Romantic relationships seem to be the underlying influence to our emotional and personal lives. Perhaps this is how humans have developed over centuries, but look back to further – Zeus’s lovers and Hera’s jealousy, Cleopatra and Mark Antony, Lancelot and Guinevere, Layla and Majnun, Pyramus and Thisbe – and it becomes quite clear that romance, love and obsession are hardly modern ideas.
The vast majority of movies, books, music and art are focused on love. In our culture, the majority of adults are in (or in and out) of relationships. Every single one of us are on this Earth due to a romantic relationship or at least a romantic exchange. It’s everywhere you go, and it’s inescapable.
I began my first relationship at 16, living my late teen years and early twenties in and out of love, without much time to comprehend the most important love of all – the love you have for yourself.
Around two years ago, I was single for the longest I’ve ever been – a year – and although it pains me to admit it, it was great. Not because I was “free”/able to sleep around, etc. But because for the first time, I met the real stripped down me – who as it turns out, I actually really liked.
If a relationship is right, it’s a wonderful place to be. But I can’t help but feel that we grow in a different kind of way when we’re single. There is a lack of intimate emotional support that deems we look after ourselves like Lionesses look after their cubs. Having a Lion is lovely, and in a weird way, reliving, but perhaps not as satisfying.
We are all aware of the cliche, “Love is drug”, suggesting love has good and bad consequences and addicting tendencies. But scientifically, love is a lot more of a drug than you would expect.
Relationships change the way our brain releases chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, the chemicals that draw and keep us together. Oxytocin and dopamine make us feel a levelled euphoria. Oxytocin is what is released when a mother gives birth, therefore bonding her to her baby.
The desperation we feel to stay together, no matter how rational a break up, isn’t just a fear of being alone – it is actually due to the withdrawal from oxytocin. Which is exactly why after days, week, or months, depending on the individual, we look back on break ups with the sense that it was the right thing to do, because our brain chemicals have returned to their normal level once the ‘love rehab’ has been completed.
Relationships are amazing, and I of course cannot speak for everyone. But personally, I am beginning to understand “love” as a chemical reaction, and becoming aware of the negative connotations within that “love”.
No matter how positive and loving the relationship may begin, If we’re not careful, co-dependency and the sense of needing each other for all the wrong reasons, can creep up so quietly and gently that we can look down to find ourselves stuck in waist high quick sand before we even have the chance to say, “We need to talk.”
This stage in a relationship is extremely exhausting. In the past, I have definitely felt that this stage has made me lose my sense of self and my self worth. Being in a close emotional relationship changes our understanding of ourselves, because Oxytocin tells us that “we are one” with that person, therefore blurring the lines of our inward individuality.
I think most of us unconsciously have looked to our partners to meet our emotional needs whilst at least attempting to accept theirs. For me, years of disappointment has only highlighted the fact that you can never emotionally depend on another human. One, because it is totally unfair to them, and two, because only you and you alone can ever completely emotionally support yourself.
Trust me, this is a new admission for me. I once boasted my ability to remain a completely rounded independent individual within my relationships. I was sure that I would never ever obsess over a partner, revolve my life around theirs or let that person influence my choices or personality.
But ask yourself, really and truly – could you say this?
Or, subconsciously, have you craved unrealistic levels of attention from a partner? Let their mood, decisions, or interests influence yours? Become irrationally territorial over them? Felt a hyper sensitive sense of worthlessness due to their behaviours?
It’s overwhelming to admit, that I have felt this in probably all of my serious romantic relationships, at some point or another. Instinctually, I thought, “Wow. I am really emotionally messed up.” But if I, a relatively normal, privileged, emotionally stable young woman has, maybe these aren’t such abnormal things after all.
I have a lot to learn when it comes to love and relationships. In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t finished the first chapter. But one thing I am sure of, is that we can not be responsible to fixing each other. We can support and encourage, but we each have our own needs and paths to follow. If the compatibility in a relationship is wavering, take a step back and reevaluate. I can tell you from experience that the break down of a relationship is not the end of your world – it’s the beginning of a new one. Maybe, on the way, you’ll fall in love with yourself and settle with that.
And if you find yourself lucky enough the meet the perfect person for you, a relationship between two happy individuals will be a lot more successful than two halves of one un happy couple.