Being the self-deprecating, chocolate-eating, terminally single ‘Bridget Jones’ type is so much easier than actually being in a relationship.
Like many wannabe writers who consider themselves ‘creative souls’, I love a tragedy. I love to wallow in my own sadness listening to Jeff Buckley songs and feeling profound. Especially if I’ve got a window seat on a train and it’s raining outside and I suspect I look quite mysterious and deep in thought.
In stories I prefer darker plots; death, betrayal, infatuation. I like books and films that make me cry. I like coming away with that strangely satisfying sense of futility. You know – everything’s awful and love never lasts and we’re all going to die but that’s okay, I’m okay with that.
It’s an identity I lost as soon as I found myself in a happy relationship. Beneath all the good stuff that comes with being in love, I struggled to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer that carefree, independent singleton that I liked to think I was. I was – dare I say it, actually content with life.
Suddenly I was on The Other Side. The smug couple side. The side where dramas erupt from unwashed dishes and finances (money becomes ‘finances’ when you’re in a relationship) and missing cereal bowls that may or may not be piled up under my side of the bed. I used to feel so separate from that Other Side I now dwell on. Those weirdly happy couples with their joint accounts and domestic roles and mortgage aspirations.
For a largely disordered, dreamy, impractical and naturally self-centred sort of person, learning to live by the rules of coupledom has been very challenging. If I’m totally honest, I suppose it’s my own single-person snobbery that made it so hard to adjust. I always thought it was better to be independent and self-sufficient. I looked up to single people who went off on solo adventures around the world and I thought that one day that would be me. I liked the idea of women who divorced and remarried multiple times and restarted their lives in new places with new people. I thought they were enticingly dangerous and wily and strong. It was the antithesis of marriage and domesticity which, by default, I saw as far too unimaginative and dull for the likes of me.
Being in a relationship means you’ve got to think about someone else, you’ve got to SHARE your time, your space, your food. Unlike when you’re in a house-share, in a domestic relationship you can’t easily cordon off your own cupboard or reserve a shelf in the fridge. It makes you seem antsy. You’ve got to share the space, and be cool with that. You’ve got to let your girlfriend or boyfriend help themselves to any food they like, even though it makes you deeply uncomfortable because you just KNOW they’re going to get to all the good stuff before you.
In classic love stories, the domesticity is brushed over. Those are the gnarly bits, the bits authors leave out because you don’t need to know that heroes defecate and trim their toenails and push back their cuticles and all the other boring stuff we’re supposed to do to stay functional and presentable.
Romeo & Juliet was such a success because Shakespeare never let it get that far. Their love was insatiable and tragic. They were star-crossed lovers, not civil partners. They both committed suicide before the ‘whose turn is it to put the bins out?’ arguments could start.
Jane Eyre worked because Mr Rochester was never bloody in, and when he was he was tending to his mad wife in the attic. Then he went blind and you’re never short of tragedies when you’re blind.
Even the modern romance of our generation – Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy, was cut short when Helen Fielding decided to unceremoniously kill the latter off in the third book to leave our big-knickered protagonist free to have more single-person adventures. Because no one wants to read a story about a contented couple bringing up children and doing the school run and going to law dinners and growing gradually, happily older, do they?
We consume tragic fiction hungrily, and yet most of us generally seek a stable love life. Most of us hope to find a person we can trust and love enough to share our life’s adventures with. That’s the idea Valentine’s Day perpetuates, isn’t it? That we should have a person we give pleasant things like flowers and chocolates to. It perpetuates the idea that being in love is a universal norm.
It’s because of this idea, that I believe the following:
Valentine’s Day is not for couples. Valentine’s Day is manufactured especially for single people.
Valentine’s Day has been manufactured into another ‘normal’ holiday, like Christmas and Easter – Christmas of course being that time of year we buy a lot of presents, and Easter being that time of year we buy a lot of chocolate.
I don’t think it’s all about duping couples into buying boxes of chocolates and heart shaped balloons and other stuff like that. That’s too short-term. I think it’s the singles who generate long-term profit from Valentine’s Day. By having that one seemingly innocuous day in the middle of February, they (they being the nameless fuzz of businesses, corporations, the capitalist establishment, whatever) plant the seed of guilt in every partnerless person’s mind. It makes them think ‘shit, I’m single on Valentine’s Day again. There must be something wrong with me.’
This seed of guilt drives more spending: spending on dating apps, nights out drinking, Friday night take-aways, gym memberships, chocolates, new outfits, haircuts and spa treatments and manicures… all to make ourselves feel better about not being in a relationship.
Yeah. Look at me being all cynical and using phrases like capitalist establishment. My point I suppose is this: don’t be fooled by the pink hearts. Don’t let them make you think it’s normal to be in a relationship. Don’t let those cutesy greetings cards make you question your worth as a human being. Don’t feel alienated. You’re part of this corporate farce as much as we are (‘we’ of course being the smug couples).
In all its trite, cutesy gaudiness, Valentine’s Day is an obvious set-up – a ‘roll your eyes and do it anyway’ sort of joke. Most people ignore it, some people like the opportunity to do something nice with their loved-one, but others will feel very alone. There are many reasons for being ‘single’ – not all of them choice.
None of us should forget for one second just how much of a consumerist society we live in, and how many messages are being shoved down our throat at any opportunity. I’m reading a book now about life in post-war Yugoslavia, and in it a critic of consumerism said –
“Advertising is profit-driven manipulation. It is a method of psychological torture designed to reshape the desires and wills of ordinary citizens to dupe them into needing things they really don’t need.”
‘Torture’ is a strong word and this is a very strong view, but it’s one I’m inclined to agree with in a passive, hypocritical sort of way.
After years of fighting the ‘relationship norm’ and being okay in my solitude, I’m now learning that it’s okay to be happy in love, that the story doesn’t end when you get the girl/man, that the adventures will continue, and that the domestic drudgery is a present but insignificant part of the bigger picture. Our love lives are our own business. Nobody else should be profiting from them.
Anyway I’m quite sure I lost most of you after the first few paragraphs of this post, so if you got this far through my unstructured waffle – thank you, and don’t let my cynicism put you off your heart shaped chocolates. ❤