When my friends and I discuss bad dating experiences, or when we reminisce over old relationships that didn’t work out, it’s easy for us to become despondent and think “what the hell’s point?”
A lot of the time, when it comes to relationships and dating, I feel like the protagonist in some kind of rom-com, only one where we’re still 90 minutes into the feature and my love interest still hasn’t arrived yet.
When you’re attracted to someone and really want to be with them, it’s easy to render your interactions in a cinematic way, to imagine that life will take the same, familiar narrative course that movies have conditioned us to expect. Stage one is the awkward-but-cute meeting, stage two the flirtatious wooing, stage three the triumph of the date, and so on and on until the inevitable wedding reception, house in the country, and half a dozen kids.
It’s ridiculous and unrealistic. For all our pining, angst and sexual frustration, relationships simply don’t work that way. Yet why do I feel as though we’re all brought up to buy into this obsessional pursuit, this relentless fixation of being fulfilled by other people? If you want to insult someone nowadays, the laziest way of doing so is to attack the fact that they don’t have a partner. Rather than a personal choice, being single is often treated like suffering from some kind of unspecified and mortifying ailment, one that has to be remedied as soon as possible.
A lot of people claim that human beings are actually born polyamorous, and expostulate that the idea that having one partner for life is the natural order of things is a lie – a societal construct that’s holding us all back. But maybe we should take that idea one step further. Maybe the truth is actually that the whole notion of love and romance is a complete hoax, and that people are really nonamorous from the beginning.
So where does society’s obsession with love stem from, and how can it be overcome? It’s my opinion that, culturally, we’re all told from an early age that love is an achievement, a goal to be won, rather than a lucky accident of circumstances. Whether it’s explicit or subliminal, we’re all constantly receiving the message that love is something aspirational. It’s like relationships are just another ubiquitous, bragging-rights product that’s fallen off an assembly-line, like a new car or a tv.
If we aren’t lucky enough to have bought into the aspirational message, then we’re swiftly informed that we’re somehow “missing out” if we’re single. The implication is that everyone else around us has somehow has got it right, that they possess some kind of ineffable quality that makes them more deserving of a relationship. This inevitably leads to introspection, self-criticism, and neuroticism.
Before long you’ll be begging someone to fix you, to cure you of your singleness, and its usually right about then that someone handsome in an advert will appear and try persuade you to buy something. Maybe they’re selling a new diet plan, or a haircut, or designer clothes. Maybe it’s a flashy rolex or a better job, bigger house and five ways to get trimmer thighs. You see where this is leading?
Not only this, but social media also plays a part in imbuing us with the obsession with finding “the one.” In the digital age, we’re constantly plugged in to every little thing that happens to everyone else. If we have a crush, we can see them at any time we want, and you don’t have to be a stalker to feel like Facebook is designed to keep the object of your desire under close surveillance.
Secondly, social media is also yet another way for us to compare ourselves to others. If you scroll down you newsfeed and all you can see is couples, couples, couples: those people who appear to have bought into the aspirational lifestyle and succeeded, then obviously it’s going to bring you down.
So what exactly is the best solution to this societal obsession, and the inevitable malaise that comes when we fail to attain validation? My best advice would be simply to accept that nobody out there owes us anything, that we don’t have an inherent right to a relationship, and that no amount of self improvement will ultimately convince someone to be with us if they didn’t want to in the first place.
Sure, we all get lonely sometimes, and it’s only natural to crave attention and intimacy. But it’s helpful to recognise where those feelings come from and acknowledge when they’re becoming damaging. Learn to love yourself and spend time in your own company, and don’t assume that love is the answer to all your problems.