Is successful romantic love built on friendship (and loving ourselves)?

If, like me, you’ve fallen under the spell of Bridgerton’s Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, during the latest lockdown, then I imagine one particular scene had you swooning like a Regency debutante.

In this scene, Simon stands before Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III, and explains why he wishes permission to marry Daphne Bridgerton as soon as possible. He says:

“The young lady flatters me, but it was not love at first sight for either of us. There was attraction, certainly, at least on my part. But Miss Bridgerton thought me presumptuous, arrogant, insincere. All fair, really. And I thought her a prim young lady barely out of leading strings. Not to mention the sister of my best friend, and so romance was entirely out of the question for both of us. But in so removing it, we found something far greater. We found friendship. 

You see, Miss Bridgerton and I have been fooling all of Mayfair for quite some time. We have fooled them into thinking we are courting… when really, all along, we simply enjoyed each other’s company so much we could not stay away from one another. I have never been a man that much enjoyed flirting, or chatting, or, indeed, talking at all. But with Daphne… Miss Bridgerton… conversation has always been easy. Her laughter brings me joy. 

To meet a beautiful woman is one thing, but to meet your best friend in the most beautiful of women is something entirely apart. And it is with my sincerest apologies, I must say it took the Prince coming along for me to realise I did not want Miss Bridgerton to only be my friend, I wanted her to be my wife. I want her to be my wife. And so I plead with you… not to make us wait.”

Visibly moved, Queen Charlotte replies, “You are wise… or perhaps unusually lucky to understand friendship to be the best possible foundation that a marriage can have.”

Can love last without friendship?

This scene struck a powerful chord with me, as it did many people.

Because doesn’t any successful relationship really need friendship at its foundation? 

In my experience, friendship is what binds couples together, far more so than physical attraction in the long run. It’s friendship that ensures that things don’t fall apart the first time a couple hits a bump in the road – or any of bumps and challenges that come over the years.

I also believe that it’s this foundation of friendship that enables us to be ourselves in a relationship. When someone likes us for who we are – and, even more importantly, we like ourselves for who we are too – it means that there can be a deep and lasting connection.

But is this something we have lost sight of in our society? 

With Valentine’s Day upon us yet again, I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, not least because Valentine’s Day seems such a cynically commercial entity these days!

Are we looking at the wrong models for love?

I was talking to a friend just this morning who mentioned how exhausted she is with trying to find love in today’s world. She’s signed up to a number of dating apps but is feeling completely deflated by the number of explicit ‘dick pics’ she’s bombarded with on a daily basis (why do people think it’s OK to do this?!) and how little any of the people who’ve contacted her seem interested in actually getting to know her.

In a dating world where people connect on the strength of a swipe on their picture, are we forgetting about friendship or any kind of substance?

Where are our positive models for loving relationships?

A couple of years ago now, I drafted a blog about Love Island but I never hit ‘publish’. 

At the time, I was asking why people love the programme so much.

On the surface, you could argue that we all just enjoy seeing young, attractive people getting in on - and then messing it up. 

Maybe it makes us feel superior or reassured that even people who look like they’ve got it all together find finding love as hard as the rest of us.

Personally, I like to think there’s more to it than that.

Like Big Brother before it, the programme gives us a voyeur’s view into human behaviour. 

Finding love, in particular, is a daunting experience. 

In early adulthood, how we view love often comes from what we’ve witnessed between our parents or other key care givers, as well as our friends. Sometimes this can be good, but sometimes it can be disastrous.

These experiences become our own template for love.

But even with a template to guide us, how do we find what we’re looking for?

  • What makes some relationships last while others quickly fall apart? 
  • What is chemistry?
  • Do soul mates exist?
  • How do you find the one? (Is there even a one for everyone or maybe lots of ‘ones’?)
  • What if someone doesn’t like you as much as you like them?
  • Could watching other people give us a road map for our own relationships?

Love Island arguably gives us an overview of how humans meet, mate, love or leave. The ever-present gaze of surveillance cameras and potential rivals just ensure that this overview plays out at breakneck speed.

Usually, relationships form without a constant audience. The most intimate, vulnerable moments – emotional as well as physical – are experienced in private. 

We never get to view those moments in other people’s lives. 

We might get the broad brush strokes of who asked who out and who did what but only from the outside.

With programmes like Love Island (and I’d also put First Dates and even Naked Attraction in the same category), the cameras put us right at the heart of the action.

But what do these programmes really tell us about successful human relationships or the true essence of finding love?

An initial attraction or spark is important, of course, but the reality is that there has to be some sort of common ground beyond physical beauty. 

Relationships are a two-way street, whether or not they’re romantic. 

For a connection to endure between two people, you have to be mutually interested in each other and feel heard. When we make ourselves vulnerable to another person, we want to know that they will listen to us.

Relationships take time to grow beyond the initial spark. 

Maybe that’s the draw of Simon’s speech in Bridgerton and why the programme is currently the most watched original Netflix series to date?

Secure in my own skin

Thankfully, I am secure enough in my own skin and with myself as a person to trust that, as and when love does happen for me, it will have friendship at its heart and come from a place of wholeness within myself.

These days, I’m all about self-love and, by that, I mean doing things that nurture my own physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

I don’t need a relationship to be happy but I would cherish the deep connection of romantic love if it comes my way. 

More than ever, I’m determined to strive for a relationship founded on mutual interest, not relief for a ‘swipe right’ on Tinder or Plenty of Fish. I’m willing to invest my time in building a friendship and exploring a connection that comes naturally and feels empowering.

But you won’t find me standing still waiting for it.

I am going to continue growing, learning and taking ownership of my own life so that when I do find that someone special, I can give love to them because I’ve filled myself with love first.

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