We are constantly bombarded by the idea that a romantic relationship is the key to happiness. Our culture surrounds us with messages that equate a fulfilling life to being in a couple. In movies, the phrase “happy ending” is synonymous with two people deciding to spend their lives together. Almost every TV show has a plotline where a romantic relationship unfolds and ends up being a central part of the story. Companies market products that “help people find love.” Our culture sends us the message that we can not be whole without a significant other, and then profit off people trying to fill the void.
Even the U.S. legal system is set up to benefit married people, perpetuating and advocating for coupledom. Married couples gain many tax advantages that no other class of people do. Further, there are laws that support a spouse in the event of their partner’s passing. None of this is to say that legal recognition of the importance of interpersonal relationships is inherently wrong, but the erasure of friendship is problematic. Because friendship is not awarded legal protection, the law effectively says that friendships are less valuable than romantic relationships. When the government benefits and favors their citizens having a romantic partner, the culture naturally perpetuates this belief.
This belief has led to a society that puts romantic relationships above all else. People sacrifice careers, opportunities for travel and adventure and meaningful friendships just to make a relationship work. And why wouldn’t they? They are immersed in a culture that tells them to seek romance above all else, and subject to a government that will economically reward them for it.
Our culture perpetuates the idea that a romantic relationship comes first, then family, then career and friends last. Friends always take the backseat in our lives. For some, this order makes sense and gives them a fulfilled life. But for most this won’t be the case, and research and statistics support that.
A study published in Personal Relationships found that having supportive friendships was a stronger predictor of health, happiness and well-being than having strong family connections. The University of California, Berkeley’s science-based wellness magazine, Greater Good Magazine, interviewed science journalist Lydia Denworth where she discussed how good friendships help us find meaning and purpose in our lives, stay physically healthy and can even help us live longer. Prioritizing friendships is just as important to our health as exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet. It helps us support a happy and healthy life.
Statistically speaking, friends remain a part of our lives longer than romantic partners. In the United States, 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, according to the American Psychological Association. Even if a romantic relationship goes the distance, it is very likely that you will have known your closest friends longer. It makes more sense to prioritize the things that are statistically more likely to give you lasting support, happiness and health.
Romantic relationships are an important part of the human experience. They have wonderful benefits and can provide a lot of happiness. But if your friends were there for you before your romantic partner, chances are they’ll be there afterward. So, if you are thinking about ditching your friends again for your current partner, maybe think about how cultivating your closest friendships will benefit you in the long run.