If you want to be in a relationship with someone, and you’re keen on the idea of monogamy, my advice for you is to fill your life. Fill it with people who aren’t that other person. Add friends, and hobbies, and Netflix box sets that you greedily devour on your own. Try holidaying on your own, or walking on your own, or going to the pub with a good book for a quick pint on your own. Try having conversations with strangers on the internet about things that interest and excite you. Fill your fucking life.
“You are everything and everything is you”
– The Stylistics
I don’t like the idea of ‘the one’. There is more than one person in the world with whom you could make a decent life. Perhaps one of your ‘ones’ is ambitious and energetic – exhausting you with constant trips and activities and ideas. You get frustrated sometimes that you seem lazy by comparison, but you love that they’re nudging you forward: pushing you to be more interested and engaged with the world. Perhaps one of your ‘ones’ is the opposite – a chilled-out layabout who provides warmth and comfort and soft kisses to come home to. You get frustrated sometimes that they can’t see past tomorrow, and refuse to make plans beyond what you’re having for dinner, but you’re grateful to them that they balance out the hectic nature of your own life. Together the two of you have fun.
There are many different people with whom you could make a life.
But there is no one on this planet who can be your whole life.
“I won’t last a day without you”
– The Carpenters
I’ve talked before about the toxicity inherent in the idea of ‘the one’. The obvious point is that there are billions of people on this planet and humans are naturally flexible and adaptable creatures, so it would be utterly bizarre if there were only one other person with whom we could make a life. But there’s more to it than that. If you believe someone is meant for you (and only you, forever and ever) that belief, like extreme religious belief, can be used to justify all manner of terrible things. The sort of stalking that’s romanticised by rom coms – ‘hey! I’m just showing the intensity of my love!’ Violating someone’s privacy by reading their texts – ‘hey! We’re soulmates, right? Of course I should know your private thoughts!’
This gets so much worse when ‘the one’ becomes ‘my one and only.’
“I was blessed the day I found you
Gonna build my whole world around you”
– Judy Torres
If you let your life revolve entirely around one person, your happiness starts to largely depend on theirs. That opens the doorway to a whole lot of troubling behaviour. After all, if one single person is responsible for your happiness, why on Earth shouldn’t you ask them to adjust their behaviour/change their appearance/curtail their social life? You need them, after all. They’re you’re one and only. All they need to do to make you happy is fit exactly into the costume you’ve provided, and stand very still and quiet on this pedestal.
Preventing someone from seeing their friends, or having a life outside a relationship, is a common factor in a lot of domestic abuse. The effect is to remove the support network that a partner can call on to rebalance themselves: to ask ‘is this an acceptable way to treat me?’ or ‘am I going mad in thinking this?’ In abusive relationships, often the abuser will manipulate their partner into never seeing their friends, never going out, not having hobbies or fun of their own. Eventually, the result is that the abuser makes themselves the ‘one and only’ for the person they’re abusing. It’s frightening.
“I can’t live if living is without you.”
– Mariah Carey
I’m not talking about deliberate emotional abuse here, though. I’m more interested in when it happens insidiously, the other way round. Given how much of our pop culture nudges us towards believing in the ‘one and only’ myth, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is how relationships should be. It’s unsurprising that some people withdraw from their lives when they meet someone special. It isn’t as frightening when it’s voluntary, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly healthy either.
“You are the first, my last, my everything”
– Barry White
When one person drops contact with their own friends, stops going out, relies on the relationship for everything they need, and constructs their whole existence around the person they love. Expecting their partner to provide everything they could ever possibly need. Holding them responsible for all their moods – the lows as well as the highs. When they are happy, it’s because of their partner. Sad? Ditto.
Each and every emotion can be parcelled and labelled and framed in relation to something the other person’s done. The good emotions bring highs – I love you so so much, you’re so precious! – but the bad emotions bring lows – I’m so down and miserable, why would you do this to me?! Change must happen: you need to stop saying/doing/feeling this thing because it’s upsetting me. You need to start saying/doing/feeling this other thing, because that’s what I need in my life and who will provide it if not you? No one else will do this with me or for me, because you – YOU – are my one true love. My everything.
I’d die without you.
“All I ever want to do is sit with him, on him, by him, until my bills go unpaid and my washing up starts to evolve new breeds of bacteria. Until the sun goes down and the world is destroyed and everything I’ve worked for crumbles to dust.”
– Umm… me
I’m not immune to the pull of the ‘one and only’ myth. Sometimes the weight of being in love feels so intense and all-encompassing that it’s genuinely hard to see a life beyond the warm glow that’s cast by the two of you. The longer the relationship, the harder it is to imagine life outside the relationship, because so many strands of your lives are tied together that it’s hard to pick your way through them to identify the things that aren’t. But I usually do manage to pick my way through them, whether that’s by going on holiday alone or burying myself in work or getting dragged out by friends who start to wonder where the fuck I’ve been hiding.
Hence: fill your life.
The deeper you find yourself falling in love, the more important it is to remember to nurture the relationships that exist outside of that. Not just for your sake, but for your partner’s too. The weight of being someone’s everything is exhausting. How much better to spread that weight. To ensure that you have other places to turn when things get difficult.
Fill your life, or at least make sure that there’s always more than one other person inside it. Although it might make for a romantic song lyric, the concept of the ‘one and only’ is creepy, harmful bullshit. If someone tries to be your ‘one and only’, that’s a big red flag. And if you try to make someone your one and only, you are not doing them any favours either – just dumping sole responsibility for your happiness onto their shoulders.
If you’re lucky they’ll treat it carefully, if you’re unlucky then they won’t. And no matter how hard they try, even the best people can’t carry that responsibility for long.