The pressure to be in a relationship
"What does my happiness have to do with finding a partner?" asks Nibrash Kazi Subah, a computer science and engineering student from Independent University, Bangladesh. Well, I'm glad he asked.
The world will tell you that "happiness" and "finding a partner" are mutually exclusive. That you're never truly happy until you've found the one.
Unbeknownst to you, this bizarre concept is bred within from early on. It started as early as your first Disney movie. The prince, on his white horse, would appear and rescue the princess in distress, usually in an abandoned tower or lost in an enchanted forest, ultimately finding "the girl of his dreams." (Disclaimer: No hate. I love Tangled.)
For the longest time, the world told us that the only way to be complete, is to be with your other half. It creates an inexplicable, yet very real pressure on all of us.
It is so real, in fact, that professor of philosophy Elizabeth Brake coined the term "amatonormativity", and defines it as "the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship."
It's an assumption we're all meant to abide by.
"It took me a while to realise that I am a very private person. I don't really want to be in a relationship," explains university student Ramim Rahman*.
As if figuring out our own lives wasn't hard enough, we're constantly reminded and pushed into getting a partner. The idea is presented to us as though it's the only solution to all our problems.
Once we get a little older, already riddled with false narratives of true love from fairy tales and white knights, relationships are the talk of the town or the schools, at least. New in puberty and high on hormones, teenagers decide the next step to move up the ladder of society and grow up, is to date.
"I was 15 when I started dating," adds Ramim. "Everyone around me was already in a relationship. I ended up dating someone I didn't get along with. And it didn't end there because this pressure persisted and I kept dating girls I never truly liked enough."
"It seemed like everyone was in a relationship, but me," recalls Shahrin Mahmud, a student of dentistry. "I felt that in order to keep up that's what I had to do as well."
Not everyone agrees, but it becomes the standard and so once again, putting aside the more important individual growth that one needs, people rush into relationships. Little did we know, this may have pushed us towards unhappiness, stress, and anxiety in the present as well as deciding what our relationships may look like in the future.
In the next stage of life, we're young adults, dealing with the awfully difficult transition from being a teenager to a grown-up. We have a million things to worry about as we try to find our place in the world; college, grades, jobs, finances, social life, family life, and figuring out how taxes work.
"A relationship requires time and energy and most importantly, meeting someone who's worth all putting in all that effort," says university student Farhana Rahman*. "It's a commitment and it requires dedication that you have to have the capacity to give."
Suddenly, home doesn't feel like home. Time feels borrowed. For every second that you spend not actively finding someone to settle down with, your parents and family members are stressed. Yesterday, the very parents who told you not to talk to the boy from down the street because he didn't "look right", want you to find a suitable partner, get to know them, and get married at the earliest.
"It's such a sudden shift in gears," Farhana adds. "It edges on emotional blackmail in some ways, constantly being reminded that my place is not my own and that I am incomplete until I've found someone else and married them. Do my achievements mean nothing?"
It seems that everyone at home is fixated on when we can settle down. Settle down. When did that become a term meaning if we had a significant other? Why it is that settling down doesn't mean being comfortable in your own skin or having a stable job? What about being happy with who you are and where you are in life?
In an attempt to keep up with society and its ever-changing trends, and in spite of its strange fixation on romance and relationships, we grow up in a blur of "Are you seeing anyone right now?" and "Oh, you're single? Let me set you up!"
Let me clarify. Wanting a relationship or being in one is not wrong. It's perfectly normal and if you're in one, congratulations. However, rushing into one because the world said so? Not the best thing to do.
"Relationships aren't something that should be forced. It is something that should happen naturally," comments Shahrin.
Love and intimacy are deeply personal matters. Unfortunately, societal pressure often leads to these rushed relationships that ultimately fail. Truth is, nobody will usually offer help when it comes to dealing with the hurt and trauma from a broken relationship, the very people who had rushed you will turn their backs and scrutinise the failure.
There are many reasons for one to feel like they are not in the right place to be in a relationship. Maybe they do not feel ready to make a commitment, or feel like they want to focus on themselves, their careers or other relationships they already have. Being in a relationship takes effort and time, and it is okay to not be in the mental state to provide that for someone else at a particular time. It is crucial to understand that these reasons, or any others one may have, are all valid.
Involving someone else in your life when there isn't any space makes both parties miserable. You might end up building habits that will take time to break, and build patterns that'll do you harm in the long run. It'll create stress, keep you unhappy and hinder any chances of personal growth because you're stuck trying to handle a relationship with someone you're not quite ready for. Making a promise you weren't prepared to make, makes it a task.
Being in a relationship needs work but it is not a full-time job. It is not a requirement and there is no designated time for it. So, how can you tell when you're ready?
Simple. It's when you decide you're ready.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Syeda Erum Noor is dangerously oblivious and has no sense of time. Send help at email@example.com