I remember being a little girl (maybe 11 or 12) and drawing my perfect wedding on a piece of paper. I had it all planned out: I was going to get married on a beach somewhere in California. My dress was going to a beautiful silk gown, and my bouquet was going to be filled with lilies, after my grandmother (Lilian). I knew each and every detail apart from the man that would stand with me at the altar. I knew that someday I was going to be on that beach wearing that silk dress.
Fast forward a few years and I don’t want to be on that beach at all.
Marriage is hardwired into our culture. When we’re kids, we’re told how life works: We go to school, get jobs, and marry so that we can have kids who will repeat the process. What they don’t tell you when we’re kids is that we might end up with a few divorces along the way with children from multiple marriages. I don’t need to tell you that in today’s world divorce is becoming more common than the cold. I come from a family of divorced parents, and so do many people I know. Why has divorce become so regular? There are multiple theories; one of them being that social media and the internet has allowed people access to increased distractions. Another one blames our lack of effort to commit to long term relationships: “People aren’t putting in the work,” I’ve heard. As much as I think there are truthful elements to both of those theories, I think that as a species, we’ve always struggled with monogamy. There were fewer divorces 100 years ago because, at that time, divorce was still taboo. Unhappy marriages still existed then as they do today, however today it is a lot easier to get out of them because divorce is more widely accepted.
If we really wanted to get into the history of marriage, though, we would have to discuss that the union wasn’t always for love. Marriage was initially a business transaction where women were treated as objects. It was all about money/status. If you’re forced to marry someone you don’t find sexually attractive you’re going to want to get your needs met elsewhere. Infidelity was so common back in this time that it was almost expected. Marriage then eventually transitioned to become a union specifically for the purpose of love. If people ended up marrying those they actually wanted to marry, you’d think cheating wouldn’t be a problem anymore, right? We all know this not be the case. I’m currently reading a book called Sex at Dawn by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan which I highly recommend. The book studies the question: “Are humans naturally monogamous?” Questions Jethá and Ryan ask are: ‘if monogamy is so natural, why do people still cheat in cultures where the punishment is stoning to death?’ And, ‘If it’s so natural, why do people risk their careers, status, family, and even Presidential standings by cheating?’ Based on anthropological, biological, and historical findings, the book suggests that no, humans are not naturally monogamous. This challenges the institution of marriage entirely.
But, what about love?
Personally, I think it’s more romantic to want to be with a partner without the expectation of marriage. Once that ring is on your finger there’s an invisible ball and chain which wraps around your foot. At first, people welcome it as they’re happily in love with their partner. As years go by though, that ball and chain can potentially start becoming a nuisance. I’m not saying this is the case for all couples, but why would you want to even chance it? I asked a man recently who had been married to his spouse for 50 years: “Would you still love her and be with her if you weren’t married?” He said: “Yes.”
My question to you is: Do you really need to prove your love by getting the government involved? If you were truly happy in your relationship, I don’t think you would. The problem is, it’s so ingrained in our culture most of us only see it from one perspective. We don’t think of the alternative. We just assume marriage is the next, and final step. We’re so wrapped up in planning the perfect wedding and saying “yes” to the dress, that we don’t fully realize the importance of “I Do.” A ring on your finger shouldn’t change anything about your relationship. The only thing it does change, minus the minor tax breaks, is if you want to get out of it. Divorce is much more complicated than a simple break up… and a lot more expensive, too.
That girl who was planning her wedding all those years ago was influenced by a culture obsessed with weddings and romance. She just wanted to be a bride. She didn’t understand the full implications of what that meant.
The most terrified I’ve ever been was when I got lost in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest… twice. I was 19 volunteering with a kids camp for a month, and I was staying in a reserve deep in the rainforest. The first time I got lost was when I was initially trying to get to the reserve after first arriving in Ecuador. I was on a bus when suddenly the vehicle pulled over. The bus driver dropped me off in the middle of the road in the depths of the forest. I didn’t speak much Spanish so I couldn’t ask him why he was leaving me there, all I knew was that I was alone in a foreign country in the middle of the rainforest, not being able to speak the language. I was surrounded by nothing but trees. Fear pulsated through my veins. I was sure this is how I was going to die. Then, I saw a small hut up the road with kids playing. There was a girl about my age. I desperately walked up to her and tried explaining my crisis using my Spanish to English dictionary. This was before international sim cards. There was no google translate, and my cell phone was useless. The girl got the gist of my issue and called a taxi for me. Through the broken translation of the dictionary, I understood what she said: “Us girls have to stick together.” I will always remember her. (I learned later that the reason the bus driver dropped me off where he did, was because there was a connecting bus that would have taken me right to the reserve.)
