Searching For “The One”
And what it means in modern relationships.
It would be easy to think all you ever had to do was to just find “The One.” Your soulmate. Your other half. The one who completes you.
And that’s exactly what a lot of people do — ceaselessly search for someone else to make them happy. But believe it or not, our need to seek out The One is actually a rather new concept, bred from the era of romanticism.
According to therapist and researcher Esther Perel, prior to the concept of romantic love (which came about toward the end of the nineteenth century), the person whom we chose to commit to and marry was often not the person for whom we felt our most passionate love.
In fact, it was not until we liberated our sense of sexuality from the act of reproduction, that passion could truly enter into our relationships.
And further, it was only once we began untethering ourselves from traditional institutions and our former sources of identity (such as the Church and our extended families) that we started deriving our entire existential meaning straight from our significant others. Now that’s a lot of expectations to place on one person, don’t you think?
So if the notion of The One is rather new in society and strictly a hallmark of modern love, then why is it that so many people still strive to find it?
What is with this disease of oneitis (as some now people call it), and what does it mean for the state of our relationships?
1. Searching For The One is Actually Counter-Intuitive to Finding Real Love.
First, it ends up costing you the ability to find and develop yourself.
You get so consumed with finding someone to complete you that you forget to participate in your own personal growth.
And you end up with this false sense of control because you convince yourself that if you just find that someone, then your journey is done and you’ll be provided with infinite happiness forevermore. Which, I’m sorry to say, is nothing but a beautiful lie.
Only you can save yourself from your life; it’s not up to anyone else to do so.
Next, it often leads to dissatisfaction with the one you’re with.
If you opt into the notion that you have only one person destined to be with, then you’re always second-guessing and searching for more instead of investing and building on what you already have.
The thing about holding onto this delusion is that “the reality of the person cannot threaten the fantasy”. Which is just to say that the elusive person who resides in your head is always going to be better than anyone you could possibly find on this earth because they live in your head.
And while real love isn’t perfect and it’s certainly not always glamorous, it doesn’t only exist in the realm of fantasy.
In the end, it’s only an excuse for staying past an expiration date.
“But how can I get over her,” you ask, “she’s The One.” Now if she were The One, would she have broken up with you? Would your relationship have ended in the first place? Would you have opted to wax poetic about your past at the expense of the present moment? Probably not.
“Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” — Cheryl Strayed
So what’s the best way to avoid reality, refuse to take responsibility and totally boycott the whole grieving process after a breakup? Tell yourself that your ex-lover was The One.
But remember, we only have to hold on to someone when they’re already gone.
2. “The One” is Actually a Choice You Make.
You make the choice for whom to partner up with, and for how you show up within your partnerships.
Choosing to lean into your discomfort and practice vulnerability. Choosing to put the other person’s interests first while still caring for yourself. Choosing to take responsibility for your emotional baggage and not let it hurt your partner. This is what choosing the one for you really looks like.
You also make the choice to invest in building love.
Love is a by-product of a healthy relationship, it’s not a prerequisite. You cannot possibly love someone until enough time and experience have passed because you actually have to get to know the person first.
The more energy, time and commitment you invest into a relationship, the more you solidify that this is the one you’re choosing to be with, and the more other people tend to fade out of your scope of vision.
And making a choice > having the choice made for you.
If you subscribe to the notion of The One, it implies you never get to choose your partner, but that they’re somehow already chosen for you. You don’t have to work towards building a relationship because it’s already destined and fated.
But maybe having a choice is more romantic in the end. As Author Emily Giffin beautifully explains in her book, “Love the One You’re With”:
“Maybe that’s what it all comes down to. Love, not as a surge of passion, but as a choice to commit to something, someone, no matter what obstacles or temptations stand in the way. And maybe making that choice, again and again, day in and day out, year after year, says more about love than never having a choice to make at all.”
3. If No One is “The One” Then Maybe Everyone is.
Think about it: the only constant in life is change.
As humans, we are always in a state of flux. Every day we’re evolving and growing into someone similar, but slightly different, than who we were yesterday. So how could it be that we can experience an infinite variety of selves, and yet the person we commit to is already set in stone?
I posit that maybe, just maybe, each new person you’re in a relationship with IS the one for you (at the time). And whether that time lasts a week or a lifetime remains undetermined.
Plus, each new partner you choose to pair up with has their own set of lessons and experiences attached. And you’ll keep making the same mistakes and facing the same issues in relationships until you actually learn the lessons embedded within them.
“How do you know this is the experience you need”, explains Eckhart Tolle, “because this is the experience you are having at the moment.”
By that logic, no relationship is ever a failure.
Maybe it’s that you need to learn to heighten your standards and stop putting up with sub-par behavior. Or maybe it’s that you have to learn how to feel safe and secure with another person.
This isn’t to say that I condone settling and choosing the wrong person over and over again, claiming it’s because they’re The One. I just mean that some people are meant to stay for shorter times, and others are meant to stick around for longer. Neither type of relationship is a failure, and maybe all relationships just simply aren’t meant to last longer than they already do.
You can’t blame yourself for not knowing what you haven’t yet learned. But you can take your time and foster some self-awareness while learning it.
So, if you want your relationships to survive, you must never get too comfortable.
When you operate under the premise that you’re “the exception”, love becomes a destination and not a journey. Once you find The One, then you’re set for life. But this rationale falls short, especially in long-term relationships.
If you’re not the exception and if your lover could theoretically choose or have chosen someone else to build a life with, it implies that their life, love, and sexuality is theirs to give.
Which means it’s not yours, and it’s never a guarantee, either.
Under this mindset, you’re also required to constantly be nourishing your connection while still taking care of yourself. Love becomes a verb you practice, not a noun you obtain.
With that in mind, you must assume responsibility for your happiness. You must create a balance between your unity and individuality. You must check in with your partner and discuss how your relationship is doing, regularly.
Because it can be taken away, it’s so important that you both do your best to help it stay.
If you’re suffering from the disease of oneitis, whether your symptoms look like over-glorifying someone from your past, or feeling all-too consumed with searching for someone who doesn’t yet exist, there’s always hope.
It starts with not putting people on a pedestal. It’s easy for someone to seem better than everyone else when you only see what you want to see. There are a lot of things about strangers you’d love if you got to know them, and a lot of things about the person you’re infatuated with that you’d dislike once you got to know them, too.
But you’ve gotta start with discovering who you are, and where you fit in this world. It’s about being The One in your own life.
And if you’re always searching for the elusive other, you’ll get consumed with people who, for one reason or another, are not present or available to you. All that really means is that in the end, it keeps you away from those who are.
Shannon Leigh is a writer, letterer and curious cat. To learn more, visit her site.