On Jigsaw Puzzles, Musical Harmony, and Relationships

How much is a relationship like a jigsaw puzzle?

Posted Jun 30, 2011

I agreed with him, and admitted that it was sloppy wording on my part. (In my defense, your honor, I did put the words in quotes—I didn't mean it, honest!) We shouldn't look for someone else to complete us; we have to take responsibility for that ourselves. A relationship may provide many things that you find missing from your life, such as companionship, but you should not rely on it to fill gaps that you find in yourself, such as confidence or self-worth. That's too much to ask of someone else, either implicitly or explicitly, and furthermore it implies that you are offering the other person less than a complete person to be with, which isn't fair to him or her.

Then I thought about the jigsaw puzzle metaphor more, and saw that it could be read at least two ways. You could see a person as a jigsaw puzzle that's missing some pieces, and he or she seeks out relationships to fill those gaps, using the other person to "complete" him or her. That wasn't what I meant by it, but perhaps that's what my friend thought I meant, and I can see how that fits with and reinforces the whole completion issue.

When I thought of the metaphor—and no, I'm under no delusions that it was an original idea—I envisioned each person as an individual puzzle piece, with a unique assortment of tabs (the protruding bumps—oh my...) and blanks (the holes that the tabs... well, you get the idea). Those tabs and blanks represent a person's idiosyncracies: likes and dislikes, character traits, pet peeves, and so forth. When we look for relationships, we hope to find someone whose own "tabs and blanks" fit with ours. (Obviously, don't take the visual analogy too seriously—no heteronormativity here, folks.) This doesn't imply necessarily that opposites attract, but merely that people's traits be compatible so their lives will easily "connect."

In that post I also used the word "harmony," another metaphor (or five—but who's counting): it takes two different musical notes to create interesting harmony, but the quality of that harmony will depend on how well the notes fit each other: a perfecf fifth (like C and G) sounds great, but a major second (like C and D) sounds shrill (and a minor second, like C and C# is even worse, except when Thelonious Monk plays it). The point is, each note is complete in and of itself, but nonetheless fits better with some notes than others, and musicians know which notes fit best with others in order to tell the musical story they want to tell.

In the same way, we look for other people to help craft the type of relationship we want—not to complete ourselves, but to extend ourselves, to add richness to our lives, to "add to something in a way that enhances or improves it." (Hey, what do you know—that's another definition of "complement." Take that, smart-ass.) 

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