For most of human history, relationships
were relatively simple for a banal yet immovable
reason: it was extremely hard to meet anyone
acceptable – and everyone knew it. There were only
a few people in the village, travel was expensive
and social occasions few and far between.
This had many drawbacks: it encouraged
people to accept offers from suitors they were
unconvinced by, it meant that characters
who would have delighted each other
died lonely and unfulfilled because there
were a few mountains or a river between them.
Our technologists have used their
genius to correct these historic obstacles
and provide us with unending choice. Meeting
someone new is now a constant possibility.
But this breakthrough at the level of introduction
has obscured an ongoing challenge at the level of
ultimate purpose: we may have become easier
to meet, but we are not any easier to love.
We remain – each one of us – highly
challenging propositions for anyone to take on.
All of us are riddled with psychological quirks
that serve to render an ongoing relationship
extremely problematic: we are impatient,
prone to making unjust accusations,
rife with self-pity, and unused to expressing
our needs in a way they can be understood
by others – just to start the list…
That we can meet so many people
has beautifully obscured our ugly sides, breeding
in us the charming yet misleading idea – which
engulfs us any time we hit difficulties – that
we are in trouble because we have not until now
met ‘the right person.’ The reason why there
is friction and longing has, we tell ourselves,
nothing to do with certain stubborn infelicities
in our own natures or paradoxes in the human
condition as a whole, it is only a matter of
needing to hunt further for a more reasonable
candidate who will, at last, see things our way.
The promise of choice has drained us of the
patience and modesty necessary to grapple with
the tensions that are prone to come our way
whomever we might be with. We forget that almost
everyone is a charming prospect so long as we know
nothing about them. Part of what it takes to be
ready for love is to imagine the difficulties that
we cannot, as yet, know too much about in detail;
the bad moods that will lurk behind the energetic
smiles, the difficult pasts that lie beneath the
lustrous eyes, the tangled psyches that reside
beneath a stated love of camping and the outdoors.
Even though there are hundreds of other people
we might meet, there are not – in truth
- so many people we could really love.
Dating apps may have made it
infinitely easier to connect
but they haven’t helped us in any way to be more
patient, imaginative, forgiving or empathetic,
that is, any more adept at the arts that
make any one relationship viable. Most of
the issues we experience with a given candidate
will therefore show up, in comparable guises,
with almost anyone we might stumble upon.
The real work we should be doing
isn’t – once we have had a reasonable look
around – to keep trying to meet new people;
it’s to get to the root of what makes it hard to
live with any one person we could alight upon.
We will be ready for love when we surrender
some of our excited sense of possibility and
recognise that though we might have many choices,
we don’t – in reality – have so many options.
It may sound dark, but this will, in its
own way, be a liberating realisation that
can help us redirect our energies away from
the exhausting circuit of new encounters
towards a search for the kind of mutual emotional
maturity on which true love can one day be built.