As children, we are taught that finding love is the ultimate goal. In the films we watch and the books we read, the message is clear; that “two halves make a whole”. Our lives are funnelled into a singular pursuit: to find our “other half” and cast everything else aside to do it. We don’t know whether to call it a capitalist model or to blame it on the sonnets, but we want it either way.
Such social fixation on romantic love has created a climate in which our happiness seems to be defined by our relationships, with our sense of fulfilment almost entirely centred around the search for love.
The comedian Daniel Sloss highlights this with his “Jigsaw” theory, presenting life as a jigsaw puzzle, made up of hobbies, friends, family etc. And at the centre, there is a “happiness piece” – the part of life that truly gratifies us. As a collective, we have placed romance on so high a pedestal that finding happiness is often equated to finding love. Some of us are so scared of being unfulfilled, that we cram in any piece or person, even if they don’t fit the gap, and won’t make us happy. But in doing so, what we fail to recognise is that happiness might not come in the shape of a person at all.
And it doesn’t stop there. We aren’t just taught to expect fulfilment from relationships; we’re also inundated with role models of sexualised incompleteness. In so much of the media young people consume, from films to songs that claim “when I’m not with you, I’m not me”, we find gorgeous, unstable characters who need grounding (Skins and John Green protagonists, I’m looking at you). Essentially, the more unhappy or “mysterious” (aka, underwritten) you are, the more attractive you seem to someone who can swoop in and complete you.
Therefore, we are taught to not give too much away. Made visible by self-imposed invisibility, we become colouring books for someone else’s fantasy, leading us back to the same conclusion: in a world where two halves make a whole, incompletion is compatibility.
Of course, recent decades have seen a counter-reaction to romantic propaganda: people get married later, more live alone, and the label “strong and independent” has come to replace the classic insult, “spinster”. It seems like the light at the end of the patriarchal tunnel.
But, it still feels like we have been given two binary options: to find romantic love and reach completion as a human being, or to be single and lauded as strong and self-sufficient. The obsession with romantic attachment, and subsequent backlash have turned the two ‘brands’ violently against each other. Relationship statuses are weaponised and fiercely defended, because it is from those that people so often derive their sense of self.
Relationships themselves aren’t to blame, but a society so fixated on them that, whether we glorify or criticise romantic love, our individual identities still hinge upon them. Romantic love and independence are presented as mutually exclusive, leaving almost no room for genuine fulfilment.
The bottom line is that people are not incomplete pieces that fit together. Single or not, we should feel just as strong and independent; just as whole. Simply put, we should ask ourselves why you would want to be half of a person? More importantly, why would you want to be with half of a person?
Rather than romanticising our relationship statuses, we should start romanticising ourselves. And if, in finding happiness, you also find someone you feel like loving, then great. But it’s time for us to stop reducing ourselves to less than we are for the sake of external fulfilment.
A sustainable relationship isn’t two “halves” finding their senses of self in one another. It should be whole, developed people who know what they want, which hopefully includes each other. But there is far more to us than romance. It’s just one piece in the jigsaw.
Cover photo: “Hollow heart made of puzzle pieces” by Horia Varlan via Flickr