I was listening to music today when I noticed something odd about the lyrics to many of the songs:
Give me a reason to fall in love
Take my hand and let’s dance
Give me a reason to make me smile
Cause I think I forgot how (Meiko)
Who doesn’t long for someone to hold
Who knows how to love you without being told
Somebody tell me why I’m on my own
If there’s a soulmate for everyone (Natasha Bedingfield)
You got a piece of me, and honestly
My life would suck without you (Kelly Clarkson)
Before you met me, I was a wreck
But things were kinda heavy
You brought me to life
Now every February, you’ll be my valentine (Katy Perry)
Look into your heart pretty baby
Is it aching with some nameless need?
Is there something wrong and you can’t put your finger on it
Right then, roll to me (Del Amitri)
If you pay attention to these songs, it seems that romantic love is something that “saves” you from loneliness and misery. It’s not just in our music that you see this sort of thing, either. Plenty of movies and novels are based on the premise that one or both of the people in the love story are lost and broken until they find each other, and there’s a reason, I suppose, that we talk about “finding our other half.” My parents, too, always told me that once I fell in love I would not be depressed anymore, and used my ongoing depression as “proof” that I didn’t really love my boyfriend.
In a way, this seems like an extension of the rescue trope in our love stories. Typically, it’s a woman being rescued by a man, but you see the story play out the other way around, too, with the woman “rescuing” the man from workaholism, domestic ineptitude, skirt-chasing, substance addiction, emotional numbness, and even, apparently, a propensity for BDSM. All ills, it seems, can be cured by falling in love with the right person.
I used to buy into this myth completely. The fact that I had depression and few genuine friends probably fueled my acceptance of it, as did the fact that in our culture it’s freakin’ everywhere. I told myself, “I can never be happy if I’m single,” and believed that once I was in a stable relationship, I would immediately feel understood and loved–and thus would finally begin to understand and love myself.
Well. I don’t buy this anymore. (I also don’t buy the other extreme, which is that “you must love yourself in order to be loved” or whatever. People with self-esteem issues are capable of having relationships, thank you.) At one point I took stock of my life and realized that I’m single and…happy. I would still like to have a significant other sometime soon, but not because they will make me “complete.” I already am.
I now believe that the fundamental “unit” of humanity is not a couple or a family, but a single person. Nobody can ever be as close to you as you are to yourself, but you can choose to make connections of varying degrees of closeness with others. After all, if we’re all “meant” to be half of a couple, why are many people genuinely happy being single? Why do some people choose to form triads or group marriages? Why do some people find happiness as single parents? Why are some people’s greatest loves their friends, not their spouses?
Now that I’ve realized that I don’t “need” a partner, it’s sometimes difficult to articulate why I nevertheless want one. I don’t need to be “saved” from anything, and I don’t think that a relationship would (or should) change my life in a huge way. Now that I have lots of good friends, I don’t need much emotional support from a partner (or from any one person), and now that I don’t have depression, I don’t need much emotional support anyway.
If you were to imagine relationships as a mathematic equation, the traditional one would be 1/2 + 1/2 = 1 (or, perhaps more paradoxically, 1 + 1 = 1). I like to think of them as 1 + 1 = 2. Two people in a relationship are still two people. They still have (or should have) their own personalities, friends, hobbies, careers, and lives. (In my view, they should have their own last names and bank accounts, too, but I suppose that’s not for everyone.)
They also still have their own problems, because you can’t cure loneliness or depression or insecurity or boredom by adding into the mix another person and all of their own issues. I think a relationship between people who consider themselves whole is by default healthier than one between people who consider themselves fractions.
I like what you have to say here. I may have a slightly different perspective, though. I have a really beautiful marriage. I am not ashamed to say that we share the same interests, have the same hobbies, and friends. We are attached at the hip and happily so. Being someone that suffers from poor health and anxiety, I don’t know what I would do without my husband. He takes care of my physically and emotionally. He’s able to give a lot more than I am. The most I can do is shower him with love, affection, and appreciation. We are both really in love and happy. It works for us.
If you’re happy, that’s all that matters. 🙂
I hear “you must love yourself in order to be loved” so damn much! I like the way you characterize the nature of relationships, and agree with it. While I often do remark that I’ll be much happier when I’m thirty, have a PhD, and am married, I don’t think that simply having A relationship will magically make me happy. Rather, I think that seeing someone I love everyday will make me happier 🙂
I think a big part of the problem is, indeed, that people too often have ascribed to a variant of what I’ll translate as “relationship broken, add more people” that one hears as horror stories in the polyamorous community… but in the case of the “relationship will fix your issues”, the relationship that’s broken is the one with oneself. On the other hand, said relationship does not have to UNconditionally accept oneself’s issues, back issues, and subscriptions for more issues.
I’ve jettisoned the idea that I require a romantic relationship in my life (focusing on my friends on Team Me overall), and have worked at dealing with my own issues in the ways I need to.
I agree with lots of stuff you posted here. I’ve been in my relationship for three years, and was really young when we started. Before that, I wasn’t usually single for long periods of time. Sometimes I think I’m missing out on a lot of experimentation and growth because of being in a relationship. Esp since it’s probably going to keep going for a long time. However, I do love my relationship and the other person in it, and I don’t consider it worth giving up.
Thanks for the article. The kind of “incomplete woman” rhetoric you’re talking about is both pervasive and destructive. I’m reminded of the article published by the New York Times this summer entitled “Two Classes, Divided by ‘I Do.’” It compares the lives of two women– one married, the other not; and in a painful six page feature it extols the situation of the wife and condemns that of the single woman.
Not only does the article show the heartbreaking reality that our society is structurally hostile to any single mother, but the article itself embodies the kind of insidious assumptions that cause this discrepancy. The profiled single mother is quoted as saying, “I thought, ‘I’ll meet someone, and we’ll marry and have kids and the house and the white picket fence,’,,,That’s what I wanted. That’s what I still want,” and “I talk to myself a lot.” Clearly, she hasn’t made a valid life choice to live an unmarried life– it’s that she just hasn’t found her Prince Charming/economic savior yet.
You’re so right when you point out that “the fundamental ‘unit’ of humanity is not a couple or a family, but a single person.” A quick google search will reveal that the traditional nuclear family is in fact NOT the norm for most people. This is not to say I don’t support those for whom the nuclear family works, but there are also many other options. LGBT families, single parent families, non-biological families, those with parents/grandparents/uncles/aunts involved, etc. etc. are all valid.
But going back to idea of the “incomplete woman;” we need to stop blaming youth crime, childhood health issues, systemic poverty, etc on single mothers and need to acknowledge the structural biases that work against these women on a daily basis.
Thanks again for the article!
(the NY Times article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/us/two-classes-in-america-divided-by-i-do.html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www)
Agreed same here….I feel like it would mainly to be to make mother happy. She also said it doesn’t have to be male just as a long as grandchildren are acquired eventually, also after I finished my degree…I am watching my younger and very sensitive cousin go through a crazy amount of online dates…which is actually being motivated by her mother…I am trying to convince her that IT IS NOT NECESSARY. Working and going to college are enough but a lot of mothers do this guilty thing or somehow convince you that you are getting old and that no one will like you, as terrible as it sounds…And then the media well that’s been the theme for awhile. Oh well, I think it’s just important to always have friends while dating or getting into a serious relationship because if or when you break up it’s a lot easier with support!
I’m so glad to see someone else say this. I am married. I have been for 24 years. But, I am a whole person all by my damn self. I hate the ‘you complete me’ crap. Maybe I”m old and curmudgeonly, but feeding kids this stuff is just setting them up for failure or at least feeling like failure when they don’t find this mysterious other half.
I agree. I think it’s important to note that supporting each other (in both difficult times and in the sense of ‘being supportive’ of a partner in everyday life) is an important and healthy part of a relationship, and that the more serious and long-term a relationship is the more you will inevitably come to rely on one another as you build a life together. But I agree that the idea of looking for someone with the purpose of finding someone to rely on is deeply flawed, as is looking for someone to ‘complete’ you. I just can’t see how that would lead to a healthy relationship! I hate the phrase ‘my other half’ as, you’re right, it suggests that people aren’t whole without another person. It also somehow seems to lessen the personhood of the person you’re talking about – I’d never talk about my boyfriend as my other half. We’re each our own people.
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Ooh I love this! Excellent maths metaphor. Yeah, I don’t know how we’re supposed to know how to behave when we’re taught both that we’re sad and incomplete without a partner, but must maintain our separate identities once in a relationship. Seems like we’re doing it wrong any way we try …