“Bella … When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black.… And there was no more reason, for anything.” ― Stephenie Meyer, New Moon
Confession: I’ve always had a serious romance problem.
I was the little girl who sat in the forest in my flowy white princess costume, refusing to come in because I knew that a unicorn was going to show up at any moment. I’d squeeze my eyes shut and extend my hands out with a carrot offering, waiting for the unicorn to come and gently take it.
In my teen years, I dreamed that Prince Charming was going to sweep me off my feet, though my vision only lasted up to the first kiss. Then I discovered my sister’s secret stash of sexy historical romance novels, and I realized that there was a lot more to the story. Reading this racy collection not only drastically improved my vocabulary (“rogue,” “heaving,” “ravished,” “defiant,” “pulsating,” “naïve,” “obdurate,” “titillating,” “member,” “penetrating”), but it also gave me some pretty far-fetched ideas about sex, love, and romance.
Hollywood didn’t help.
I devoured movies like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty Woman, and any other rom-com that suggested that true love would drop into my lap and knock me senseless. In these movies, every heroine is a damsel in distress, true love always saves the day, and bad guys (vampires, werewolves, or general scoundrels) are actually the good guys who are just waiting to be reformed by the love of the right woman.
“You complete me.” ― Jerry McGuire
I bought into the Hollywood fairy tale hook, line, and sinker. Isn’t there something intoxicating and delicious in thinking that Mr. or Ms. Right will just ride up on a hypoallergenic horse and fix all our problems? Ah, at last, a savior! How wonderful! How inspiring! How romantic!
And how impossible.
I call this “Searching for your Missing Piece.”
Searching For Your Missing Piece
I had a total crush on Jeremy.
He was a successful filmmaker, and I fervently admired his passion and commitment to his craft. He was also a decent cook and cute to boot.
But Jeremy turned out to be a shitty boyfriend. He was distracted, distant, and usually out of town. The sex wasn’t even that good. And yet I couldn’t get him out of my head! Jeremy was Rachel catnip.
And then Jeremy dumped me.
I felt as if my soul had been amputated. My heart turned into a hollow, burning hole in my chest. I was devastated. (You’ll hear more about Jeremy in chapter nine when we talk about rejection.) What was going on? Why did I miss him so much?
With a little time and perspective, I came to understand that my desperate need to be with Jeremy wasn’t really about Jeremy at all. I felt scared and crappy on the inside, and Jeremy’s attention had been distracting me from my own bad feelings. When he paid attention to me, I felt validated and good about myself. When he ignored me, I was so busy chasing after his affection that I didn’t have to deal with my own inner mess.
I wasn’t dating Jeremy just because I liked him; I was dating him because I hoped he could fix me.
There is a big problem with the “I’ll date you and you’ll fix me” scenario: it assumes that we are dependent on someone else for our wholeness and happiness. When we think that someone else can fix our “Missing Piece,” we are pretty much enslaving them to be our validation machines. When the relationship is going well, we feel amazing. When it’s not going well, we feel horrible. And deep down, we have a small, festering, and irrational belief: we believe that if the relationship ends, we will die.
We’ve put ourselves on an emotional roller coaster.
Because I felt so dependent on Jeremy, I was afraid to let him go even when it was clear that the relationship wasn’t working. Because I was scared, I couldn’t make the best decision for myself—or him—because of what I thought I would lose.
Staying with someone because of how they “make” us feel is a classic Missing Piece confusion. When we’re in a Missing Piece confusion, our relationship becomes obligatory and dependent rather than free and truly loving.
When Jeremy dumped me, I did feel lost. But here’s the thing: I already was lost.
His departure simply exposed the truth.
The fact is that we all feel like we have a Missing Piece.
At the core of our beings, we each have a fundamental sense of being incomplete, imperfect, unsafe, and unfinished. It’s a feeling of being unworthy of love.
You know this feeling: it’s the one you get when you feel like you have done something wrong. Maybe you had a fight with a friend, screwed up at work, or you just woke up feeling crappy. When we get this feeling, we scramble to cover it up. We search for stuff in the world (houses, cars, wealth, esteem, success) to make it go away. And when our cover-up job stops working, we’re fast on the prowl again. We are constantly trying to fill the Missing Piece.
“Anyone who falls in love is searching for the missing pieces of themselves.” ― Haruki Murakami
In romantic love, we use our relationships to cover up the Missing Piece. Like I did with Jeremy, we expect our partners to make the bad feelings go away. (“Tell me I’m pretty,” “Commiserate with me,” “Tell me you love me.”) And they do. And it works.
And then it stops working. Uh-oh. This must not be the right person, we think. Because according to the great Hollywood romance, the right person would make the Missing Piece feeling go away forever.
So if this relationship isn’t covering up my pain anymore, then it’s got to be a bad fit. So we dump our faulty partner and find someone else. And hope that they’ll be “the one.”
But here’s the secret that Hollywood keeps on the down low: that terrible feeling of uncertainty and imperfection isn’t going to go anywhere. It will never be “solved” by Prince or Princess Charming—or anyone else.
Because it’s an intrinsic part of your human condition.
Anava Mala is a fundamental human misperception that causes us to feel as if we are incomplete and imperfect. This misunderstanding makes us feel as if there is always something lacking, which we frequently try to fill with resources from the outside world. However, this feeling of lack is simply a part of being human. And it can only be addressed internally, by us.
Your Missing Piece can never be “fixed!” by someone else! Eureka! Stop the presses! We can end the search!
Yes, your partner may briefly cover up your bad feeling, but soon enough it’s going to sneak up from the basement and—voila!—appear again. Inevitably. Because it’s always there. And we are so used to calling this feeling a “problem” that we never actually just sit in how it feels.
The bottom line: finding “the one” is not going to make you happy. You will never be “cured” by romantic love—not even when your lover is the vampire Edward, Mr. Darcy, Ryan Gosling, or Theo James.
Lasting happiness can only come from the inner recognition of your own worthiness.
Ohhhhhh, my friends, I understand that you may be disappointed in what you just read. You may want to toss this book down. You’re thinking, “That’s crap. This is a dumb book. I thought this was going to help me date! Other people do make me happy and bring me joy. I deserve connection and love!”
Yes, I understand—and I agree with you! And we’ll get there. But here’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question that we have to ask ourselves before we start to tango with another person: are you looking for love? Or, are you just looking for someone to fix your problem?
It’s time to stop selling ourselves short. It’s time to stop mistaking romance for love.