Forget romance, there's only one relationship in life that counts

Years ago, I made friends with a couple who had recently fallen in love. It was glorious to be in their orbit, watching as their relationship blossomed into a serious commitment. I recall the night we celebrated their engagement, watching this golden couple swing each other on the dance floor, laughing while emitting a glow that could light a city grid.

As happy as I was for them – deliriously so – in that moment I could not ignore a sudden heaviness of heart. That damn pang was back, my old enemy that creeps up from my dark side, whispering, "Why not me?"

It had been a long time between visits from the pang. In the past, it was a constant companion as I navigated life with naive notions of love, romance and fate. I had grown up believing a relationship should complete me and, as such, allowed romantic rush to eclipse good sense telling me otherwise. As a result, I often felt more lost than found as part of a couple.

Yet, as each of my romances ended, the pang would return, menacing me with messages that I was not good enough, that I didn't deserve love, that I was a loser. It was not so much "Why not me?", but "Why would it be?"

Then, as I matured, I took a closer look at those whom I perceived had it all. You know, the ones who tick all the boxes, who look and act the romance-novel parts. And when I dared to probe under the shiny surfaces, I saw that no honest couple had what I'd assumed they had: the perfect relationship, the easy love, the lucky life.

Nope, what I saw was a lot of unhappiness: relationships gone stale; sex lives past tense; cheating, longing and loneliness. Yes, some couples were both blissed and blessed, inspiringly so. But many conceded that their relationships were mediocre at best, miserable at worst; hardly the happily-ever-after they presumed.

What I did hear from a lot of marrieds/couples was that my commitment-wary lifestyle was something to be cherished; my choices enviable; my time alone a gift.

What's more, I grew to see my life in a similar way, to understand I actively chose this path, that I shunned bad relationships and liked my life too much to settle. I realised I am the cake and relationships just the icing.

Yet that damn pang still lurked in the shadows of my psyche, ready to pounce, put my good sense in a headlock and pound away with selfpity. I now realise the pang only emerges when I make the mistake of comparing myself to others.

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The reason I'm sharing this is because in the past couple of weeks, I have watched that aforementioned golden couple endure one of the ugliest break-ups I have seen. Accusations have been flung, tears shed and truths revealed.

I now know that what I saw that night on the dance floor was a romantic illusion. When the bubble burst, the fall back to earth was brutal for them both.

Watching their break-up – and understanding what preceded it – has banished any trace of that damn pang from my psyche, hopefully for good. I am once again aware that to project perfection is to do reality an injustice.

Today, the pang's perpetual question, "Why not me?" is easily answered. It's because I'm happy in my own company, proud of my independence, realistic about romance, yet still open to love should my equal come along. Because if there is an adage I live by, it is to be careful what you wish for, because it might just come true. Oh, and I've discovered that what I don't have won't make me happy; what I do already does.

I embrace the understanding there is only one relationship that really counts in life long-term and that is the one we have with ourselves. And mine is a healthy one. Not golden maybe, but rosy all the same, and that's enough for me. Because as my friends' nasty split has proven once again, shine and sparkle can blind the best of us.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale April 28.

This article Forget romance, there's only one relationship in life that counts was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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