Romance is perhaps the most clichéd corner of the human condition; it is the greatest prevailing sentimental and intimate obsession, dynamic and yet perpetually formulaic. So much of what we say and do in society is underlined by heavy references to our romantic relationships, sexual habits and deepest, darkest desires, sometimes to nauseating degrees. Channel 4’s Inbetweeners and the superficial storm of American Pie sequels are prime examples of why we should temper the urge to sex-up our lives so often. Each of us, despite what our friends and enemies might gossip about, has methods of coping with and controlling our instincts through behaviour, one of which is committing to an exclusive relationship with a fellow human being.
Relationship is a word that has an abundance of meaning attached to it. What dictates the status of our relationship with another person or people is what activities we engage in with them. These activities can range from casual conversation to spending the rest of your life in faithful union with the same individual. It is the prevalence of traditional monogamous relationships in Western culture which has imbued this particularly ambiguous word with its most common conceptual association.
Take this as an example: when we are informed that one of our ‘friends’ on Facebook is in a new ‘relationship’ with whichever Tom, Dick or Sally they’ve fallen for, we automatically register this as the only relationship that stands out – all other connections to people are prerequisite and permissible. It’s as if all other links we can conceive of as being shared between two separate people are highly likely and not worth noticing. The next guy walking down the street could be the son of Richard Branson or Natalie Portman’s agent, but we aren’t fazed by this because those connections don’t translate into the standard concept of a relationship that we recognise – that of the two lovers in the midst of cultivating deep feelings for one another.
We generally ignore the reality of relationships, which is that we are never out of them, even when we’re single and apparently so alone in life. It appears that the relationships we build with our fondest partners, heterosexual or otherwise, are the most popular kind, most likely because we take the unannounced ones for granted, which proves their reliability as opposed to the strength of those that are often born from the a fleeting fire in our hearts, illogical and wild. In cultural terms, there is no human commitment celebrated as much as the coupling of two people who love each other.
Teenagers are highly representative of the modern sociolinguistic translation of the relationship. Anxious and pestered by exhausting hormonal fluctuations, teenagers are infinitely absorbed by the cycles of youthful romance. Whether it’s being psychologically confined to the notion of that one magnificent man or wondrous woman, or eavesdropping on someone’s gossip about who snogged who at last night’s house party, teenagers are boiling over with sexual energy and crave contact of the closest kind, leading to the formation of our first meaningful relationships, besides those with our parents and friends that most of us fail to scrutinise half as much as the former.
Roll on the evolution from first heart-breaking crushes and exhilarating lovers’ liaisons into adult relationships, the next step up the romance ladder that witnesses graduates bringing home their university partners to meet the parents and actually having real conversations with the family of your one and only, not just cursory salutations before darting up the stairs and jumping under the covers for some R&R. No longer are you as fascinated by the agony and ecstasy of the young loved and unloved, though, you occasionally revisit past pleasure in watching Cupid’s game of chance at play. Here, life is starting to develop into something serious, and so is the ever-perplexing relationship you got yourself into.
The next rung of the ladder is possibly the most significant: marriage. The word ‘marriage’ is the Don Corleone of all relationships, a super relationship that overrides all prior commitments to the sub-relationships in your life as you swear to sacrifice your independence to preserve the promises you make in holy matrimony. From here on it’s either boom or bust. I’ve attended two weddings so far in my life (one only just four months ago), both involving siblings of mine, who also have children of their own, and I’m pleased to say the marriages are fit and healthy. Of course, not all marriages pan out prettily. Although divorce rates are currently noted to be rolling down a falling limb, the average rate of divorce is still around 11.5 men/women per 1000. Several friends of mine come from families that suffered from divorce, so it’s certainly no stretch to imagine marriage not being an easy regime for man or woman.
And if you do succeed in maintaining a happy, healthy relationship, from that first magical glint in the eye to the calming presence of your spouse after x-amount of years as a married couple, then you’ve mastered the world’s most popular cliché in the flesh. The effort that fuels this careful, sometimes crazy vehicle you both drive is constant and can leave you feeling like you’ve got not an ounce of ceremony left in your capacity for romance. But somehow you find it within yourself to cast your mind back to the days of blossoming romance and you inject some of the passion of those fond memories into the lasting relationship you helped build.
