Developing close relationships without romantic love.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Chocolates, flowers and soft toys are on sale everywhere and elaborate date nights and surprises are being carefully planned.
Or so it would seem, according to our culture that appears almost obsessed with romantic love.
There is little mention of the single people who would prefer to be with a partner, of the exhausted sole parents, the newly widowed or divorced, those struggling in difficult relationships, and the growing number of lonely people. For them, and many others, Valentine’s Day can be particularly painful and sad.
We all want to give and receive love, but there are many fulfilling ways to experience love that we can easily overlook. There are deep and close friendships, a connection with our work and colleagues, attachments to extended family, community interest groups, friendly neighbours, and relationships that provide support and company through the ups and downs of life.
As wonderful as romantic love can be, we don’t have to find one kind of love in just one person to enjoy rich relationships. We should not assume that there is something wrong with us, or we can’t be happy and content, if we don’t have romantic love in our lives. Many people, in fact, choose to be single and instead view loving relationships more broadly and in a wider range of contexts. Their focus is on community, rather than an all-encompassing romantic partnership. We are multi-faceted people, and finding our community and developing relationships within that space can enable us to enjoy the various parts of who we are, and contribute to the growth and development of others as well.
As people we are relational — even the introverts among us! We are designed to connect with others and build strong and healthy relationships. Restricting close relationships to just one person can often also put unrealistic expectations and pressure on couples to meet their partner’s every need and prevent them experiencing and contributing to life’s diversity.
An almost 80-year study from Harvard University followed the work, home lives and physical health of 724 individuals and found that people who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier, healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected.
In our Western world, anyone with a smart phone — which is most of us! — spends an average of four hours per day tapping, swiping, glancing and checking. Our world is hyper-connected, and yet we are also experiencing an epidemic of loneliness.
We were created for a full life of love, relationships, meaning, purpose and adventure. Sometimes the potential for these relationships and experiences is right in front of us, ready to be developed and enjoyed. Perhaps it’s just a matter of making an effort to connect.