The second time I got lost in the amazon rainforest was at night. I was coming back from viewing the gorgeous sunset from a tower overlooking the forest. The Germans I was with kept talking to each other in German and completely ignored my existence. I figured my time would be better spent back at the reserve instead of with them, and I thought I could make it back before the sun completely went down. It was about a 15-minute walk. I had no flashlight, so I had to be fast. I found myself running to beat the emergence of night. I ended up accidentally taking the wrong path, and the next thing I knew I was alone in the dark, lost in the rainforest…again. I started screaming through tears and stepped into a pond, soaking my shoes and pants. I assumed this was definitely how I would die. A creature would emerge out of the darkness and eat me, for sure. Eventually, I heard the voices of the Germans who found me in my sodden state. They scolded me for leaving without them and I realized it was a stupid mistake on my part. I vowed I’d never find myself in a position where I’d be that terrified again. I remember being completely consumed in fear. It took over my entire body. I had no control over it. Fear is one of the most powerful emotions we can have. If we let it, it can dictate our choices, ultimately making us slaves to our own nightmares.
Fear crops up in less extreme examples every day. Fear of rejection and fear of the unknown are the two main fears that control our lives. Fear of rejection keeps people from admitting their true selves. It keeps us ashamed of who we really are. Fear of rejection is the transgender woman who’s scared her family will abandon her, so she continues living as a man. Fear of rejection is the man who’s been in love with his best friend for 20 years but is scared to tell her for fear she’ll deny him. Fear of rejection is the dancer not auditioning for the top drama school for fear that she won’t be good enough. Ultimately, fear of rejection is deeply rooted in our self-esteem. We tell ourselves we’re not good enough so much so that we start to believe it, leaving the door open for fear to be all-consuming. We’re not scared of the other person rejecting us, we’re scared they will confirm our suspicions about ourselves. I asked out my first guy when I was 24. I was terrified. At this point, I had already gotten lost in the amazon rainforest 5 years prior, so you’d think if I could handle that, I could handle asking out a boy to drinks. Nope. I realized after doing it that I was more scared of him saying “no” because he saw the flaws that I saw in myself. The trick to kicking fear of rejection in the face is practising self-love. Once you do, you realize that rejection isn’t necessarily negative. That person who said “no” to you isn’t worth your time because you deserve someone who doesn’t hesitate with their “yes!”
Fear of the unknown, on the other hand, is the unhappy couple staying together because they’ve been together 10 years and don’t know what life would be like apart. Fear of the unknown is choosing to stay at your job where you hate your boss because you’re scared you won’t find another position with similar pay. We’d rather stay in uncomfortable familiarity than take a risk in the unknown, which is why so many people are dissatisfied with their lives. We’re slugging away in jobs we hate and we’re staying in toxic relationships because we’re too scared of uncertainty. Yes, breaking free of our toxic situation can be terrifying at first, but with time we heal. With time we grow stronger. With time, we find a new familiarity.
Fear of the unknown can also be dangerous. It can breed ignorance, hate, and bigotry. We fear what we don’t understand. This has caused wars and genocide throughout history and is one of humankind’s many illnesses. I hope that as a population we can grow to accept people’s differences and stop living in fear.
Looking over the Amazon rainforest before getting lost in the dark.
I have a friend that became exclusive with her boyfriend, who she met on a dating app, after their first date. The date in question lasted 12 hours and by the end of it, both of them were absolutely certain they wanted to be together. When I initially heard this, I laughed and thought that my friend was jumping the gun a little too soon. There’s no way you could know someone was right for you after only 12 hours… right? Six months later they are still together and are very much in love. They fit together perfectly- almost like a jigsaw puzzle. I can’t help but look at them with envy and ask the universe: where’s my perfect fitting jigsaw piece? Then, I think of an actual jigsaw puzzle. There can be hundreds or thousands of pieces in those things. You can spend hours searching for just the right piece to fit. Each one is different. Each edge unique. However, when you find it, there’s no question that it fits. The edges were made to fit together. What are the chances among all those thousands of pieces, the first one you pick up will be the matching piece? It’s a lottery. Dating is a lottery.
