There is so much more to life than having a happy romantic relationship. So much more. But I didn’t always believe that.
Growing up in a dysfunctional family, and surrounded by evangelical lessons about love and marriage, I believed that love was an escape. And for a very long time, I didn’t think that I could ever really be a complete person without romantic love in my life.
I realize that is all very politically incorrect to say. We’re not supposedto wait for anyone to complete us–that’s common knowledge today. Admitting that you’ve been on the wrong side of neediness is embarrassing. Except that our culture’s actions and attitudes suggest that most of us really don’tknow better.
There is still a stigma about being single as an adult. There is plenty of competition among full-grown exes about who’s going to find a new partner first. We still pander to the lunacy of Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother. In fact, we pass off a whole slew of bad behavior as “crazy in love” or even romantic.
And then we look at a stranger’s relationship as some bizarre validation of worth–or worse yet, underlying issues. Most people find it perfectly acceptable to judge a stranger by saying, “Oh, so that’s why they’re single.” When we hear that somebody else has been married for 35 years, suddenly we’re thinking, “That’s so great!”
As if it’s any of our business. Or as if anyone owes the world a partnered status. And as if being partnered up makes anybody an inherently better person.
My daughter will be turning 5-years-old next month and the last thing I want her to believe is that her life is all about finding a partner or getting married. I don’t want her to flounder in life like I did all because she thinks she can’t fulfill her purpose or destiny without sorting out her love life first.
I think about her birth and how crazy it would be if I had decided that day to pin all of my hopes for her happiness upon finding a “soulmate.” But what’s even crazier is that we live in a culture that teaches so many of us–especially girls–to do precisely that. To wait for love and operate as if our life can’t really begin until we find that special someone.
There is so much more to life than finding one certain kind of love. And there are so many other types of lovethat matter in addition to romance.
As wonderful as romance can be, it is nothing if you don’t have a rich sense of yourself first. Far too many people hitch their trailer to another person while they still don’t know who they are. Or, they join forces with another person before they’ve accomplished anything that really matters to them on their own.
Calling bad behavior romantic doesn’t make it a life-long romance. And everything romantic isn’t inherently good. It’s an uncomfortable reality that putting romance first tends to crowd out our own personal development if we’re not careful.
I have a niece who’s finishing high school this year, and although she’s studying to become a nurse, all she really wants to do is “get married and have babies.” Right now, she’s looking at her entire future through the eyes of young love. She has a boyfriend whom she adores, and she can’t see the downside of marrying him as quickly as possible.
Say what you like about a woman’s choice to choose, but getting married and having babies right out of high school isn’t exactly a viable career option. And it’s a mighty risk for any young woman to take today.
But we don’t talk about that.
Who wants to burst her bubble and explain that this is a much more serious choice for a woman than it is for a man? It isn’t just that husbands can die, cheat, leave, or that they may lose their jobs.
A fully grown woman may lose her agency.
Even today, women are the ones most deeply affected by pregnancy and child-rearing. The number of men who stay home and put their careers on hold is increasing, but it’s still not on par with women.
Women today are bombarded with invisible, unpaid, and unappreciated work–all of which is too often the direct result of putting romance first.
It isn’t just that a person needs something to fall back on if a romantic relationship ends. It’s not as if a person’s purpose or career only matters when they are single. A larger issue is that there are certain things a person can add to the world which no one else can do, and the world is missing out on all of that goodness when people get sidetracked.
Practically everybody wants to know the meaning of life, as if there has to be some intricate plan. And as if their purpose must be some damn secret. But I don’t think it’s supposed to be so hard.
Honestly, I think the meaning of life is putting yourself out into the world toward a purpose that matters deeply to you. Which means that I think we all create our own meaning in life.
And although I think there’s nothing wrong with finding purpose in loving others–in fact, I think most of us would do better devoting more of our lives to that end–to hinge your purpose upon “finding your soulmate” is a painful and self-imposed limit.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
— Oscar Wilde
The voyage of self-discovery and journey to self-love are sorely underrated. By the time we’re out of school, most of us know how to put in a team effort. And we’re well on our way to hitting the daily grind. Many of us wind up looking for love in our free time between the rat race.
But how many of us have even found ourselves by then?
It may sound cliche, but it’s true. Finding yourself is a helluva lot more important than finding “your person.” You are your person. Knowing yourself fully helps you know how to have a healthy romantic relationship rather than a codependent one.
Devoting yourself to a romantic relationship without knowing yourself first sets a person up for all sorts of damage. On its most basic level, you confuse finding a partner with carving out your own life that you can be proud of.
Finding a person to share your life and your bed is a wonderful and miraculous thing. It’s beautiful. But it isn’t all there is. Besides, healthy partnerships are all about doing life together and apart.
It took me so long to grasp this. Basically, it took me becoming a single mom to realize that everybody who had previously told me that romantic love was not the most important thing… was right.
Well, that’s embarrassing.
I used to be ashamed of being a single mom. People would ask me where my husband was. Or where my daughter’s father had gone. And when my ex got remarried, there was this underlying smugness as if he’d won. Like I was supposed to be ashamed of myself for having the nerve to be single.
As if I was a loser.
The truth is that I am a very devoted single mom who has not forgotten that she was a woman first. And becoming a mother has made me realize how much I owe it to my daughter to live my life with purpose and meaning.
Coming to that understanding has been a huge source of success I never would have known if I just relied upon finding a new partner.
Still, there are a lot of people who’ve said things to me about how I should be doing this or that to find a husband. It’s all their way of telling me to be “more than a mom.” But I already am more than a mom. And I sure don’t need to worry about becoming a wife just to prove it.
Single mothers don’t need to find husbands to save them. Our purpose in life is not to find a new man. Just like your purpose in life is not to find a partner.
You have to quit looking for another person to complete or save you. You will never find your purpose in the security you think another person can give you. Pining for love isn’t security.
Instead? Look to your trauma. Look to all of the shit in life that you have survived. Mastin Kipp says “your trauma informs your purpose.” I think he’s right.
That’s why you won’t find your purpose by putting your goals on hold to find love. It’s not your destiny to give your future away to a “someday partner.” As good as romantic love can be, you still have to build a life beside and outside of that love. Otherwise, when that love ends, you’ll be left–not simply alone, but with a stranger.
Whatever you do, don’t let yourself become a stranger to your own damn self. Pursue you and your vision of the good life. Go after your own dreams because nobody’s going to do it for you. Give your own life its meaning, and make this world a better place without worrying about finding your soulmate.
Be your person. If romantic love thenfits into the life you’ve created, it will be that much better.