When I was 14, my best friend got her first boyfriend.
I asked her what it was like. She replied: ‘The best thing ever.’
Two weeks later, the relationship ended and my friend swore off boys until the next youth disco, but I was hooked on love from that moment.
Looking back, it was inevitable that I would fall hard for romance because our society is obsessed with being in love.
At 14, I was convinced I would never find true happiness until romance entered my world. To me, it seemed like pure magic. And that’s a hard belief to shake.
Despite the love we have for our families, our friendships, our creative pursuits, and all the other aspects of life that we can adore, it is romantic love that is considered elite – it is what we are all supposed to be aiming for.
Romantic love is the heartbeat of songs, books, poems, art, films, and even reality TV. Just take a look at the most popular elements of pop culture from the last few years.
Love Island pedals a commercialised version of romantic connection as its main selling point. Every year, for the whole summer, millions become addicted to matters of the heart in Majorca, even though it has nothing to do with us.
Amazon Prime’s Modern Love – which has just released its second season – depicts all aspects of love, in all forms, but the romantic type always feels like the main agenda.
Normal People, the best-selling book and subsequent TV series by Sally Rooney, is a discerning look at social class and sexual desire, but at its heart it’s a love story.
Readers and viewers may not have connected with the story so intently if it weren’t for the ‘will they/won’t they’ mouse chase of the two protagonists.
We wanted them to be together to be complete and whole and safe – because they could never be those things on their own.
But in 2021, when society’s expectations no longer suffocate as much as much as they used to, and men and women have more authority over their lives, why are we still so obsessed with being in romantic love?
‘First of all, it’s science,’ sex and dating expert Asa Baav tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It instinctively drives us to find our mate to reproduce and keep our species alive.
‘Secondly, it is hard to ignore the traditional societal ideals and expectations when it comes to meeting the one and settling down as the thing you do on your journey into adulthood.
‘And thirdly, when it comes to love, we are heavily influenced by what we see and read in the media. We start to consume it from a very young age through life, just look at Netflix, every day there is a new show popping up about romance.’
With mainstream reality media now depicting the search for love almost exclusively through those in their twenties, the pressure is growing stronger.
‘They place so much emphasis on younger people of all genders falling in love,’ explains relationship psychotherapist Heather Garbutt.
‘This gives the unhelpful message that an individual couldn’t possibly be happy without being in a loving relationship.
‘Programmes such as Love Island, Naked Attraction and Too Hot To Handle have all contributed to the idea of a happy-ever-after lifestyle, rather than teaching the importance of self-love, personal boundaries and fulfilment.’
Many people will attest to staying in unhappy relationships because they percieve it as better than being alone. Heather says our obsession with romantic partnerships can very often lead to this behaviour.
‘We can feel so much pressure to be in a loving relationship that we fool ourselves,’ she notes.
‘Then we begin making excuses for the other person’s bad behaviour or telling ourselves being in a bad relationship is better than being in no relationship at all. We persuade ourselves that we’re in love and the other person loves us, even if behaviour and events point to the contrary.’
It’s a cliche, but to be truly fulfilled and happy in love, other areas of life should be just as satisfied. Heather says love and joy can be discovered in a myriad of places.
‘Instead of becoming preoccupied with the notion of falling in love and enjoying the stimulus this provides, we should look at other areas,’ Heather advises.
‘Who are the friends and family who make us feel good about ourselves? What activities bring us happiness? We need to look inwards to gain insight into our personalities. How can we trigger gleeful emotions in our own life without depending on anyone else?
‘By learning that we alone are responsible for generating the emotions we experience, it becomes easier to manage difficult emotions if and when future relationships break down.
‘Instead of becoming consumed by bitterness, anger and grief, we can then remember how to live well without the pressure of romance and move on more quickly and effectively.’
While we may unearth completeness in other realms of existence, a part of us will always crave unwavering devotion.
That it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
‘We have a deep desire for belonging and the sense of togetherness leaves us drawn to sharing moments and experiences with the one we love and cherish,’ Asa explains.
‘This is natural and we all want to experience it, but for me, we need to get clear on what love looks like to us and understand what will work based on life goals, needs, and desires.’
She continues: ‘We grow up thinking that the only relationship template is the forever love, having children, and being in a monogamous relationship, but something we have seen more and more is the appetite and curiosity for people to explore their journey navigating love and relationships.
‘Exploring and expressing our actual wants and needs requires honesty, open communication, respect, and the recognition that one person can never meet all of our needs.
‘And I think, in love, this is a healthy way forward.’
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