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Down with love

Society
Child-size wedding dresses

Child-size wedding dresses for sale. © Kate Smurthwaite

Isn’t it about time someone said it? Love is a dangerous concept.

And no, I’m not about to start listing the character flaws of some rogue I thought I could trust but who turned out to be more interested in his job, online pornography or my sister. On the contrary: the other half of my unconventional relationship is making me tea while I write this article in the middle of my busiest time of year at the Edinburgh Fringe. Trouble in paradise, then?

The notion of romantic, monogamous, heterosexual love as the solution to life, the universe and everything is marketed to us, especially us women, from birth in the most aggressive way. I recently saw princess wedding dresses in age 2-3 size at The Disney Store in Los Angeles. When the guy and the girl get together, it is the end of the movie. At best after that we see a quick montage of them swinging an adorable toddler through a meadow while the credits roll.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to want that or, indeed, to have it. The issue is that, culturally, this model is more or less accepted without question as being ‘ideal’.

In recent years, the campaign for gay and lesbian marriage has reaped great successes and, of course, if straight people have it, so should the LGBT community. But in many cases we may be fighting for their right to be just as miserable as the rest of us. We need to question the pervading cult of monogamy, not just open it up to new groups.

As if we needed proof that it doesn’t work for everyone, look at the recent hacking scandal involving dating site Ashley Madison. Hackers leaked customer information from the site, which is aimed exclusively at married people who want to have affairs and has a reported 37 million users. If that many people are having affairs, you can pretty safely assume there are millions more who want to but are compromising their own happiness because they’re still hanging on to the Disney dream.

Not that I’m advocating clandestine cheating or lying to people. I think it’s infinitely preferable to be honest about the lifestyle you want to lead. I can’t help wondering how many of the Ashley Madison affair-seekers have stumbled across their own husband or wife among their potential matches!

Sadly, the relentless love-and-marriage hegemony makes it hard to discuss. We’re all expected to play along with the happily-ever-after. Admitting your relationship is making you miserable is as socially unacceptable as telling a friend you think they should consider leaving their partner.

We also need to question the notion that romantic relationships are the only true source of happiness. We women are warned about the perils of focusing on our careers or other interests to the detriment of relationships. But relationships can be infuriating (thanks, James, put it on the side, I’ll drink it in a minute) and jobs, campaigning work and hobbies can be fulfilling.

I think with great sadness of an older woman who bewailed to me her joyless relationship but added that she couldn’t leave him because she’d ‘never find anyone else’. Is it really so very outrageous to want to scream: ‘So what?! Forget “finding someone else” and find all the people you want to spend time with, sexually or otherwise. The world is vast and full of interesting people and glorious opportunities for excitement and joy. Go on, I dare you: leave him...’

Kate Smurthwaite is a comedian and activist. katesmurthwaite.co.uk. @Cruella1