Last week I met my friend for a catch up at an incredible Italian restaurant (Pizza Express). Between a nearby couple erotically eating foodstuffs from each other's forks and my friend reading verbatim the WhatsApp thread between her and the guy she's seeing, I found myself – and not for the first time recently – rolling my eyes at romance.
It's not just me. It seems like everyone is over love. What was once the defining mission of a young woman's life is now ranked somewhere in importance between maintain- ing house plants and watching old episodes of Sex And The City. If the greatest thing is to love and be loved in return, then why has it found its way to the bottom of our to-do list like backing up our iPhone or calling our grandmas?
Maybe Tinder has made romance tawdry. We're all too busy being fabulous to waste time on someone dreary and everyone knows it's more important to be happy alone than rely on others, right? Wanting to find love seems at best a bit of a long shot and at worst a bit desperate. But if we press pause on being fiercely brilliant narcissists for an evening and relinquish some control, love might happen. Sure, someone might mess up our Kondoed sock drawer, but they might spark a different kind of joy in us.
That's not to say we should go back to a time when we weren't anybody until we were Mrs Bored Housewife. It's imperative that we focus on ourselves as individuals and that we don't fall into the trap of believing that nobody in the history of social media has had a relationship as good as ours with each moment lovingly documented.
But when I look back on my tiny little life, it's not the fifth season of Gilmore Girls I watched for the seventh time or the harissa sweet potato recipe that matter. It's the audacious Facebook message I sent after meeting someone at a party. It's someone's amazing mouth. It's the feeling a person can see us for the piece of shit that we sometimes are and still think nice things about us (maybe they even love us). Hercules didn't dive into the river of souls because he forgot to do his Headspace meditation app. Wordsworth didn't write ballads about being too tired from work to go on a date, even if the pub is just down the road.
If we press pause on being fiercely brilliant narcissists for an evening and relinquish some control, love might happen.
It's not hard to see how our romance with romance has soured. While modernity has given us relative freedom, choices and better health, logistically it means we're destined for more years of being in and out of love. This means more bad dates, more time spent making a Spotify playlist for swiping on Tinder and more conversations like, 'He doesn't want to sleep with me but he retweets me all the time. I don't know where I stand.' Finding love is arduous. The labour of love is, well, a labour so it's no wonder it takes its toll, and we're all a bit jaded and self-preserving.
And if we're already feeling love sick – as in, sick of love – then scrolling through 100 photos of a couple touching various fountains in a European city is going to make us reach for a bucket. Social media has made love seem both utterly commonplace and just a touch naff; the internet is heaving with humblebraggers shouting from the rooftops that they've found someone to bone for a while. If it's not the girl from school hashtagging #BoyDoneGood and flopping her wrist to display a garish watch, then it's the endless Instagram posts of depressing stodgy meals with glasses of pinot grigio captioned 'Dins with my fave'. The poet Lord Byron once said, 'Who loves, raves,' but that was when love was cool, when the leaders of the Romantic movement were flitting between different sexual partners and scribbling stanzas about their epic emotions. It wasn't a flash mob proposal to LeAnn Rimes' Can't Fight The Moonlight.
For decades, women have rightly been encouraged not to seek their self-worth in a significant other. In this era of female empowerment, most of my friends and I have read Lean In: Women, Work, And The Will To Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. We're doing hot yoga, planning our packed lunches for the week and tidying our room to within an inch of its life. It's all positive action. Self-improvement, emotional or physical, is empowering. It also endorses ideas like restraint, rationality and control over risk and vulnerability. Love is a drug: it makes us feel amazing and then it doesn't. We've learned from our previous relationships that disintegrated into heartbreak. Who wants to invite all that messiness into our carefully curated lives?
Love is a drug: it makes us feel amazing and then it doesn't.
But if we allow it to happen, we might meet someone who takes our balanced pH7 emotions to an acid or alkaline level. Last year at a birthday party I met a man that I instantly knew I liked. He was clever, funny, good-looking and we got together that night. He made mundane life tasks – read- ing the paper, going to the shop – feel absolute bliss, but I was perpetually anxious he'd realise I wasn't as great as he thought I was. I kept imagining us breaking up in an artisan coffeehouse with my mascara running as he gave some vague excuse about how he's messed up. He chose a Caffè Nero in the end, but the reason was just as ambiguous: something about the timing? I don't know. The point is, it didn't work out but the positives still outweighed the negatives. Sometimes it's OK to throw caution to the wind.
Everywhere we look love is being shoved down our throats. It's the dating website adverts on the tube and cou- ples snogging on the escalators, and that's before we even get to work. It's easy to think love is lame. But before we start giving couples the middle finger, maybe we're being too quick to dismiss it. It's true that love isn't an achieve- ment, like becoming a doctor or glazing an ugly ceramic pot we made with our own hands, but it's one of the most incredible things a human can experience. Wanting to be in a relationship to save ourselves the trouble of becoming a self-actualised human being is definitely a bit Eighties. Wanting to be in a relationship to enjoy being supported, celebrated and adored is not a totally insane ambition.
By closing ourselves off, we're avoiding the humiliation of sending a late night emoji to someone who doesn't real- ly care about us, but we're also missing out on all the best stuff. The rush of seeing them walk into a house party. Their intoxicating laugh. Their smell, kiss, body and mind. Gushing over the latest person we're seeing or talking about falling in love can be embarrassing, but let's not forget the way that love – and only love – can make us feel.