"Can you believe this right,"
My mother leans in over the coffee percolator as if about to divulge some dark and unnerving secret.
"I offered to go half on the bill at the end of the meal... and he let me." She reclines in her chair rapidly, almost as if in triumph at the salaciousness of this revelation. "He let me! What a bloody cheek!"
I can't help but drop my head in my hands.
Because for someone who has never been particularly bothered about finding love, the modern concept of 'love' bothers me an awful, awful lot.
From the pixelated 'dating' apps that allow you to rinse your city dry of viable suitors in one desperate swipeathon to the relentless one upmanship of insta-couples flashing off their V-day hauls and perfect blogger-ready boyfs who are just SO talented at photography and more than willing to stand out in the rain for 6 hours to get your perfect OOTD's - There are just so many facets of modern 'love' which just seem so irrevocably flawed to me, that I'm starting to believe it's just gonna fuck us all up for good.
And with it being Valentines Day and all, one of the things which profoundly bothers me to a cellular level is the belief that you can never truly be happy unless you're in a relationship. That being single means you're almost less of a human. And the way the whole world seems to be programmed to try and convince us this is true.
Just in this past week alone, I happened across two heartbreaking articles which turned me to despair.
The first was the news of food blogger Wilkes McDermit committing suicide by jumping off the towering roof terrace of a popular London restaurant. The second was the death of a girl named Rachel Gowtock, who took her life by poisoning herself in her own home.
The reasons for their deaths were the same; neither believed they would ever find love.
In a chillingly calm and calculated final post on his blog, McDermit sends his love, thanks and well wishes to his friends, family and connections, before elucidating upon the rationale behind choosing to kill himself.
"The reason for my death is simple. I have concluded that in the realm of dating and relationships the primary characteristics required for men are as follows.
Height: above 5ft10
Race: huge bias towards caucasian and black
Wealth: or other manifestation of power
From my observations and research it appears that you need two of the three criteria for success with very few exceptions. What does this mean it means that it’s “game over” for me."
He goes on to present an emotionally-void and almost unbearably cold meta study he'd carried out in the lead up to his death, citing various academics sources, professionals and statistics, that brings him to an iron-clad hypothesis that he simply existed outside any realms or intersections of a venn diagram of human female interest, and a conclusion that therefore he was better off doing humanity and himself a favour by just getting out of the way for good.
Reading his perspective of love and quality of life reduced down to obsessive scientific hypotheses, percentages and ratios, it sent a shiver down my spine.
A story which hit me just as hard was the tale of Rachel Gowtock, who despite having been in a loving relationship for the past two years, killed herself because she was 'unmarried and childless at 30'. I was rendered speechless and harrowed with devastation and incomprehension upon reading this, the day after McDermit's death.
Despite it being suggested there were inklings of mental health issues in both of these situations, these are far from just two isolated circumstances. Thankfully none to this degree of severity, but I've witnessed first hand the destruction that dependency, or lack of, has on some people. I once had a housemate that had become so warped by an intense relationship that she genuinely cried when her boyfriend went out of town for the weekend and none of us had the time to accompany her, as moral support, to Asda.
This desperate phobia of being by oneself reminds me of an article I'd read last summer. In July 2014, a psychological experiment undertaken by the universities of Virginia and Harvard which left candidates alone in an empty room, found that 2/3 men and 1/4 of women would rather receive an electric shock than be left alone with their thoughts. Yep, these candidates would rather experience intense physical pain, than be by themselves for 15 minutes.
Are we truly that afraid of ourselves?
Linking back to the previous articles, is it that we are now so fundamentally dependent on being loved, being with someone, that we would do anything, even die, to escape being alone?
And on the other hand, have we begun hastily accepting any love instantly and conveniently without thought or heart, simply to avoid the social castigation of being on our lonesome?
I find myself turning to social networks, our most prevalent and constant form of human communication, and for the first time, I begin to really take stock of the terminology which inundates us.
'Likes', 'Loves', 'Favourites'.
Is it social media that has turned us into these cripplingly lonely and socially backward hermit-beings who need validation from other people so desperately that it's become as essential to our survival as food and water?
But the more I start to pay attention, the more I realise how saturated ALL of the media is with these incredibly flawed and damaging 'ideals' of love. I guess it's not hard to be completely obsessed and consumed by this idea when it is everywhere we look.