There are several key elements to a healthy relationship. I believe these are the most important:
Attraction is possibly one of the most important elements on this list, because without it we wouldn’t be interested enough to even want a relationship with the person to begin with, making the rest of the list redundant. Attraction is mostly sexual, because it’s our bodies way of telling us that we want to fuck that person in order to have babies and continue our gene pool. (We are still animals after all.) In my experience, attraction doesn’t have to be instantaneous, because people can become more attractive the more you get to know them. This is where chemistry comes in. Chemistry is what books and movies call that spark you have with someone. There’s an ease when conversing with them that you can’t explain. You guys just click. If you’re attracted to someone you have amazing chemistry with.. Well then, enjoy that pretty hot sex you’re probably going to have…. Unless, unfortunately, one of you isn’t a legal consenting adult. Timing is also a key element, remember?
Compatibility informs how your values lineup. In my late teens and early 20s I found myself involved- sort of- with a Mormon. I’m an atheist. We had excellent chemistry and there was definitely a ton of attraction, however, our contrasting beliefs (or in my case, disbelief) forbade any hope of a future together. Values also include whether you want kids, whether you want to get married, or whether you want an open relationship with multiple sexual partners because you know you can’t do monogamy. Ultimately, if your partner doesn’t want the same things as you do, it's impossible to get anywhere without one of you sacrificing your core values, which will inevitably make the person who sacrificed resent the other. For more information about chemistry versus compatibility, Mark Manson has an incredible article comparing the two. You can read it here: markmanson.net/compatibility-and-chemistry
Location is pretty obvious. It’s impossible to have a healthy, long term relationship with someone who lives miles away from you. Don’t get me wrong, long-distance relationships can work- as a temporary solution. That being said, one crucial element of a long-distance relationship is the certainty that you’ll eventually be living in the same location.
I’m lumping the last two in the same paragraph because a person’s willingness to commit is the result of their emotional maturity. Emotional maturity is the ability to handle confrontation without becoming a trainwreck. Relationships aren’t going to be all roses and chocolates all the time. They have their challenging moments, and how you deal with those challenging moments depends on your emotional maturity. Emotional maturity also informs your ability to acknowledge your feelings and deal with them in a responsible manner. Relationships require a certain amount of vulnerability, and not wanting to face that vulnerability enforces our inability to commit. Emotional availability stems from emotional maturity, except the difference is that it's not always our choice. For example, it’s very unlikely that anyone would be emotionally available after a breakup. Basically, in order for a healthy relationship to work, we need to have emotional balance within ourselves.
Timing is at the top because it influences everything else on the list. Someone may not be right for you the first time you meet them, however, in a few years’ time, they could be your perfect match. My mum met my stepdad right after she divorced my dad. She wasn’t emotionally available to begin a new relationship, so she bypassed any opportunity with my stepdad. A few years later when she was emotionally available, she met him again. They married six months later and are still very much in love today after 18 years. Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, we’re constantly growing and evolving. Our edges change. Just because someone isn’t right for you now, doesn’t mean they won’t be in five years or even six months. On the flip side, for the people who are already in relationships, sometimes people don’t always grow together. Just because someone is right for you now, doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you in five years. The trick is finding someone who you’re willing to grow and evolve with. Someone who checks off everything on that list. This is why dating is a lottery. The odds aren’t in our favour. Because of this, too many people spend too much time trying to force the wrong puzzle piece into their own because they don’t want to be single. Another reason they do this is because of the mentality that the amount of time they spent with their partner would be for nothing if they broke up, not realizing they're in turn sacrificing the rest of their lives for unhappiness. Personally, I would rather keep gambling in the hope of winning the grand £100,000,000 prize than settle for just £10.. or nothing at all.
Lastly, I don’t believe there's just one jigsaw piece for everyone. With almost 8 billion people on the planet, there has to be at least two.
*The jigsaw puzzle analogy was originally taken from Daniel Sloss' comedy special 'Jigsaw' on Netflix. I highly recommend you watch it. He's broken up hundreds of couples as the result of his show.