When ‘the one’ becomes ‘my one and only’

Image by the fantastic Stuart F Taylor

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.


  • I’m grateful that you explained how the culturally wide-spread idea of the “one and only” can be used by emotionally abusive partners to isolate us from other people who might be our reality checks in realizing we’re being abused and our support systems on our way out of the abusive dynamic and while recovering from it. However, as someone who has been on the receiving end of such abuse, I’d argue that not all emotional abuse is necessarily “deliberate” and conscious. So I wouldn’t draw such a clear line between that and “regular toxicity.” In my experience, it’s only the degree of intensity that differentiates outright emotional abuse from behaviors/attitudes that are “just” toxic/unhealthy, rather than the two being completely different and separate categories.

    I’m also grateful that you acknowledge how easy and at times seductive it is to fall into believing the romantic trope of the “one and only” is a great model for how to conduct (monogamous or any other) relationships. Because I’ve done that, too, especially with the partner who abused me (who also much supported such thinking in me). In hindsight, I’ve found it helpful to realize my own agency in the contributions I made to the creation of a dynamic that eventually became abusive (even though the *responsibility* for the abuse still lies entirely with my ex) because that means I can make different choices in the future and recognize red flags much sooner.

    I’m therefore in full agreement of your advice to “fill your life” and to “make sure that there’s always more than one other person inside it” – and that guideline has absolutely been beneficial for my mental health – and for all of my relationships – ever since I got out of the abusive one many, many years ago.

    Thank you for writing this.

    • Girl on the net says:

      “I’d argue that not all emotional abuse is necessarily “deliberate” and conscious.” – Thank you for pointing this out. I totally agree, but I can see why the way I mentioned it in the post might imply otherwise. Thank you for picking it up, I’ll add this to my ‘to edit’ list and see if there’s a way I can rephrase that to make it clear. I’m sorry that you have been on the receiving end of this – it’s horrible, and I fully get what you mean about falling into patterns/dynamics. Thank you so much for contributing and sorry it’s taken me a while to reply to your comment xx

      • I’m only just now seeing this, thus the very late response… Thank you for being so open to my addition! It would be lovely to see an edit of your post in the future, but I’m also good with this just being in the comments.

  • Kitty says:

    Beautifully articulated as ever, thank you (long time reader of this blog and adore your work).

    I fairly recently got out of a decade long relationship where this was a huge factor in making me unhappy. No emotional abuse or controlling of my actions at all (heart goes out to anyone who has suffered this) but it felt like I was his whole world outside of work and I hated this. I desperately wanted him to go out and have fun by himself, with his own friends (most of our friends were mutual, or had been mine first), and then to tell me about it. I loved the time we spent together (when it was good anyway) but also needed to have other people and hobbies/STUFF. My mental health was often in an (unrelated) terrible place and I would then feel guilty that this was making his life unhappy as well, and he wouldn’t turn to anyone else to talk to about the natural difficulties in coping with this.

    And then when we broke up, the thing that hurt the most was not the he met someone else two weeks later who then became his girlfriend about 4 weeks after that… It was the fact that, immediately, he started making the effort to go out and meet new people, and make friends, and he then did make new friends. And he could have done that the whole fucking time we were together, and made us both happier… But he didn’t.

    Oh and when he told me he just didn’t have the energy to care about my mental health at all anymore. That was a fun day.

    In rambling conclusion, you are utterly right that the one and only is a poisonous idea, and that we need other humans in our lives xx

  • Addie Charlotte says:

    Beautifully said. I’m happily married now, and I’ve said from day 1 that I cannot be my husband’s entire life, as there would be times where it felt like I was his hobby, his entertainment. He has a hard time with hobbies, and a lot of his friends moved away in recent years, so I can see why it’s easy for him to latch onto our relationship. But I did worry, because I friggin love spending time with myself, my friends, and my laptop at 3am.

    We recently opened our relationship to new partners (a thing we knew was coming from the start, and is going well), and it weirdly fits the bill for him (I mean, me as well, but not the point). Meet new people? Check. Go out and explore hobbies with said people? Check. Multiple sex partners if everything goes well? Check. Years of me telling him he should get a hobby, I never considered the fact that he just likes people and connecting with new people IS his passion. I mean he willingly works in hospitality, there must be some sick pleasure in his extroverted nature,

    Reading this, I found it funny that you made the connection between needing to fill your life if you were going to be tied to “the one and only” (not my thing, even when I was monogamous), or non-monogamy. Not that it’s always an either/or situation, but you absolutely tapped into a very key factor in being happy in any relationship, and it was odd timing to find it around the same time I realized non-monogamy IS one of our hobbies, and makes us happier. Thanks for reading my mind.


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