This was originally published on TheVocal.com.au (Fairfax) in 2016
Like many 20-somethings with too much free time, I’ve become addicted to browsing the subreddit r/relationships over the past year. It’s a subreddit where people can post about their relationship problems, and get advice and different perspectives that will hopefully help them deal with their problems in a measured and mature fashion.
I’ve had a rough couple of months. My grandmother, who I was extremely close to, died after a long stint in hospital, and it threw me for a loop. Until now, I’d been fortunate enough to have never lost anyone I was so close to, and the grief completely overwhelmed me. I think my grief overwhelmed my friends, too, and some were just not equipped to help me through it. What this emotionally turbulent period taught me is that people can surprise you: friends you expected to always be there might end up disappointing you, and friends you didn’t expect will step up and support you when you need it.
It also taught me that an outsider’s perspective can be crucial, and that’s what r/relationships is for many. Funnily enough, the unexpected friend I turned to and who ended up being a fantastic source of support is a fellow r/relationships fan, and the advice she gave me was exactly the sort of advice I would have expected from r/relationships commenters.
For those who don’t have a friend who is removed from the situation, or who just want to hear several opinions, r/relationships can be a huge help. You’re basically crowdsourcing advice for your personal problems, and if there’s anything strangers on the internet love doing, it’s sharing their opinions.
It’s taught me to work harder at stepping outside of myself when I’m feeling upset and try and examine the situation from a neutral perspective. However, it’s also taught me to go with your gut — more often than not, you’re having those feelings for a reason. We’re told not to listen to ourselves, that women are irrational, hysterical; that people with depression are even more so, but often, your instinct is the best guide you have.
One of the most common kinds of posts I see on the forum are women in objectively terrible relationships, outlining their grievances and basically seeking permission to leave the relationship. Women are taught to accept mediocrity, even abusive behaviour, because “boys will be boys”. Those posting know deep down that they’re unhappy because of their relationship, but for whatever reason, they’re hesitant to leave. The secret not enough people know is this: you don’t need a huge reason to leave a bad relationship behind. You’re entitled to choose who you spend your time with, and to stop spending time with people who make you feel anything less than loved and supported. This goes for both romantic and platonic relationships; if you find yourself feeling overwhelmingly negative during your interactions with someone, that is a good enough reason to stop interacting with them.
The forum is a great space for seeking validation, but commenters are also knowledgeable when it comes to more serious issues. Many are survivors of abusive relationships, and are able to read between the lines and spot the signs. Some say commenters are too quick to write someone off as abusive, and that the person seeking advice should give their partner a second chance, but that approach is extremely risky, and expects someone to be willing to put up with manipulation, emotional abuse and worse, just so they won’t be alone.
That’s another element of many of the posts made — people who stay in unhappy relationships because they’re terrified of being alone. As someone who’s been alone for 23 years, let me tell you: it’s not that bad. I would undoubtedly prefer to remain single than to tether myself to some mediocre guy just so I have someone to fight over the covers with. I think that women especially are taught that to be fulfilled, one must be in a (heterosexual, as is often implied) long-term monogamous relationship, even if you’re miserable.
I’m here to be the validation you need: that is not true. You can feel fulfilled in so many other parts of your life: creatively, professionally, spiritually, even sexually, without suffering through a relationship both parties checked out of a long time ago. You are a complete person whether you’re single or in a relationship. You do yourself no favours by staying unhappy out of fear of being alone.
Honestly, being alone can be great. Travelling alone means not having to cater to anyone else’s schedule. Eating alone means nobody stealing your chips, and getting to catch up on some reading. I’m not advocating for a solitary lifestyle away from society, but I am advocating for people, especially young women, getting more comfortable spending time by themselves.
R/relationships has provided me with perspectives I didn’t even know I was missing, and it’s introduced me to new ways of looking at and understanding human relationships, which I think has helped me understand my own, and given me more tools to help those around me do the same when they ask for it.