Relationships: Is it Possible to be Happy Without Them?

“No constructive path in our life begins unless we claim our own happiness”.

~ María Hernández Feo

two person holding each other's hands

The other day I was speaking to a friend of mine over the phone and we began discussing relationships and how we are both so damn single. I told him that it’s not that I don’t want to be in a relationship, it’s just that right now I have different priorities that involve my career and figuring out what I want in my future. As selfish as it may sound, I like  being connected with myself for the time being, and besides, all the guys in my university refuse to wear deodorant, and that doesn’t work for me! Although my friend understood my argument, he had a different attitude towards the whole matter. He mentioned that he is tired of being alone and can’t wait until he finds someone that makes him happy. He said that when people are in love, their life is complete. I took great issue with his sentiment, especially when he uttered the words “someone that makes me happy”. In that moment, I realized he has a very distorted concept about what happiness truly is and what falling in love entails. He is not the first human in the world who insists that happiness is an immediate consequence of being in romantic relationships. As a result of this conversation with my dear friend, I began to ask myself a series of questions. First of all, what is happiness and what areas of life bring me contentment? What is love? What examples of happiness and relationships guide us? Do I need to be in a relationship to feel complete or can I achieve happiness by myself?

There are many aspects of my life that bring me joy. I take pride in the fact that I can identify the good parts of my existence. In order to keep it all in perspective, simplicity is very important. I don’t need to do big things all the time to be fulfilled. For example, whenever I finish a new book, watch a good Netflix movie, do well in an assignment, have a good laugh with some friends, go out to dinner with my family, take a warm shower, or indulge in a bowl of Fruit Loops, I am happy. This just goes to show that happiness can be found in many areas, but it needs to begin with oneself. Happiness doesn’t have an absolute definition because the conditions that make us happy change frequently.  I am not suggesting that sharing these wonderful elements of our life with our significant others is meaningless. On the contrary. Having someone else there to enjoy everything with you is a beautiful opportunity. I wouldn’t want anything more than to share my favorite novels with my future boyfriend, or to eat some good cheese pizza with him as we laugh together watching “The Office”. However, in order for us to find happiness in relationships, we need to be sure that we can be happy on our own too!

No matter how badly I want to believe that love shines with unicorns who slide down a rainbow and land on a pot of gold, the truth is love is much more complex than that. Having been in one serious relationship before, I know that love stands on respect, commitment, and sacrifice. One of the things that I was very mindful of doing with my previous partner was being considerate of his tastes, his values, his ideas, and everything that he cared for. I never wanted to make him feel like I didn’t appreciate who he is. Even though I didn’t agree when he said that mushrooms taste like rubber or that Beyoncé is not that big of a deal (which is a terrible thing to say, but I let it slide), I took his opinions into account, which is what you are supposed to do when you love someone. Clearly, we will never arrive at a place in our relationships where we agree with everything our partners think, but when you love someone, you try your best to respect those things nonetheless.

When it comes to the commitment and sacrifice spectrum, these two ideas go hand in hand. In loving relationships, we are committed to making sacrifices. I remember in my previous relationship, one of the biggest sacrifices I tried to make was learning how to play video games. Ever since I was a kid, I always dreaded PlayStations, Gameboys, Xboxes, and anything that has to do with that world. I still believe Fortnight is an excuse for boyfriends to abandon their girlfriends, but to each their own. Anyway, when I sat with the controller in hand and pressed the buttons to make something explode in the game, I was done! I know there are plenty of men out there who think women who play video games are the sexiest creatures in the universe, and that’s perfect. I’m just not one of them. My boyfriend at the time understood that he was better off playing without me and he appreciated my effort. From then on, whenever he told me he was busy with his PlayStation, I gave him space, and for me, that counted as a sacrifice. With him I accepted that love works most when you value your independence. Love is not about clinging to your partner and having them be exactly what you want them to be. Instead, its about finding happiness in sharing each other’s individuality.

Part of the reason why my friend feels frustrated with the single life is because of social media. These platforms display an image of love that is completely false. Every time I scroll through my Twitter and Instagram feeds, I come across a lot of posts that pertain to other people’s relationships. I see the basic “I love you to the moon and back and further than that” caption that accompanies a picture of a new couple, all cozied up together. As I continue browsing, I stumble upon Instagram stories filled with people celebrating anniversaries, boyfriends bringing extravagant flower arrangements to their girlfriends, couples going on date night, people getting engaged, among other things. We see this type of content so often that we are convinced love exists in clichés. We participate in a belief that shows how, once you upload that perfect selfie with your partner, the one where both of you are living in “absolute bliss” with a view of a beach sunset in the background, the blessed journey towards love has begun. Then we have the other side of page, the one where you know true love has ended when you change your profile picture and switch your relationship status.

With all this I recognize how social media advertises a version of love and happiness that is not real because it only depicts the portion of our lives that we want people to see. Normally we won’t see a woman get mad at her man when he’s being a pain in the ass or a man getting annoyed with his girlfriend when she doesn’t answer his texts. The tough parts, the difficulties that can really test a relationship, always remain hidden from our phone screens. This is why we need to accept that love and happiness revolve in another sector, one where these unreasonable examples of what our lives should be are not weighing down on us. I don’t buy this whole “love is sweet, love is kind” crap, but I can live with some “love is good, love is hard” honesty. Relationships are an added bonus that we earn along the way, but no constructive path in our life begins unless we claim our own happiness.

As for my dear friend, I wish him all the happiness he deserves, but I pray he finds it within himself first. Nobody should place their ability to be happy on someone else’s shoulders. Romantic relationships are special when they involve people who treasure every piece of who we are, no matter how faulty or ugly, without exception. When we find true love with a certain someone, we should hold it dear knowing it adds to our happiness, but it will never replace the love we own individually. I will not deny that love is real. Many couples share a love that is strong and undying, but this happens for a reason.  At some point, each one of them found value in feeling complete without exterior help. Even though the satisfaction that comes with loving someone else to the best of your ability is incomparable, you will feel love when you know that happiness endures when you are the only one there!

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