Today I want to talk to you about relationships and dating. Mostly, what I want to ask is a plea to be more conscious of the language we use. Too often I hear people say ‘I have been unlucky in love’, ‘I’ve been left on the shelf’, ‘I have too much baggage’. There are so many negative connotations around being single or not being in a conventional relationship, it’s no wonder that this is a leading cause of anxiety. Who’s to say that being in a long-term relationship is always the better option?
Before I go any further I want to make it very clear that I am not suggesting for a minute people can’t be happy in relationships, or that you haven’t been unlucky if you’ve been in an abusive relationship, for example. However, I would like to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with being single, dating, ethical non-monogamy (if that’s your thing), not being married, or even with changing your mind about any or all of these things.
We live in a society that celebrates and encourages long-term monogamous relationships. This sounds wonderful on the surface, and to a degree it is. If you can find a relationship that works for you, and it is what you & your partner want, then that is great. But it is not the case for everyone. Relationships can be hard work. I have seen couples that have come to me to work through their difficulties. Some have chosen to stay together, and happily so. Others have chosen to find happiness apart. Neither is wrong. But we shouldn’t feel pressure to stay in a relationship because we feel a failure if we are single, or because we think that’s what others expect of us. I wonder how it might feel to embrace being single if there wasn’t so much pressure from society to find ‘the one’, through the media – books, TV programmes and magazines.
How about we reframe that idea. Finding ‘the one’ is about finding ourselves. Finding happiness and contentment within. Finding a person, or people, to share that with then enhances our sense of oneness, but doesn’t complete us. It is not that some part of us is missing without the other. Humans are social creatures, and most people crave connection. But connection can come in a multitude of ways, ways that don’t mean having to force ourselves to fit a certain relationship. ‘I have been unlucky in love’ can be reframed as ‘I have had so many wonderful opportunities to learn about how I relate best to others and what I am looking for in a relationship’, ‘I have had the courage to walk away when something isn’t working, and to allow myself and my ex partner to find happiness’. How about changing ‘I have been left on the shelf’ to ‘I have the opportunity to explore the things that excite me’, ‘I have the freedom to be who I want to be, and create connections with people that interest me’. ‘I have too much baggage’ can be seen as ‘I have life experience that has helped shape who I am’, ‘I have a wonderful family that I adore and that bring me happiness but I have space for finding happiness outside my role as a parent’, ‘I know the pleasures and the pains of marriage but I am still open to love’.
Let’s try and change the conversations we have around relationships, celebrating choice and difference, rather than all aiming for one version of what happiness looks like. Celebrate diversity, and find joy in the different benefits that being single bring just as we do the benefits of being in a relationship. Then, just maybe, we will find what it is we’ve been looking for.