With February on the doorstep and Valentine's Day looming, all the trite ideas about "love" will saturate the media and make many people eye-roll with scepticism. The divorce rate in the west indicates only a 50/50 chance of success and, for most people, the worst experiences they've ever had is at the hands of another person. Yet most of us still value our romantic relationships. Why do we bother?
You may have noticed, from your own experience with friends or colleagues, that there is an immense benefit from teaming-up on any project. So, the value of teaming-up with a compatible life partner, on the project of life, multiplied over years, is immeasurable...more than most people realise or actualise. Not only can you accomplish more with a partner than alone, the partnership also buffers you from the inevitable challenges of life. Compared to non-married people...
• Married cancer patients are more likely to survive - the advantage markedly more for men.
• Marriage reduces the risk of heart attacks for both men and women by 66% and reduces the risk of stroke for men.
• Married people are considerably less likely to engage in risky behaviour, such as substance abuse or dangerous driving.
• Marriage reduces the hormone cortisol, associated with stress, and boosts serotonin, associated with happiness.
• Married people are three times as likely to stay alive after surgery - marriage being as important to survival after bypass surgery as traditional risk factors like smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure.
• Marriage means half the likelihood of developing major psychiatric disorders.
• A long, stable marriage doubles the chance of living to old age.
• In many countries, married couples pay less income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax and insurance costs.
• Married couples also usually enjoy pension benefits and enhanced legal rights.
Aside from these pragmatic advantages, a partner can comfort you, support you, inform you, share burdens, protect and inspire you. There are two minds on any task and, when they’re aligned, they almost become one mastermind of shared values and purpose.
However, because our relationships reveal our vulnerabilities, because we share our valuable resources and spend our precious time, a bad choice of partner is so disastrous that it’s often better not to have made any choice at all and lived alone. At best, a bad choice of partner can trap you in a life of mediocrity, sapping your confidence and ambition - a mire from which it takes all your strength to escape...if you do. At worst, a bad choice of partner can leave you shivering from the emotional, social, financial, and physical toll of the encounter. Glib people will justify any suffering as an ‘opportunity to learn’ but, I can assure you that, when starting a relationship, there is no virtue in walking blindly off a cliff just to learn about how horrible the consequences are.
For a man wins nothing better than a good wife, and then again nothing deadlier than a bad one.
The Greek poet Hesiod, 800-720BC
Why do people get relationships so wrong? They rely on fairytales and lust. In fact, the fairytale that love happens in a moment and that the story ends on the wedding day reinforces the lust-based approach to relationships. Chapter one of the Compatibility Book explains that the primitive areas of your brain that manage needs like hunger and thirst also create the desire for romantic love.
“Romantic love is mental illness. But it's a pleasurable one. It's a drug. It distorts reality, and that's the point of it. It would be impossible to fall in love with someone that you really saw.”
Fran is right - romantic love distorts our perception. The experience is so strong that it colours our entire perception of the whole world.
“Every single thing about you is beautiful...When I see you the World stops. It stops and all that exists for me is you and my eyes staring at you. There's nothing else. No noise, no other people, no thoughts or worries, no yesterday, no tomorrow. The World just stops and it is a beautiful place and there is only you.”
James Frey, A Million Little Pieces
It also cares little for the quality of the person we fall in love with.
“He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her. He would rather have misery with one than happiness with the other.”
Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage
That's why it's so important to have some selection criteria in place - it beats randomly kissing every frog and falling in love with one who remains a frog forever.
For many people, any relationship is better than being alone and this neediness makes people rush into relationships and overlook the warning signs that someone else is incompatible or doesn't have the right attitude for a decent relationship. If only you'd not slept with that person on the third date, clouding your judgement, you'd have noticed their stupid comment, or lack of decent values on the fifth date and called it quits before you spent 15 years married to someone you really didn't like or respect.
Start by being happy with your single life, learn who you are, what you want, what suits you and how to look closely at the people you're dating. Being alone is better than being in a bad relationship, being in a good relationship is better than being alone.