How then do women end up with losers? How do they end up with abusive men from whom they receive so little while giving so much more of themselves? It’s a conundrum I myself faced as a young woman and continued to face as I grew older.

I think it’s complex. We now know that the longer young women stay in school, the better life choices they make and the greater the outcomes they’ll experience. We also need to support young women in their life choices. We must recognize the many paths an individual can take toward personal fulfillment may not at all resemble the traditional lock-step march of their foremothers. We must accept it when a young woman tells us she doesn’t want babies. And we must champion those same women as they toil through learning what it is that they do want that brings meaning to their lives.

Through sustained learning and self-growth, each woman is enough in and of herself. She can own her authority as someone who loves herself unequivocally and unconditionally…without a man (or woman), with or without children. And she can indeed look herself in the mirror and say with confidence: “I complete me.”.


  1. Excellent article, Kelly. Noteworthy is that even as Dorothy supports and encourages her partner to establish his business (not hers) and even as she does her best, she is still questioning her value.
    I wonder if the reverse would be true? If Jerry supported Dot in her passionate goals, would his self esteem plummet? Would he wonder if his efforts meant anything? I sense he'd be proud of himself. Your article contrasts high and low self esteem very well, and shows the degree to which Dorothy needs to convince herself that she is, indeed, complete.

    1. Yes, it all comes down to positive self-esteem, something so fragile and sometimes elusive. Dads, ensure that you treat your daughters the way in which you'll want her future partner to treat her. And remember that your sons are watching too.


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