How to Love a Whole Person

Unlike your car, your shoes or your sandwich, people can’t be deconstructed and customized. For better or for worse, we are who we are.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Finding someone to love is hard.

Is it fair to blame this on Subway 6" Sandwiches? I think so.

Here’s why: we live in an era of endless options. Accepting something as is, whether it’s a sandwich, a t-shirt or a hair color, just isn’t necessary anymore.

I drove past a Yankee Candle store today and they had a promo where you could print your own photo on a candle for five bucks. Because the tasteful ‘Berries on Snow’ logo designed by some poor art school grad just isn’t personal enough.

It’s not just choosing the things we want though. I recently started roasting a whole chicken every Sunday night so that I could have chicken soup leftovers through the week. My kids were fascinated by this. They asked about the bones, the neck, the hollow space in the middle where there used to be a heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

Their curiosity was driven by the fact that most of the time when we eat ‘chicken’, the parts that really made the chicken what it was — a walking, breathing organism — have been tossed.

Nobody wants to see a discarded beak or feathers when they’re just trying to grab a quick lunch! Instead, we prefer snowy white chunks of pure breast meat. Even better if they are breaded and fried and shaped like dinosaurs or ghosts!

Whole Foods, Whole 30, Whole Grains. We’ve gotten so used to taking things apart and reducing them to a collection of variable pieces that we now need special stores, diets and food labels to remind us that long ago, we used to eat foods, not ingredients.

Last fall I made the error of serving sandwiches at my son’s birthday party. I thought they were great sandwiches. Several different kinds, with expensive meats, cheeses, veggies and dressings, all on good, yummy baker bread.

But then I watched the party guests — adults and children — pick them apart, avoiding the gluten, the dairy, the mayonnaise, the lettuce, the tomatoes. I realized that we live in a post-sandwich era.

The level of customization we have come to expect is far too much for us to just accept a gourmet sandwich as a whole item.

Although the idea that we should get exactly what we want is great for searching real estate websites, ordering monogrammed luggage and splitting a pizza with friends, it can be harmful when it comes to relationships.

Here’s why: people only come as whole people.

A whole person is a collection of habits, scars, possessions, experiences, expressions, organs, tissues, smiles, flesh and blood. A whole person can be great at nine things and terrible at the tenth. A whole person is a complex, complete organism that thinks, reads, farts and forgets to buy milk at the store.

Unlike a sandwich or an apartment, you can’t just take a person apart and leave behind the bits you don’t like. And no matter how high your credit card limit is, you can’t just buy upgrades on add-on packages to give your partner the extra features that you desire.

For better or for worse, if you’re going to be in a relationship with a person, it won’t be successful unless you realize this.

When I listen to my single friends talk about their dating frustrations, sometimes I hear them list off deal-breakers, as if they’re alerting a waiter at a restaurant of their deadly food allergies.

“No facial hair longer than an inch, nobody that drives a car with a spoiler, nobody that hasn’t owned property for at least five years*, nobody who watches True Crime Documentaries, nobody who drinks spiked seltzer…”

*To the younger set: that’s what people start to care about after 35.

I’m not against having standards, but I do fear that these ultra-specific criteria, while appropriate for choosing a sofa or place to vacation, cause some decent, wholly acceptable people to get X’d off the list before they even had a chance.

My husband and I have a great relationship. In fact our friends tell us it’s annoying how close we are. But it wouldn’t take me five minutes to list off a dozen things about him that annoy me.

When he writes lists, letter or notes, he uses ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. He spells avocado like this: AVACADO. When we both went to work on Monday, he left his smelly weekend ski gear in our bedroom with the door shut so when I got home, our room stunk like a polypropylene armpit. Annoying.

But since I love him as a whole person, not a collection of parts that I can swap out, these things don’t even phase me. I don’t get embarrassed at his terrible dance moves at weddings and I still laugh at the only three jokes he knows.

When I realized that he was the one I wanted to be with, I balled all of these irritating things with his great qualities, and I can hardly separate them from each other. In a way, it’s a relief because I don’t even have to think about which things I find endearing and which I find annoying. Since I am committed to loving him as a whole person, there’s hardly a difference.

I’ve never been the kind of person that orders a menu item and asks for it to be prepared differently, or served with different sides or sauces. Instead, I read through the menu and order the thing that looks the most delicious. Then I’ll just trust that the chef has done a good job putting together a meal that knocks my socks off.

If I don’t like it, I’ve learned a little bit more about myself and I’ll make sure to try something different next time.

If I love it, lucky me. I’ll probably order it again.

When it comes to finding a person to love, consider that everything they’ve been through, everything they’ve done are all part of the special sauce that makes up their heart and soul.

You don’t get to pick and choose which of their habits or history you want to keep and which you want to discard, because, as previously stated, a person is not a 6" Subway Sandwich.

So instead of thinking of a partner as a project, as somebody who you can turn into the perfect person by adding more of somethings or picking off other things, back up and consider them as a complete, whole, heart-beating, red-blooded human.

If you step back and see that your whole person isn’t a whole person that you can fully commit to loving, then call it off and make sure you try something different next time. Hopefully you learn a little bit about yourself in the process.

But if you step back and see that your whole person, even with their quirks and weird Smurf collection (yes, real, owned by my husband) is somebody that you want to love, then do it!

And while you’re at it, ask them to help you making your own perfect whole sandwiches at home. Stop supporting Subway’s insidious habit of ruining relationships.

Just make sure to add tons of pickles.

Big fan of good books, funny looking animals, and great stories. Always ready for the next big thing.

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