Two things are happening simultaneously. We’re all getting more needy about individual relationships while we’re also feeling increasingly isolated and alone. This is largely because we live in a culture of “I” and that culture isn’t about creating a rewarding life, it was formed by capitalism to create wealth.
You have taken in a fantastic amount of advertising in your lifetime and all of it has centered on you. It’s told you that your car is important, that your clothing and your phone are important, and that your life choices are important, including your romantic partner. Everything connected to you is important and advertising made a lot of promises about how great your life was going to be by honouring yourself with these worthy purchases. It would be the car and the phone and the beer and vacation choices that would lead you to your perfect mate. Right?
First off, that’s putting way too much pressure on the mate. You will never be anyone’s everything and they won’t ever be yours. That’s for posters for 14 year old girls walls. Relationships aren’t cosmic glue. Healthy ones are more like two fish choosing to swim alongside each other. In the real world we’re all just individual personalities cooperating to form a groups. Sometimes those groups are very large, and sometimes they are only two people. We named those two-person groups marriages, and because they have that name we expected them to last forever when in fact that may not be the healthiest choice for either individual. This is one of the many ways that we trap our humanity with words. Marriage becomes a corral that can variably be a safe haven or a hell hole depending on what’s happening.
Because we’re so individualistic, less and less do we see our groups as defining us. Cultures fade and change as people move around the globe and intermarriages happen. Instead we are defined by our partner. For many men it will be the woman’s beauty, and for many women it will be the man’s wealth or power or even beauty. So having no partner is a complete failure, and the better the partner is in advertising terms, the better you think your whole life will look. We can see this illustrated by the fact that people will say about a friend that they “could have done better.”
By what margin do we think we can judge a thing by just looking at it? What percentage of that relationship is visible? And so the value the individual sees in their own partner is seen as less important than the value their partner expresses to other people. So you’re not supposed to pick someone that brings happiness into your life, you’re supposed to pick someone that your friends will anoint as a “good catch.” It’s not about being happy. It’s about being seen to be successful.
Relationships do not define us. You can still have an important social life, sexual life and even be a parent and still not necessarily be in a relationship. Too many people have been convinced that there is a hole in their life that must be filled and that hole is singledom. There is nothing wrong with being single. You are not incomplete without a relationship but it will feel that way if you think that way. Whether it’s finances or housework or raising kids, if every time you do something you tell yourself how much easier it would be if you were with someone else, then that’s not an expression of a missing romantic relationship, it’s an expression that we’re tribal creatures that our lives that are too isolated from one another. You don’t need a person but you do need people.
Your joy comes from inside of you. A relationship doesn’t turn on some faucet of happiness. If you weren’t happy without a relationship then the odds are overwhelming that you won’t be happy in one either. Because that’s where the pressure comes from; we think the happiness comes from the circumstances and not our attitude about those circumstances. So we change the external details and then we blame others when we don’t get magical results.
Stop thinking that your joy is a job away, a city away, relationship away. Happiness is an inside job and as long as you think that there is something missing there will always be a sense that something is missing. Fortunately, the same goes for feeling complete. So why don’t we all just do that instead? Because it’s the exact same motion we’re already doing, just in the opposite direction.
If you’re sad the great news is that you had a ton to do with you being sad. So all you have to do is understand how you did that, and then use the same skill to make yourself happy instead. And you definitely don’t need a relationship to accomplish that.
Now go have yourself an awesome day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.