group of friends illustration
Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare


Women don’t need to find The One. They need to find The Many

A romantic partner is nice, but making and retaining plenty of other close relationships is essential, says Marisa Bate

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By Marisa Bate on

“I just feel like I’m marrying my best friend,” I overheard an annoying woman in a restaurant gush. What a cliche, yes, but it’s not a sentiment I doubt – or at least not completely. If you’re going to commit to spending a lot of time with someone – possibly the rest of your life, or at least a large chunk of it (which is closer to the stats) – you’re going to have to really like that person. After all, you’ve got to fight with them, laugh with them, worry with them, shoot the breeze with them, you’ve got to live – in the infinite ways it means to be alive – with them.

But I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean exclusively. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean you don’t need other people in your life.

I first started noticing that not everyone thought this way in my late twenties and now I’m in my thirties, couples are dropping off the radar with alarming regularity. In the musical chairs of the London dating scene, many of those who had partnered up then cornered themselves off, as if in a lifelong private dance for two. You’d stop bumping into them at parties; they’d forgotten how to function as individuals in nearly all areas of their life. Their partner became their best friend and their only friend, they became the same person they went to a Tate retrospective with, to the local for a Sunday roast with or to a yoga class on a Tuesday with. They planned their careers, holidays, dinners together. They were each other’s therapist, financial advisor, HR, counsellor, Netflix-binge consultant. Somehow, they suddenly only needed one person in a sea of billions.

It’s not surprising. The unhelpful, even potentially harmful narrative women are fed, even from the dazzling pen of Nora Ephron, is inherently problematic. I grew up hearing it loud and clear: there is just one. The One. And that One is meant to be your Everything.

Well, anybody who has employed the use of a dating app knows that is categorically bollocks – there are just far too many people out there for that notion to be true. But even if we know that Happily Ever After is a Disney trademark, the repercussions of years of that narrative being drilled into our minds are more insidious. In our subconscious pursuit of The One, we expect one person to be everything, and therefore we don’t think we need anyone else.

I don’t want to marry my best friend. I want my best friend at my wedding

Now I’m no expert – Esther Perel is. But I just don’t believe that one person provides us all we need. Millennials have a habit of rejecting singular narratives: one career, one city, one Instagram account. And I think the same should be applied here. A life partner is an ace card, a joy I wouldn’t swap for the world, but there are plenty of other wonderful people in our lives, people who can be and provide different things. It doesn’t subtract from the person you choose to fall asleep next to every night, if anything it surely only adds to it.

So when I heard the woman in the restaurant, I thought about “marrying my best friend” but then I wondered who my best friend would be – the person who I turn to when my boyfriend has said something stupid or even if he hasn’t. That person that embodies the unfailing force of pure friendship – someone who knows every bad outfit decision you’ve ever made and who knew you long before you became somebody’s girlfriend. Someone who you’re not building a life with; someone who is already part of your life.

And I thought about the other “Ones” in my life: the friend who knows my career better than I do, my cheerleader who calls me up with ideas of my next move, who listens to every detail with enthusiasm and investment, with a boundless energy.

I thought about my 50-year-old mentor who gives me perspective I can’t get from anyone else. I think about how I tell her when I’m nervous because she knows precisely what to say to quell my nerves.

I thought about my Mum who will give me more political wit and insight than any broadsheet. Whose interests are broad and wide, and I learn from her like listening to a million podcasts. I think about how she is one of the most important people in my life. Isn’t she The One?

I thought about the friend who loves fake eyelashes and dancing in European cities. I remembered how she brings out a side in me I don’t see enough and that when I’m with her I have the confidence to wear headbands and leather shorts.

I think about the friend who sends me endless emails on the problems of free speech and how he makes my brain hurt. But how no one else bothers to send me essays and how grateful I am.

And I just can’t imagine them not being there. Any of them. And I can’t imagine asking one person to be all of those things – all of those people – all of the time.

So I don’t believe in The One; I believe in The Many. I don’t want to marry my best friend. I want my best friend at my wedding. Society still tells women, in particular, that life's a dance in a Jane Austen novel where you couple up and off, and you sit the next rounds out because you have your partner – but I’m not buying it. We shouldn’t shut ourselves off. My relationships are like connections in the brain – the more there are, the stronger they all get.


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Illustration: Eleanor Shakespeare
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Marisa Bate

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