Is it time to stop believing in The One?
This week, resident sexpert Olivia Petter puts one of the oldest romantic tropes of them all firmly to bed
Friday 17 February 2023 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Arnaud Aubry
Of all the things to bother Carrie Bradshaw, there is one that stands out.
Faced with her friend Charlotte York’s assertion that ‘Everyone knows you only get two great loves in your life’ (a quote from a woman’s magazine she recently read), Carrie’s response is defiant: ‘I refuse to define love in those limited terms,’ our Sex And The City heroine replies. By this point in the series, Carrie is single after two serious relationships – with Big and Aidan Shaw. ‘Oh, come on, Carrie. Aidan and Big!’ Charlotte insists. ‘One, two. And according to you, I’m done!’ Carrie resolves. ‘It’s over for me,’ she adds. ‘Here lies Carrie. She had two loves and lots of shoes.’
There are arguably worse ways to go, particularly if your shoe collection is anything like Carrie’s. But that interaction was the first thing I thought of when I saw your question. Because even though Charlotte wasn’t talking about The One, per se, the astute magazine article she has read perpetuates the same theory: that we have a finite number of great loves in our life.
It’s a strange concept – one that people will subscribe to if it’s convenient for them, as it is for Charlotte, who has been married once when this exchange takes place and therefore still has room for her second great love. Good for her. But for the Carries of the world, what then? You’ve had one or two loves and now you must resign yourself to a life of shoes or cats – or both.
Again, if I’m being honest, this doesn’t sound too bad. However, it’s hardly a healthy, or optimistic, approach to relationships. Nonetheless, it’s one of those romantic ideologies that has been drilled into us from an early age – and that means it’s hard to shake.
Think about how many times you’ve heard people reference The One in popular culture. It’s a prevailing feature in almost every romcom or TV series about relationships, even if it’s given a different moniker. Like in Grey’s Anatomy, when it’s your ‘person’. Or in Friends, when it’s ‘your lobster’. Even in Sex And The City, despite Charlotte’s firm thesis, Mr Big is presented as Carrie’s ‘one’.
This brings me to another quote from the show – sorry, not sorry. Fans may recall how the first break-up between Carrie and Big came about because he couldn’t tell her she was The One. When they finally reconcile in the series finale in Paris, what does Big tell her? ‘You’re The One, Carrie.’ It’s all she’s ever wanted to hear and it’s a very neat bow to tie at the end of a TV show. But is it anything more than that?
I can see why the idea of The One could be comforting to some. If one relationship failed, for example, it might provide reassurance that your one person-slash-lobster is still out there. Equally, if you’ve never had a relationship before, it can give you something hopeful to cling onto. It taps into other archaic ideas, too, like fate; the theory being that we are destined to be with one person for the rest of our lives.
The reality is that life often doesn’t go to plan, particularly where relationships are concerned. You might have one, two, three or even four great loves, maybe more. And they could all be equally seismic.
Sure, there might well be one person out there who is perfect for you. Perhaps you’re married to them. It makes a lot of sense to believe in The One when you’ve already said ‘I do’ in front of all of your friends and family. But that’s just one person’s path. It doesn’t have to be yours or mine.
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Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate