Please CHANGE the Relationship Rhetoric (FFS!)

Having just come back from my brothers (very beautiful, very happy) wedding, I’m caught between two equally legitimate, equally real warring truths;

Our aspirations for love, and the reality of life.

Of course, as my brothers wedding proves – these can overlap. We can fall in love and marry (if we choose) the person we love and this can be a wonderful and beautiful thing.

But it’s very tricky that we presume our aspirations for love are, or should align precisely with the reality of our life. It’s tricky because so often, there isn’t only no overlap, but our aspirations are in fact so far from our reality as to be completely undescriptive of our actual experience.

This leaves us wondering ‘whats wrong with me?!’. This leaves us feeling lesser somehow, less of a full person, less worthy, than those that have (or appear to have) achieved this romantic ideal. Leaves us comparing ourselves to others and feeling sad; feeling bad – there is always someone out there whose relationship reminds us of our failure, of our reason to be sad. Of how lonely we are.

I don’t want to underplay or dismiss this distress or loneliness, indeed it is very real. Though I truly believe it is unnecessarily exacerbated because we live in a society that continually insists being coupled up or married is the default to which we should all aspire – completely ignoring the reality of many peoples lives; that – for whatever reasons (in a way the reasons barely matter) – they have not been happy in relationships, they are happier in fact out of them, and being in relationships has caused them all kind of hurt and upset. They may have been abused, they may have been rejected many times. Yes these are things they could get help with if they wish – but to my mind insisting this lifelong for some people is just to keep telling them the untruth that they fear anyway:

‘its you that are the problem here, you need to change yourself so you can have the romantic ideal that other people have. Its you that are different and flawed, you need to change yourself before you can be happy’.

Isn’t this what therapy is about? We can’t change how shit the world is so we try to change ourselves instead. I have had a lot of therapy and now, I’m torn between starting it again and just telling therapy to fuck the fuck off.

No mention of the fact that many people chose to be single now because its better than the abusive reality of their relationships. No mention of the reality that about 50% of marriages end in divorce, and more would divorce if they could afford it. No mention of the compromise that so many people make to stay in their relationships (partly no doubt to stave off the shaming & scaremongering about loneliness that goes hand in hand with being single in this day and age). As I and no doubt many others have discovered, there’s nothing anywhere near as lonely as being in a painful relationship: Loneliness. No loneliness by myself, however bad, has ever been as bad as this kind of loneliness. No mention of the fact that as a woman, no matter you or your partners intentions, most women end up being the main caregivers to their children – something many women in ostensibly ‘equal’ relationships are no doubt are completely unprepared for – a very big pill to swallow to those that hadn’t planned on it.

But this isn’t how relationships are sold. They are sold as the be all and end all. And as I’ve said I know of course how great they can be (I have also had great ones, great times, love and all the other great stuff that relationships can bring) but the point is that selling this coupledom as the key to ultimate happiness is unrealistic and I think, dangerous.

Someone at the wedding tells a religious story of the souls – which apparently are only half within one person until they meet their ‘one true soulmate’ – only then can they be complete.

Someone else asks, oh when are they getting married? She always asks this. She is chronically relationship normative. She, and so many others presume this is the ultimate destination of everyones lives. I find it exhausting to be around for too long. And a wedding is the perfect place for this…

‘I worry about you’, a family member says. Because I’m single. Because I’m watching the perfect example of what I don’t have unfold. But here’s the thing no one realises – I may want that for me, but what hurts is not just that in itself, the real suffering comes from (& what makes me fucking LIVID) is most other peoples assumptions about the relationship that is coming my way to ‘save;’ me -because as the religious anecdote proves, how could I possibly be a full person without it?! And what I just don’t get is everyone’s complicity in the farcical notion that once I have it I’ll of course be completely OK and never have any other problems at all. ‘I thought that was you sorted’ a parent said to me after I got together with my ex. That was me, very unsorted I think you’ll find. I know in reality they don’t expect things to all be perfect, but all the rhetoric around partnership and marriage prove otherwise and we are all complicit in perpetuating this – there is not enough space to be more open and honest about it in public, where it is really needed, where children can learn from it.

What an awful shock instead for young people when they discover the reality for themselves. I think we should be more open and honest with them about the reality of relationships & the ups and downs, from the start and challenge the relationship norms presented to them in the media, by other family members etc.

Maybe as a child of divorce I didn’t get the benefit of this education in front of my eyes which is why I have struggled more than others with my own relationships. Who knows? Then again, my siblings are all children of divorce and have generally happy relationships. And both my parents remarried and remained so.

Though as someone who remains (formally at least) uncoupled at the age of 37 I’m not unusual in the slightest – statistics prove this. I’m a product of my time, and as far as I’m concerned we are way overdue in changing the rhetoric around relationships, to prepare kids better for what is headed their way. Not just the warts, but the warts need to feature as well as the fantasy & the good stuff. It needs to be more part of our culture, along with honest and open conversations about how relationships really are, can be, the kind of struggles you might experience making them work.

One of the main objectives of this will be to de-stigmatise and stop punishing people who either don’t have a partner, don’t want one, or those who struggle in their relationships and feel they are somehow failures for it.

So basically, everything I’ve been saying in my blog so far. X A MILLION.

LOVE to all you singeltons, all those who feel they are anything less for not being coupled up, married, whatever it is you think society expects you to achieve to be whole & legitimate. You are 100% whole & legitimate already. And love to all of those in relationships who find it hard, or don’t find it to be what its cracked up to be. You’re not alone.

P.s. I thought you may like to know that my plan for single motherhood is coming along as I secured a full time job. I took it but don’t know if I want it. I don’t even know if I want a kid by myself anymore. Lets face it, I don’t really know anything – though I figure I’m no different from lots of other people in that sense. OK, I’ll admit, I do now want a boyfriend with which to have said child – my thinking has changed on that since I last wrote. As mentioned I’m making some last ditch attempts at that – jeez, internet dating to find a boyfriend as opposed to a shag?! That can be a bit horrid, sad, disappointing (as well as quite nice meeting new people). I think the difficulty of this is really what has made me want a boyfriend again! Even just for a bit. What a conundrum… :/



2 thoughts on “Please CHANGE the Relationship Rhetoric (FFS!)

  1. Another thoughtful and wise article that covers off so many important points – societal expectations, lack of opportunities or the disconnect between what individuals want. I don’t think it’s ever been easy to find like-minded people. I met my ex when I was 17 and reconnected again at 21 – we were together for 20 years, which started off well but ended badly (2 kids later). Relationships have never been cut and dried. The internet has made some things simpler and others harder. It has enabled behaviours that didn’t exist a couple of decades ago, and attitudes like ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ are now so much more prevalent with the illusion of endless choice that dating sites promote. Then there is the rise of alternatives to monogamy and traditional ways to do relationships – all fascinating stuff and opening up options for people that did not exist last century. Esther Perel has some fascinating things to say about all of this. I encourage you to explore. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

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