Laura Barcella’s article on the study published in The Telegraph really resonated with me, and while I definitely get where she’s coming from and applaud the desire not to settle, I thought I’d offer up my own perspectives on this, since I am indeed a member of the one in seven people in a relationship with someone who is not the love of their life.
For some context, I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for four years with a lovely man who is emotionally available, kind, funny and has some amazing skills in the bedroom. I have hit the boyfriend jackpot! I love him very much; we have a really good time together and I have no doubt that he will one day make some woman incredibly happy for the rest of her life. But I don’t think that woman will be me.
Now – I’m not “settling” for him, and while maybe that’s the approach of lots of people in this position, I am not mourning the loss of some great past love, nor am I staying with him because I’m terrified of being alone and am just waiting until something better comes along and I can jump ship. Lots of people do this, but it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to someone; at least, it is if you have the self-awareness to know that you are looking around for a trade-in.
There’s also the fact that my partner knows that I don’t think we have long-term potential – by which I mean marriage and kids and all that heteronormative middle-class stuff. He disagrees with me, and is hoping he can change my mind, but I’ve been honest with him about my ambivalence, firstly, because I do care about him and want to be honest with him, and secondly, so that he’s making a fully informed choice to stay with me anyway. Thus far, it’s been working for both of us, but if there ever comes a point when he wants to go looking for the fairytale romance, no hard feelings on my part. We both know exactly what’s on offer here and while it’s not perfect, nothing really is.
So why do we obsess about “true love,” and finding the “love of your life?” Why would anyone realistically think that – in this one aspect of messy, complicated, IMPERFECT life – you’re eventually going to find perfection? Further, that until you do, you should hold out by staying lonely and single or endlessly trawling online dating sites and dealing with trolls, perverts and potential partners who would rather pretend to have a connection online than meet in person and put that connection to the test?
The divorce rates in Canada, the United States and the UK indicate that, if there is a perfect love for everyone somewhere out there in the world, most people are pretty crap at finding it. Divorce rates in all three countries are 40% or higher, and the main reason given (by women, who initiate two-thirds of divorces) is that they’ve fallen out of love. So, it seems to me that we’re setting up our criteria for marriage and the illusion of permanence wrong. Laura talks about spark – that certain special something that gives you butterflies and can sometimes lead to inappropriate displays at office parties or a friend’s wedding. No doubt that’s all well and good – but sparks fade.
And yes, it’s important to value yourself highly and not throw yourself into the first halfway decent relationship on offer because “OH GOD I DON’T WANT TO DIE ALONE AND BE EATEN BY CATS. NOOOOO.”
But personally, I value myself highly enough to know that I’m being offered a gift: someone who loves me, makes me laugh and supports me in whatever I choose to do, and will share my life and memories, if only for a while. I don’t think I’m devaluing myself at all by accepting this good man into my life, even if it won’t be for ever, and I hope that he knows how much I value him and what he’s offering me.
So there you have it. We have a solid friendship that’s accompanied by some banging sex – all that’s missing is the elusive spark. Maybe we will part ways one day and go looking for it. I’m not going to lie, I want it too, the possibility of perfection. But maybe instead, one day I will realize that while perfection doesn’t last, the trust, respect and caring that I have with this man will.