A few weeks ago I started a screen acting course at NIDA to try and refine my (yes, negligible) acting skills and have since spent my Monday evenings running rampant around a hall with a group of equally giddy 20 and 30-somethings learning components of acting and also being loudly self-deprecating. Waking up the morning after these classes feels roughly equivalent to waking up after being staggeringly drunk in the sense that I roll over in bed, blink awake and silently rue the public humiliation that exposed myself to the night before whilst caught up in the fervour. Drama is like binge-drinking to me.
I'm explaining this to give some semblance of context as to why, two weeks ago, I was watching a middle-aged man seated neatly in front of a tripod and Handycam elucidating to an audience of fifteen people his ultimate concepts of happiness and how they hinged fundamentally on finding The One. The One: capitalised, weighted like a tonne of bricks in conversation, and utterly meaningless in all practicality. I've defined my opposition to this entire construct in the past – I believe absolutely that there is no One, and to think of love as such undermines all of the honest-to-God hard work that is regularly required of adult relationships.
However, what struck me most profoundly as this man was talking was not the fact that he believed so ardently in this woman's supposed existence but rather the issue that he did not perceive his life as whole in any way for lack of finding her. He needed her so fucking badly and seemed so resoundingly dysfunctional because he was perpetually, passively waiting.
This guy was sitting in the universe's bus-stop feeling increasingly vexed that the 370 hadn't turned up yet because he read the goddam timetable and it-should-have-been-here-six-fucking-years-ago.
I could only reflect on how strange it must feel to believe you're missing such an intrinsic part of your life and how I had entirely believed in the same sentiments when I was younger. And that it was an extremely uncomfortable experience for me to wake up one day and realise that I do not need my partner in any constitutional sense. To clarify, I have been with my partner approaching three years now and I love him more than any other human I have ever met – I respect him, I support him, I have fun with him and I plan on remaining with him for the foreseeable future but if I really have to stop and consider whether I need him? The answer is absolutely bloody not.
And I don't necessarily perceive that as such a disastrous idea.
It was a complicated thing to realise at first, and I think that's largely due to the fact that we are so saturated with constructs of love based on utter dependency from pop culture depictions of romance that we come to think of it as a defining pillar. All of the greatest 90s romances were so fatalistic and bound in the reparation of one by the other, and some of the greatest historical romances are based on this idea as well – Desdemona said she was a "blank sheet" waiting for Othello to write his name upon her (to which my feminist year 10 English teacher tutted, "What a twat"). And I was always so enamoured with Aristophanes' speech in Plato's symposium defining humans essentially as useless free-floating elements without the connection of romantic love as a soppy idealistic sixteen year-old.
I was so terrified when I came to the realisation that I could survive happily without my partner that at first I was conflicted about even remaining with him – it was an odd and scary proposition that happiness – true, fun, socially confident, sometimes drunk, and bashful happiness – existed independently of him that I questioned the legitimacy of us even being together. The same conversation arose with a colleague at work the other day, with her boyfriend returning from a year overseas she had discovered, disconcertingly, that her life felt whole without him on the same continent and perhaps this signified the inevitable collapse of their two-year relationship. It seems so ridiculous to express but it is genuinely worrying for a moment – as though there's a finite amount of room in a life, as though there's a monthly capped expenditure on joy. I certainly love spending time with my partner more than anybody else but that's not to say that I'm not interested and enamoured with other people as well, I value all of my friendships with romantic amounts of commitment. We've been taught to expect need as a whole-hearted, deep-seated root of partnership but I don't think that it's necessarily true or healthy to define our lives in that manner.
Anyway, what the fuck does need even mean in love? Certainly I need my partner for some things, like the ability to cook eggs that don't inexplicably taste like urine, which I never seem to have quite perfected, I need him for emotional support sometimes certainly, as well as reading the GPS directions on my phone in the car but for the most part, I kind of just like having him there. I was happy before him, I am happy with him and I would theoretically be happy without him. Things seem to get a lot easier when you come to conceive of love simply as two individuals with separate pursuits and lives caring deeply for each other and just enjoying one another's company.
And I feel genuinely worried still for the man in my acting class who perceives it otherwise because it must be so painful to continue seeing yourself in that way, as a single half aimlessly floating through life; it must feel really lonely, and I feel horrible that he can't seem to value himself as a whole, lovely human being with a full life and some great on-screen enunciation pursuing an – admittedly farfetched – creative dream.