Around Valentine’s Day, a lot of people are thinking about love—whether they want to be or not. A set of particularly anxious questions can arise: How do I find the One? How do I know if this one is the One? Is there even such a thing as the One?
We all yearn for love. It’s human nature to desire deep, meaningful connection, and romance is some of the best magic in the world. On this particular topic, however, we may be asking the wrong questions.
Our society sends us strong messages about the importance of romantic love. The story goes as follows: we find someone who is perfect for us (by age 30, max), we get married, have a family, and live happily ever after. If we are alone, then, something very important is missing in our lives, and if we don’t fix it we will be lonely and unhappy forever.
As many married people know well, however, marriage is no guarantee against loneliness or unhappiness. Even in the most loving marriages, there are moments when we feel misunderstood or abandoned, insecure about our connection with our lover, maybe even when we miss the single life. Marriage can be a wonderful, sustaining, and even educational experience, but it doesn’t keep the difficult things about being a human at bay.
Women tend to feel the anxiety about finding someone to marry more acutely than men do. As Kate Bolick writes in her book Spinster, “Men have their own problems; this isn’t one of them.” When an issue has a gender imbalance, there’s often something deeper going on than what we see on the surface. Women tend to be valued in our society based on our relationships (as men often are for their money) rather than for our inherent personhood. Women may desire romantic love and fear loneliness, as men do, but there’s more: if we do not find the One, our value in society comes into question. If we cannot be wife or mother, who can we be?
If we could learn to value ourselves and each other for who we already are, perhaps we could address these questions with more curiosity and less anxiety. We might encourage each other to explore being single with the same enthusiasm as we explore being in relationships, as equally valid life experiences. Perhaps we’d stop valuing marriage over love, no longer settling for the sake of security or because the clock is ticking. Finding romantic love would still be wonderful, but it wouldn’t have anything to do with our sense of self worth.
Further, if there is one person in the world that can make us happier, help us grow as people, and support us in all things, it’s not Prince Charming—it’s us. Spending quality time alone can help us to like ourselves better, making us more inclined to be attracted to others who genuinely like us. Deeper work, like therapy, can help us unlearn dysfunctional relationship patterns we absorbed as children and gain healthier ways of loving. We can’t control who we meet, but we can work on our relationship with our own selves. This may be the best thing we can do to help us find a good relationship and become better partners.
This Valentine’s Day, then, let’s ask ourselves a new set of questions. How can we celebrate who we already are? What, exactly, do we fear about being alone? How can we nourish the relationships we already value? How can we teach ourselves and each other that we are already enough?