By Sara Scheler
For whatever reason, many people are convinced that one’s worth is determined by their relationship status. We’ve all been there—the awkward family dinners where your relatives pester you about your love life and try to set you up with a family friend. Holidays become treacherous because Great Aunt Suzie always corners you, asking you embarrassing questions and making assumptions about your inability to secure a man (my strategy is usually to drink lots of wine and avoid eye contact).
Our society is obsessed with relationships. Every TV show is filled with break ups, make ups and all the drama that comes along. Blogs and websites review places for hot dates, magazines have endless tips and everyone claims to have the best relationship advice. But, let’s be honest, anyone who claims to know how relationships work is probably wrong. Relationships are complicated and difficult and messy. There is no solution, no quick fix, no catch-all and certainly no rules (at least none that everyone can agree on).
I recently read a Times article in which the author made herself fall in love. Yes, you read that right. She and an acquaintance asked each other 36 personal questions created by psychologist Dr. Arthur Aron. In a single evening, the two formed a deep personal attachment that the writer definitely described as love. But wait, you say, isn’t love just something that happens? It’s an emotion, right? Something that cannot be helped or controlled and certainly not done on purpose. The whole thing does seem a bit sketchy and there’s always the chance she made it all up but I’m willing to believe that the head can rule over the heart, even where romantic attachment is concerned. The author said the two chose to fall in love. If you think about it, this is an incredibly daring, yet beautiful statement. If this statement is correct, it means everything we have ever known about love (which we have learned largely from pop culture, Disney movies and Jack Dawson) is completely wrong. This doesn’t mean love is not fun, spontaneous or beautiful, but it does mean we can choose who and when to love.
If you’re still not buying it, consider your relationships with friends and family as an example. Did your first meeting with your childhood best friend have fireworks and that feeling that the two of you would be friends forever? Maybe, but more likely it was less a collision of fate and destiny and more a casual (perhaps awkward) introduction and a discovery that you have a few things in common. There are several people I did not like when we first met who are now some of my closest companions. In the same token, some of our relatives are difficult and frustrating and obnoxious but we still insist that we love them. How and why do we work to maintain relationships like these? Because we make a conscious decision to do so. We are committed to these people for one reason or another and we love them even when they sometimes let us down, cause us pain or fail to give us what we need. Human beings have an inborn need for intimacy and personal attachment (thank you, Maslow) and we would rather invest time and energy in these relationships than be alone.
This, to me, is incredibly comforting because it means that even when I mess up and act selfishly and neglect my friends and family, they continue to make a conscious decision to love me no matter what. It also means that, whenever Prince Charming decides to appear, I can make a conscious decision to love him, a decision that will (hopefully) be reciprocated and that causes an attachment so much stronger than the clichéd fireworks and giggles and butterflies.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. We all need to fight the urge to turn this celebration of love into a pity party. Maybe, this is the year you focus on giving rather than receiving love. Do what you love and what you are good at. Take risks, meet new people and support your friends’ (healthy) relationships.
If you haven’t already, you should really take the Love Languages test. It is a simple, free online questionnaire that orders five characteristics based on the way you give and receive love. The test is really helpful because it brings these things to our attention and attempts to make sense of the way we love our family, friends and significant others and also what we need from others in order to feel loved and valued. Have your closest friends take the test, too, because then you can better understand what they need from you in order to feel the love.
This year, let’s fight the tunnel vision and reject the idea that we need a relationship in order to have value. Let’s focus instead on deep personal attachments with the people we love, concentrate on how we show them we care and remember how much they mean to us. Let your passions, goals, dreams and personality define who you are, not your relationship status. There will always be people who are not on board with this new perspective but it is better to pursue things that bring you joy and make you grow, even if it means you have to spend the rest of your life convincing other people it’s okay.