By Nicolle

I have a lot of strange, compulsive habits but my newest one is weirder than making extensive to-do lists that include taking a shower. I recently started checking the left ring fingers of men and women alike to see if a symbol of eternal commitment graces their hands. If a sparkly rock or a shiny band is secured around that fourth finger, I wonder about that person’s spouse. What does she look like? Do they have kids? Does he ride the bus to work too?

If a ring is absent, I conversely wonder why. Was she once married? Did he lose the one he wanted?

My curiosity about strangers’ marital statuses does not logically stem from an obsession with getting married (trust me). I’m not looking to get married anytime soon, nor do I think that marriage is an ultimate goal in life.

What is a goal (one that almost everyone would attest to striving for) is happiness. And I’ve been struggling with what happiness looks like in an unpredictable world.

In our modern society, marriage is often touted as a road to happiness, a pathway to internal completion. Jerry Maguire says it perfectly when Tom Cruise bursts through Renee Zellweger’s door after he realizes what’s missing from his life: “You complete me.”

But does she complete him? Can she complete him? In Plato’s famous work The Symposium, he details a dinner party during which playwright Aristophanes explains the reason why humans have deep, innate longings for connections with other humans. Aristophanes declares in his mythical story that humans were once two-headed, eight-limbed creatures – basically two modern humans fused together. This fusion made them emotionally and spiritually complete. But the two-headed humans got arrogant because of this total fulfillment and began ignoring the gods, says Aristophanes. Zeus’ anger with humans’ arrogance caused him to split them in two, making them what we know as humans today.

That split, says Aristophanes, caused our human need for completion to come from outside of ourselves. We can’t be whole again until we’re reunited with our other half. Literally, one plus one equals one whole.

Even though Plato is arguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time and Aristophanes is a highly regarded playwright, I venture that their perception of human longing is wrong. One plus one should not equal one; I’d even go so far as to say that it can’t.

We’ve been conditioned by culture to think that we’re incomplete until we’ve found that one person who perfectly fulfills our needs, helps us realize our dreams and keeps us happy for the rest of our lives.

Asking another person to meet that extremely high and unrealistic expectation is like asking me to pass a chemistry exam: there’s absolutely no chance that I’ll succeed. Similarly, I don’t want to be solely responsible for the happiness of another person, because I know I’ll fail. And then who’s to blame? Is my failure really my fault if the bar was set too high for even the most selfless person to reach? Or does it just mean that we weren’t “right” for each other because our fulfillment couldn’t be discovered in the other?

Maybe it’s just that such a requirement is impossible. If I hang all my happiness on one person, I’m destined to be let down before we even say, “I might.”

But it’s not hopeless. Our ideas of happily ever after in horse-drawn carriages might be false, but the concept of happiness isn’t. That happiness just can’t be fully realized in one person. Instead, a beautiful spectrum of different relationships, should they be with friends, family members, coworkers and pets, can walk shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we take time to figure ourselves out.

And figure ourselves out we shall. Because, ultimately, knowing yourself leads to a completion far greater than a two-carat, princess-cut diamond ring – or Tom Cruise’s declaration of love for you (even if he is standing on Oprah’s couch).

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