In honour of this most dreaded of holidays I bring you a post about … relationships.
The single people of today are as likely to be marking February 14th with an anti-Valentine’s party (after all, women need men like fish need bicycles) as with a bitter pity-fest consisting of an evening indoors and alone spent crying and watching simpering couples walk hand in hand along the road outside, clutching the spoils of the day: flowers, chocolates, cards, and those awful bears.
Disgusting stereotypes aside, the idea that being in a romantic relationship is just better does seem to persist in pop culture.
You might think there are some specific things that relationships contribute that make life better: having someone to put you first in the world (assuming monogamy), affirmation on tap, affection, being able to be yourself …
But look, the argument goes, these aren’t the only things that can make life good. Your cup can be brought to overflow by achieving something cool at work, enjoying nature and the wonders of the world, learning interesting things, reading stuff, getting to know amazing people … And even the above great perks don’t have to be unique to relationships. You can find particularly effusive friends for affectionate affirmation, you can cultivate a loud and confident interior monologue that you trust enough that when it reminds you how great you are, you believe it the same way you’d believe an equally biased significant other telling you the same thing. As for that particular feeling that you are the most important person in the life of the person who is most important to you – well, you could be the only child of a widowed parent, couldn’t you?!
The suspicion that there is a niche that relationships fill in one’s life, and the voice that shouts it down with counterexamples, constitute the sort of repeated conversation many single people may be having with themselves around this time of year. In general, I find that the second voice wins. It seems obvious that it’s not necessarily true that being in a relationship makes you happier. Isn’t this what being ’empowered’ and independent is all about? Isn’t it just common sense vindicated by observed evidence from actual life?
I came across this article about why people have children recently. The author’s idea is that it’s not because changing diapers and arguing with pre-rational toddlers is inherently delightful; it’s not because children bring joy to their parents every day; and it’s not because humans need to create more humans so that there are more people around to love them. It’s the opposite: that people need to give love.
Maybe the same is true of romantic relationships. If you accept the above, you can be happy without them, sure, but perhaps your life without a significant relationship is worse in a different way, on account of you simply giving less love to the world.
This does seem to fly in the face of the declared motives of the people seeking and entering into relationships (and of those who decide to have children). A lot of people want a significant other in their life because this delivers certain goods; they don’t want a relationship because they want to be forced to grow in love. Indeed, it would be kind of strange if this was motive #1 – if entering a relationship was simply step 5 on the 10-step personal improvement plan one formulates, after ‘get promoted to force myself to upskill’ and before ‘transition to organic foodstuffs’. But even if it is not our reason, it is at least a reason that is out there, and which makes pursuing a relationship a good thing.
Still, all is not lost for the single person. Romantic relationships are not unique in allowing us to love others more. We are all already in networks of platonic and familial relationships with dozens of people. We can choose to love any and all of these people (of course, not necessarily romantically) as soon as we like. ‘Love your neighbour’: end of.
So the solution to any woes you might be feeling is Galentine’s: a glass of Bordeaux with a good friend in a trendy bar. A rendez-vous that did not require me to download any apps – I count that a bonus.