Author of “Screw the Fairytale: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Sex and Love” is on a quest to prove that romance doesn’t have to include marriage or living with a man.
“You complete me.” The spine-tingling line uttered by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire piqued the public’s imagination so much that it became a hackneyed phrase for what dreamlike coupledom is supposed to do — complete us. For me though, I’ve always found being in a relationship halves me. I’ve always thrived more when single. My energy, ambition, friendships, curiosity about the world, passion to start new projects, my sleep, my fitness regime and my wardrobe space all flourish when it’s just me navigating through life.
Of course, I love being in love and falling in love. Who doesn’t enjoy the butterfly flutters of excitement when a new lover’s text pops up on your phone — or those euphoric evenings sharing life stories over the pop of a champagne bottle. I’ve had fantastic relationships with caring, committed men but always, I’ve found, something has to give. For every comfort, there is an obligation. For every romantic candlelit dinner, there is a subtle compromise.
By default, we lose a piece of our freewill in a relationship. The time and mental investment means that even with the most understanding, non-possessive and flexible partner, we have less scope for new friendships, new adventures, new interests. I find my hunger for life becomes diluted.
People often say, “You just haven’t met the right person.” I’ve heard so much about this mythical “right person” — I’m dying to meet him! The truth is I won’t meet him. None of us will meet one being who will meet our every need — that’s a fairytale fantasy.
There are many “right persons” out there should I ever want to merge my life with another. Many of my past and recent lovers would have made perfectly reasonable life-partners. Oh I know, I’d have to “work at it” and all that; make a few compromises. No relationship advice is complete without the reminder that a successful relationship requires a compromise. That reflects my position exactly. I have never wanted to compromise.
Although it seems incomprehensible to my meddling coupled friends — trying to fix me up as if I’m a community project — life is still pretty good without having to sacrifice Sundays to meet in-laws or go to the 40th of some boyfriend’s friend I’ve never met. My bed is still a warm and inviting place without me sharing it with a hot lump of a body whose esophagus randomly starts imitating a litter of piglets in the middle of the night. (Earplugs don’t do a thing in case you were about to suggest some.)
We are very lucky that we live in an era and culture where we don’t have to pair up and shack up for our financial and social welfare. Relationships are now, for the first time in history, a choice not a necessity. Yet the very fact that we talk about having not “met the right person yet” implies just how indoctrinated the belief is that we have to meet a lifelong partner to graduate into adulthood. We even have multiple words for it: Soul mate. Mr. (or Mrs.) Right. Other Half. Better Half. The One. Finding and sticking with a life-partner is the prescribed route to Utopia in the modern western world.
I find this a strange doctrine in a society which champions independence in every other sphere. Children are encouraged to express individualism; students are encouraged to pursue vocations for which they have a natural aptitude, rather than pursuing a historical family trade, as used to be the case. We are admired for going on globe-trotting Gap years or becoming entrepreneurs. Self-development, meditation, defining our personal goals and inner voice have become buzzwords of the zeitgeist.
Yet on the other hand, it is assumed that we can’t possibly be happy unless we live and share our life with a romantic partner.
Commitment requires a more seismic change in psyche than it ever has. Before we even look for marriage, most of us go to college, live with friends or live alone. We date, we travel, we shape our careers, hobbies and friendship circles. We feast on choices shaped by our individual desires. Then boom, we meet this “right person” and suddenly we’re expected to harmonize our social circles, job location, interests, the fridge stock, choice of wallpaper and the intervals in which you believe it is appropriate to leave between washing the car.
When I was last in a full-time relationship, everyone from my family to my sports masseuse asked me if we had plans to move in together. I loved him dearly and I envisaged us being together for a long time, but that doesn’t translate as wanting to have him under my feet all day. I find it astonishing that cohabitation is seen as the benchmark for a “serious” relationship when living alone is so viable. I’ve cohabited once. You get cuddles, you get tea in bed, you have someone with whom to share the cost of hotel rooms. But you also have to put up with a steamy bathroom, cook and get to read much less in bed.
Indeed romantic love is one of the greatest human highs, but as with all highs, there are downers. There are the disagreements, the monotony, the frustrations, the disappointments. Then there are the rules. I hear attached colleagues joking in the bar that they need to “sneak a quick drink in” lest they get home too late. Is their partner afraid of the dark?! Married men talk about getting wives’ permission before they can arrange an evening with a friend. You risk a sulk if you say you haven’t got time for date night or that you want to go for a 10k run. Girls drag their boyfriends around dress shops when it’s clear they don’t want to be there. One man I know jokes that he deliberately uses the wrong set of crockery to irk his nagging wife. When I ask why, he replies “because I’m on a leash.”
Singletons are protected from all this lackluster and domestic drudgery. We thrive, happily pursuing our own agendas. In “Screw the Fairytale” I suggest there is such a thing as a “single gene” — a personality trait which dictates how comfortable we are being single.
Why is it that some people are never, ever single? As soon as one relationship ends, they pop up on Facebook a week later, their status changed to “in a relationship.” How can they have genuinely fallen in love so quickly, when I go for years without meeting anyone who I haven’t wanted to gag after 24 hours?
I can’t help thinking that some people need a full-time relationship more than others. Some people don’t enjoy time alone. Some people want constant companionship. For them, the textbook marriage-house-and-family-days-out is rewarding. There are just as many people, whom I’ve met while researching my book, who have described the expectations of modern relationships as being oppressive. They were worried there was something wrong with them. Maybe they were “commitment-phobes” or had “intimacy issues.”
There is nothing wrong with them. They are simply singular-minded individuals struggling with society’s stringent rules of respectable love. Despite my relationship apathy, I am a romantic. I crave physical affection, intimacy and giggles with a lover, but it is the prerequisite of a 24-7 contract which puts me off. I believe these sorts of part-time relationships will become the norm as modern lifestyles continue to become more autonomous. In the last 50 years, modern domestic conveniences have made it possible to live alone, emancipation of women has made it possible for women to start businesses and buy properties without a husband (as recent as the 1970s some states did not permit that). Relaxed social morals mean men and women no longer need to be married to start a family. The Internet means we can find and connect with social groups like the one here at SingularCity very easily.
In the future we will see romantic relationships as just that – things which fulfill our romantic and physical desires. We will accept that different personal needs are met through different personal interactions. Some friends make me laugh. Some make me think. Some get me drunk. Some colleagues stimulate me intellectually. Some motivate me. Family gives me grounding and tell me truths I don’t always want to hear.
My romantic desires require a different trigger. We shouldn’t try to wring out domestic, financial, professional and social satisfactions from one romantic partner. It is only when we relax the job description and stop trying to morph them into a clone of ourselves that we can enjoy the wonderful role a lover can play.
Copyright © Helen Croydon/2018 Singular Communications, LLC.