And with examples such as media and entertainment inundate us with, no wonder we're becoming twisted and compulsive in our desires and desperation.
Turn on the radio, and we hear the likes of One Direction:
Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take her heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one 'cause she belongs to me.
She belongs to me.
I mean, are they talking about a car? A puppy? A rare shiny pokemon card?
Perhaps a bit of Sam Smith:
Why are you looking down all the wrong roads?
When mine is the heart and the salt of the soul
There may be lovers who hold out their hands
But they'll never love you like I can, can, can
They'll never love you like I can, can, can
They'll never love you like I can, can, can
It's not hard to imagine this being whispered from the pressed-up-against-glass smile of someone on a ladder outside your bedroom window, watching you sleep.
What about a bit of Rita Ora maybe:
You used to be thirsty for me
But now you wanna be set free
This is the web, web that you weave
So baby now rest in peace (It's all over with now)
Wait hold up, you're saying you straight up murdered a guy because they didn't fancy you anymore?
Granted I'm perhaps taking these a bit too literally, but it's scary to think that these frankly bizarre ideas are subliminally weaving into the minds of adults, teenagers and children everyday, and we find ourselves singing along, thinking little of it.
Even when looking at movies - don't even get me started on 50 Shades of Grey - how has it taken Disney nearly SEVENTY YEARS for a 'princess' to finally utter the phrase 'You can't marry someone you just met' a la Elsa in Frozen?
Everywhere we look, it seems that we are completely bombarded by the idea that it's simply impossible to live a full, rich and proper life, if you do not exist in some form (however twisted it may be) of partnership with a significant other. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves so desperately unhappy, driven to such extreme measures to try and ensure we never *god forbid* just have to be by ourselves?
I find myself reaching a point of such frustration where I just wanna throw my hands in the sky and scream WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH US ALL, CHRISTTTTT.
I for one, am straight up over the idea that romantic love, regardless of whatever context, is everything and the purpose of life. Just, nuh-uh. Like, could not be more done with it.
Invariably love is fundamental to any sentient being in existence, but NEWSFLASH - BEING SINGLE IS NOT A TERMINAL ILLNESS. And if we continue to think of it like that, then we're all going to find ourselves pretty much totally fucked.
Yes, romantic love is a very, very important part of life, but it's not all there is to life. There is so much goddamn more this world and your experience within it has to offer, and it pains me to see people become so obsessed and manipulated by this idea that they have to find someone, -like some frantic game of musical chairs in which they daren't be the one who lingers too long to find they are out - that they become completely blind to the other glories of existence.
Because you know what the real truth about life is?
Fun Fact: Your 'other half' is a myth.
You were born as a whole human being, complex and complete, so why are you hacking away at a part of yourself to try and find someone else to help fill it?
You are perfect and amazing, a wondrous arrangement of atoms and stardust, a chance happening between space and time which made you, here, now. So go out there and make the most of it, you brief and temporary manifestation of consciousness. Adventure, explore, satisfy your curiosities and unashamedly fall in love with yourself. You are so, so special. You're the most important person in the whole world, don't you see?
'Love' is an unexplainable force that humanity has wrestled with since the dawn of consciousness, and there is no soloution or answer here. But I for one am just sick and tired with this completely convoluted and warped idea of what love and healthy relationships are from the media, social networking and bullshit corporate fundraisers thinly disguised as annual holidays.
You are not broken, if you are lonesome.
You are not unloved, if you do not have someone to love.
You don't belong to anyone, you're not born point five of a person, and you never need completing by someone else.
I am so firm in the belief that any absence or missing part of yourself you feel inside is never meant to be substituted and filled by someone else - that is when they become your drug, your crutch, your dependency. The path to true happiness is taking the time to inwardly focus on improving yourself and discovering that you are more than capable of filling that gap all by yourself.
And you know what, along that journey, you might just unexpectedly stumble across another wonder-filled and fully-formed living soul, that just so happens to bring an extra 25% to your already 100%, and you the same to them in return.
So if you find yourself single in bed with Netflix, or are delighting in blissful couplehood this Valentines Day, I wish you nothing but the best.
But for the sake of your own soul, always remember to fall in love with yourself, before falling in love with someone else.
And there is ALWAYS more to life, a horizon far beyond the desperate need for our love to be returned, replicated and reciprocated - if you just so open your eyes to see it.