Being in a relationship is something of a security blanket for many people. Like an “at least I’m not alone” sort of thing. The presence of a significant other can absolutely add value to our lives and provide a form of support through adversity; but it’s simply irrational to regard anyone in a relationship as being by default “happier” or “better off” than their single counterparts.
It’s regarded by the majority of people (or at least the majority of people I come into contact with) that being in a relationship is the default for the well-adjusted, functioning adult. It is seen as an imperative for happiness, proof of someone “moving forward” and progressing in their life.
I’ve been using dating apps back and forth over the past month for the first time since my ex and I broke up 6 months ago and I’ve had little success (although, what “success” would look like, I don’t really know). I initially got it out of boredom – I felt like meeting new people and opening myself up to new experiences. Living in a city is strange. You are surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and are unable to connect with the vast majority of them. And so I’ve been craving a bit of that connection.
I was mentioning briefly to a pharmacist at work that I’d met someone a couple of times but had decided I didn’t really like him all that much. “Ah, you’ve got time,” she replied.
I was slightly dumbfounded by that response. I communicated to her that I wasn’t actually looking for a relationship per se. But all of a sudden, the idea that I was running out of time and that if I didn’t get into a committed relationship leading to marriagekidsmortgageretirementdeath in the next 10 years then I’d be seen as a failure by a considerable amount of people; weaselled its way in to mind (without my consent, I might add).
That is not how I think about life. I think about life in terms of “when will I move to London” and “when will I release my first album” (and a plethora of other things) and then “when will I have a healthy and committed relationship with secure attachment that can fit around the rest of my plans”.
In my first relationship, my boyfriend and I had a silly text argument about my stage name. He didn’t understand why I wanted to call myself SMUT.. He thought it would invite judgement from others. “People are not going to think ‘what cool political statement is she making’, they’ll just think you’re dirty” is what he said. That harsh judgement and reactivity about my choice surrounding my creative identity could’ve swayed me and influenced my decision; but it didn’t.
This is when I realised that not only is music more important to me than a relationship – it gives me access to a personal power often stronger than the ties of attachment. I’m aware I’m very fortunate to have such a strong passion in my life and perhaps this sways my opinions about relationships and the traditional trajectory of life which is so readily accepted by society at large.
However, aside from my passion for music, there are plenty of other reasons why I don’t see being in a relationship as the holy grail for success in life. Most obviously, not all relationships are healthy and happy relationships. This fact is something which I think is wilfully overlooked by so many people. The “happy ending” which we see all too often in films and TV is two people coming together, two people getting married, the guy getting the girl or whatever.
What about the first big argument or disagreement? What about the abandonment issues that can surface, the fears of intimacy, the emotional withdrawal, the loneliness despite the presence of another human, the inability to self-regulate emotions causing us to lash out, the fears of engulfment and smothering, codependency, addiction (to a phone, gaming, substances – anything) and the unrealistic expectations perpetuated by, again, films and TV? As much as I enjoy rom-coms, for me the ideal happy ending would be watching a couple successfully work through one or all of the common issues listed above.
The tears, the pushing and pulling, the shouting and withdrawing, the apologising, the self-work – the honesty, vulnerability, love and effort required to work through these typical insecurities and come out the other end alive; to me, that would be the real triumph. And a lot of couples do not triumph. A lot of couples, to some extent, exist in the labyrinth of emotional disorganisation and reactivity – lashing out at each other and then reuniting out of loneliness and a fear of being alone.
I’ve been there. My first relationship – if we’re measuring it by happiness alone or a lack thereof – could’ve probably ended a year or two earlier than it actually did. But to the people who saw us out and about, holding hands and presenting as a unit, it could’ve looked like a happy relationship. And don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t terrible. There were a lot of happy times, a lot of unity and laughs and I don’t regret it, but I wasn’t necessarily any happier than I would’ve been on my own.
There’s just this strange perception that you’re doing well if you’re in a relationship and you’re more complete or something. I work with someone who, from what she’s told me, is in a fairly unhealthy relationship (this is just my partly-informed judgement). She told me about her reaction to her boyfriend “liking” a Facebook status from his ex about moving to Australia. She was livid and spoke of “setting boundaries”. I was so shocked I didn’t really say anything. I’ve never known someone that insecure. My mind ran through my beliefs about controlling behaviour and that if you impose too many restrictions on your partner’s behaviour they’ll be more likely to act in ways you cannot tolerate.
Aside from this, she told me of her boyfriend’s reaction to her declining a friend’s invite to a wedding. “You’re a shit friend,” he’d said to her. This had ignited a rage in her again and when they were talking about it over the phone and he’d hung up on her, she proceeded to repeatedly dial his number and ring his phone off the hook trying to talk to him again. “I go psycho when I’m mad,” she laughed. “Holy shit,” I thought silently. Yet, I imagine, she probably faces less questioning about why she’s in a relationship that, in my opinion, sounds like one formed of a trauma bond, than what singles get about their relationship status.
“Relationships slowin’ me down, they slow down the vision,
Guess I’m not in a position to deal with commitment.” – Drake, Redemption
This line resonates with me as a creative. And it’s another reason why being in a relationship isn’t always the best choice. It’s easy to become too comfortable and more relaxed about the dreams and passions which predated the relationship. It’s actually the main reason why my last relationship ended. He told me that the years just sailed by during his last relationship and he lost sight of what he truly wanted out of life and he feared it was happening again. Also, our plans and dreams weren’t all that compatible. He couldn’t see himself living in London for starters – my favourite place in the world – so it wasn’t going to work.
As agonising as that breakup was, it deepened my capacity for joy, laughter and tenderness. I also feel even clearer now about what I look for in a partner and the importance of honest and open communication from the start. Another relationship at some point would be nice – providing it offers secure attachment, alignment, love and understanding – but I’m not actively seeking one. For maybe the first time in my life, I’m actively working on my relationship with myself and actually getting somewhere.
The universal feelings of loneliness and insecurity will continue to follow us on and off as long as we can learn from them – and they won’t necessarily cease to exist when a relationship begins.
Thanks for reading (and making it to the end!).
– SMUT. ❤ xxx