Are serial romantic relationships necessary for a happy and complete life? Can we rethink the phrase “dying alone”? Amanda Lang investigates.
Image by Mayan Toledano
I deliver the question to my friend one day over casual evening drinks.
“Do you think I’ll die alone?”
She replies immediately. “Yes, but I think it will be your own choice.”
It isn’t the first time I’ve asked her this question. She isn’t the first person I have posited the question to either. In the passenger seat of my father’s car, in my old therapist’s office, I bring it up again and again. I can’t say what the point is of the repetition, no answer seems to satisfy me.
I couldn’t tell you how many sexual partners I’ve had, It’s not really something I keep a score card of. What I can tell you honestly is that I have only had one long term adult relationship in my life, and I am skeptical that I will ever experience something like that again.
This is a belief that I have voiced a couple of times as well. I don’t know what reaction I am expecting each time I do, but the response to this thought is more often than not, “Oh, don’t worry, you will again one day!”
Who said that I wanted to?
At face value, the question of “dying alone” seems quite morbid, and the impulse to offer words of comfort in response is natural. But, what if we rephrase it? Take out the words associated with death and loneliness, two things that no one (including myself) exactly aspires to. What if the question is, “can I live a full, happy life without any romantic relationships?”
My close friend Rosy*, who recently got engaged to her boyfriend of two years, believes that it depends on your love language.“I think romantic relationships are necessary for those who prioritize commitment, stability, and words of admiration. If that’s not you then no, I don’t think it’s necessary.”
The thing is though, I can’t think of anything less stable than romance.
I have had exes who have smashed all my picture frames call me up the next day to profess their love for me. When you are able to say that what you do is done in the name of romance, you are willing to let a lot slip by. Behavior that would otherwise be entirely unacceptable makes sense. And didn’t someone once say love means never having to say you’re sorry? Fuck whoever made that mantra a thing.
My friend Fallon*, a former sex worker and film student, says she thinks that “romance can create complications for our expectations in relationships. Romance has been misrepresented as something that is only possible between intimate partners of a monogamous understanding, but romance is actually defined as ‘mystery or excitement associated with love’.”
My own image of an ideal romance may be more Tim Burton than Walt Disney, but a gothic fantasy is still a fantasy, and more complicated in practice than it appears onscreen. However, if I apply a different definition of romance to my relationships—one which takes mystery and excitement as its foundation— then is it possible that all of the disappointment, messiness, and frustration is simply part and parcel of being in a relationship? And would a more healthy version of romance be found somewhere outside of the monogamous partnership we have come to expect?
If we take this different definition of romance, then “mystery and excitement” can be found through all different sorts of relationships, so long as love is essential. And sexual attraction need not be a part of it.Those who identify as asexual, for example, may feel romantic and aesthetic attraction to others despite not experiencing any sexual attraction.
Through a quick google search I am able to find that “romantic love” is actually characterized by relationships that contribute to a deepened relational connection. This is not so different than “platonic love”, which is defined as a “deep, non-sexual connection with another person.”
Could romance be found in friendship? This is dangerous territory certainly, as media outlets constantly attempt to erase or minimize homosexual romance through the lense of “gal pals” or “best friends”. There is also the added consideration that, at least among my friend group, we often do engage in sexual acts amongst ourselves—everything from kissing to head and then we wake up the next day, watch some Adventure Time, and move on with our lives.
Certainly, I feel that there is a romantic aspect to friendship. I love all of my friends deeply, in a more pure and simple way than I have ever loved a significant other. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to constantly ask myself when the beginning of the end is coming. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I have to constantly be my best self for them; I can be flawed, I can fuck up, and they won’t look at me any differently.
When you begin to view romance as more than a sexual relationship between two people, you realize romance can be found anywhere. There is mystery and excitement every morning when you wake up, when you visit a new place, when you listen to a new song. And when you take all of that into consideration, it is nearly impossible to die alone. Romance is inevitable, it’s in everything.