As a young girl, the normality of growing up, getting married and having two children was installed into my mind. I would watch the television beady eyed and completely besotted as the Disney princess found her Prince Charming and rode off into the sunset. However, now in my early 20’s, it has occurred to me that throughout the fairy-tales and story books, every ending was the same; the Princess would find her Prince and they would live ‘happily-ever after’.
But where are the fairy-tales held that present the Prince/Princess on their own? We were never exposed to the novelty of Cinderella moaning at Prince Charming for leaving his dirty boxers on the bathroom floor or asking who the girl is that liked two of his Instagram pictures in the last week. This observation leads to the question, are we institutionalised from a young age to believe there are no happy endings without relationships? If this is the case, why do these relationships have to appear perfect to everyone else?
Most would agree that sitting in a room full of couples is daunting enough, but why has it reached the level whereby a miserable tweet about being alone with the hashtag ‘single life’ is hitting our social media pages every Friday night. Even more so, God forbid having to tell someone who is in a relationship that no, you don’t have a partner and insisting that yes, you can be happy without one.
A survey released in early 2018 by ‘e-harmony’ revealed that almost a quarter of UK couples stay in unhappy relationships each year based on the fear of being single, with common causes for unhappiness being continuous arguments and lack of understanding between couples. But why is it like this? Are we captivated with appearing to have a perfect life to our peers? Do we obsess over cute Instagram posts of weekends away when in fact you spent three days arguing over what to have for dinner? Or can we just put it down to a fear being alone? We went on a mission to discover why…
We spoke to Kent relationship therapist Sandra Wheatley to find out her opinion on the reasons why more people are scared to move on:
Do you agree that more people are staying unhappy together than being happily single?
”Yes definitely, although I don’t think its a case of more couples staying together, I think it has always been like this. There are a lot of reasons why couples would choose to stay together based on complacency, comfortability and a general lack of independence. The findings from the e-harmony survey aren’t surprising to me at all, I have spoken to many couples over the last 25 years that I’ve been in the field and I have seen many who believe they can make it work together, ignoring that in the end, it’s probably easier to just say enough is enough, move on and be happier.
Although, it cannot be ignored that people still are staying together for too long, it has been made more socially-acceptable in the recent years to be single, there was a time where if things were not working in a relationship, you would have no choice but to stay together. If we look at it from the perspective, things have moved on drastically. ”
Why do you believe that people stay in unhappy relationships?
”There are a number of reasons why this is happening, I think it is unfair to suggest that it is just the women who stay in these relationships as well, we live in a modern society where heterosexual relationships aren’t the only relationship type out there. Contextually speaking, yes, women have been ‘pre-programmed’ into feeling reliant on men, however feminist movements have essentially changed this way of thought.
From the results of e-harmony’s study though, it is clear that this is happening and I think it really narrows down to complacency and dependency, As human beings we become reliant on one another, we form a life around that one person and when it is time to move on it is scary so we tend to hold onto our partners for longer than needed as a form of comfortability. I believe there is also a sense of embarrassment attached to being single, people strive to look like the ‘power couple’ on social media and when it comes down to splitting up, it can be seen as embarrassing based on this previous facade.”
Why are people consumed in appearing to have a perfect relationship?
”I don’t really know the exact reasons why, I think social media running lives like it has in recent years really has an affect. People are infatuated with followers, likes and perfection, Instagram is probably the worst of them all, it’s a fake world that allows people to show what they want people to see and hide all the ugly truths behind it. From past experience, many couples compare themselves to others, I have so many people come in to speak to me about their own relationships and spend half the time talking about their friends.
It’s as if though we always have to get ‘one-up’ on each other and if our relationships aren’t as good/strong as others then it becomes a problem. In reality though, no-ones relationship is perfect, we all suffer problems and have arguments about silly things. The stigma attached to being single is in my opinion is silly and if any one feels unhappy in their relationship to the point where it is unfix-able, they need to have the courage to move on, it isn’t embarrassing to have problems and people are more than capable of being alone.”
Do you have any advice for people who want to move on but feel like they can’t?
”I think my advice would be just to stop comparing your relationship to other people, I think it works both ways; people stay in relationships to seem perfect towards others, but they also pick at their relationships based on comparing relationships between friends. The person needs to establish whether they are generally unhappy or whether they have got into the habit of the latter. If that is the case and they have realised that the relationship is beyond repair, then they need to have the courage to walk away from it. I reiterate what I said previously, there is no shame in being single and most of the time, people are better off for letting go.”
So there you have it, it is probably the rise in the influence of social media that has resulted in the desire for perfection in relationships and a stigma attached to being alone.
Lifestyle blogger Beth Austin, London, concludes ‘Especially in the world of blogging, with social media comes the need to look desirable at all times, throughout my own blog I write about the ‘Taboo’ topics that people don’t really want to talk about. I felt it was important to do this in order to make people feel more ‘normal’, life isn’t a walk in the park and neither are relationships, people shouldn’t feel odd for having ordinary problems.”