I am an editor by trade and a writer by training. I spend most of my time mired in words, and if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this, it is that language is immensely important. The way we speak about things subtly shapes the way that we think about things. The words others choose shape the way we think about things. Our language influences our culture influences our language. It’s a mental Möbius strip that reflects every aspect of our lives.
The way we talk about relationships influences the type of relationship we idealize. And the type of relationship we idealize currently is exceedingly unhealthy.
An exboyfriend once said to me, “I would follow you into Hell!” which, at the time, sounded incredibly romantic. In hindsight, it was actually incredibly misguided and codependent.
Friends, family, random strangers on the Internet, I would like to assure you here and now that I would not follow you into Hell. I would not even follow my husband into Hell.
Following someone into Hell sounds like a pretty bad idea to me. If someone I care about seemed as though they were about to march into Hell, I would tell that person, “Hey, I hear Hell’s actually not a very groovy place. Let’s not go there. Let’s go get some froyo and talk about our feelings.” I would hold their hand and try to find out what in life was so terrible that they felt like they had to do something so drastic. I would quote the ineffable wisdom of bell hooks to them: “Girl, you don’t have to drown yourself in the bathtub. Just leave town.”
If that person still seemed determined to walk into Hell, I would sit on them so they couldn’t. I would turn on Netflix and make them watch National Lampoon movies until they were laughing so hard they forgot all about going to Hell, at least for a little while.
Because that is what devotion is. That is what love is. It is not blindly following someone wherever they may go, consequences be damned. It is telling someone when you think they’re about to make a mistake and doing all you can to help them make a different decision.
I would not follow you into hell. I would stop you from walking into hell.
This is usually the part in the conversation when someone scoffs and says, “It’s just a metaphor!”
And yes, it is. But it is a metaphor that we take as a true representation of commitment; it is something that works its way into our thoughts and thereby works its way into the lens through which we view the world.
Take, for example, the famous and oft-repeated line from Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”
Why did that simple moment in a film take a world by storm? Why did those three words suddenly become the new standard for romance, the new brass ring we reach for in our relationships? Because we have been culturalized, conditioned from birth, to believe that we are incomplete without a romantic relationship. This concept can be traced back as far as ancient Greece, where Plato originated the idea of soul mates, claiming that some humans had been split in twain by the gods and were doomed to wander the earth in misery until they found their other halves. Western culture for millennia has been inured to the concept that human beings, as individual people, are incapable of being whole.
Our culture influences our language influences our culture.
So let’s change the conversation.
You do not need someone to complete you. You are a whole, complete, actualized human being all on your own. You need someone to complement you. You don’t need someone to provide your missing pieces. All of your parts are already there. Someone else can help you put them together, but they can’t provide them. We should not look for partners who fulfill things we think we are lacking. We should look for partners who amplify the good in who and what we already are.
Anything else is a recipe for codependency.