That is what makes this kind of relationship – the super relationship – the mightiest of all the clichés attributed to our social lives. The patterns of attraction and the path each person walks down before discovering their niche in the realm of romance is repeated time and again with the coming of each lively new generation. Even taking into consideration the blatant divides between the past and the present, such as the necessity of partnership in the past when life alone signified a family’s demise, the tricks we pull and the extent to which we go in order to guarantee our chances of securing that fabled enduring relationship with the person you love are the same. If there is any difference to be found, it can be located elsewhere in the world, namely after we shift cultures. Perhaps it’s because of where we are and how this has made us who we are that causes this kind of relationship to be so commanding of our lifelong interests.
Look at Hollywood; when is there not a love interest for the leading man or lady? The same goes for music. In commercial R&B the main topic voiced through the song lyrics is relationships and their ups and downs (this, from my perspective, can only be done a few times before you realise there is only so much that can be said about adultery and obsessive romance). Some of Western culture’s most renowned novels reflect the raging inferno that is the relationship chase better than any epic film or soppy song; the old English tales of love clashing with social conduct and compliance in stories like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen are lofty examples of how much depth and breadth there is to this concept of relationships. Each medium, however, is a means of study used for channelling the message of romance we all want to understand and deliver, hence our adoration for their vision and influence.
I think it is safe to assume that, despite the overt repetition of romantic gestures and proposals across the generations, never are we, individually at least, closed to the prospect of courting and coupling, except for when we have already achieved the ends through those troubling means. For the majority of us there is nothing more compelling than the rush of realising our dream relationship with the number one candidate on our list – in all fairness, there is no list, just a diary filled with seamless nonsense surrounding the object of your affection, or maybe just a post-it note in a copy of Love for Dummies that acts as a reminder as to why you bothered researching the subject in the first place.
While we’re on the matter of reason, I’d probably best explain that this unusual turn of mine towards discussing the push and pull of love is the result of my own recent exploration into that most risky of areas. After having the astonishing revelation that I had actually fallen in love with a girl – not that several years of intense emotion towards this individual could have alluded to this conclusion beforehand – and then admitting to myself it would never be actualised, I was then struck by another revelation that I found a little too close to home: I want to be in love. Falling in love itself is as easy as waking up in the morning and procrastinating the day away to the sound of whatever music you’re currently stuck on (got to be a bit of heavy metal for me at the moment if I’m honest). What’s hard about this state of mind is actually clarifying with yourself that you have fallen into that hole of uncertainty that is love.
Some people might well and truly run through life not ever having noticed that they were, in fact, besotted with their next-door neighbour or best friend – if heaven is a place of epiphanies then I feel for those poor bastards. I’m glad that in my case I came around to my most natural feelings and expressed them to the figure of my fancy, even if the outcome left me damaged internally for a hard-to-get-by while.
I’ve since then found my feet, but kind of lost my head. Ridiculous as this may sound, I can’t seem to stop dreaming about being in a relationship with someone. There is no specific girl that I dream of; strangely enough I find most of the dream girls to be girls whom my friends are in relationships with, which at least makes the meaning less tortuous to unravel. And although this mostly leaves me with excess equations floating about my baffled brain, I welcome the comforting truth that it is possible for me to be in love and wish for a relationship, something I previously thought of as being more repugnant than hosting Come Dine With Me at a crack den with Amy Winehouse as the guest celebrity chef.
In time I may well collide with that other person who is not necessarily destined to settle down with me but will do so not too begrudgingly, and that could well seal my fate as yet another happily married bloke with a squadron of little hellions biting my ankles. This remains doubtful as neither marriage nor children appeal to me at present – I would dare say these two domestic chains to my soul would be insufferable, but I’ve known them to treat their advocates with plausible good will, so I will avoid signing off on them before I’ve gotten much closer to them actually becoming real objectives.
In the meantime I shall continue to dip into the social scene and try my luck with the ladies (so far, not so good, but I’m up for keeping the faith). Life as a bachelor certainly has its upside: king size bed all to myself, plentiful levels of mobile credit and, yes, absolute freedom to fail to complete any task I undertake without getting nagged – besides, there’s always a mother for that sort of thing, and I could do without a second.