Julie Burchill

Romance isn't a religion. Stop looking for The One and join The Queue

When people don't believe in God, it seems, one of the things they believe in is Mills and Boon

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

23 August 2014

9:00 AM

Pity the modern starlet. Be she steaming-hot pop-tart or reality-show show-off, her range of emotional experiences will, thanks mostly to the gentlemen of the press, be strictly limited. She will have ‘lonely hells’ (often but not always linked to ‘drug hells’), ‘sex romps’ (sometimes ‘three-in-a-bed’) and watch her life ‘spiralling out of control’. She will then be ‘hurting’ and probably have a ‘public meltdown’, after which she will be certain to make ‘time for me’ and hopefully end up in ‘a good place’.

But throughout this, come rain or shine — come probiotic yoghurt endorsement or cover of OK! magazine — the backbeat of her life will repeat the same monotonous note: The One, The One, The One … and the ceaseless cycle of searching for and celebrating the same. It’s what we used to call ‘serial monogamy’, held a desperate beat too long and turned into a belief system. The phrase has now reached such critical mass that a current TV advertisement plays with what our expectations of what The One must be; a gooey girl’s voice informs us that Kate has found The One, and that they’ve been on holiday to Mexico together, thereby making her friends jealous. In a stroke of kinky and/or surreal logic, The One is finally revealed to be … a satchel? Lady Bracknell might not approve, but Dorothy Parker might conclude that Kate was rather clever to put her eggs in one basket rather than one bastard.

Definitions in the Urban Dictionary of The One include ‘The person you know you’re going to love forever’, ‘Absolutely, positively the only person on earth you are meant to be with; soul mate and best friend’ and ‘the person you spend your whole life looking for’. And also, with the bracing effect of a particularly piquant pepper spray in a smug mug, ‘To like him/her over all the rest. Could pertain to being the one for life … or the one for the moment.’ For the moment! You can practically hear the outraged braying of the One-botherers ring out across Christendom. Though for me, this is a perfect summing up of romantic love at its best.


But when did The One become such a be-all, end-all and know-all of female aspiration? I believe that (unlike body-con dresses and seeing knuckle-dragging footballers as some sort of sexual El Dorado) this is one contemporary tic which can’t be blamed on reality TV totty, though they may pursue this particular nugget of fool’s gold most noisily and publicly. No, the rotten roots of the current craze for seeing romantic relationships as a cross between a padded cell and a three-legged race began a long time ago.

Increasingly these days, surveying the soft parade of modern life, I think of the old G.K. Chesterton chestnut: ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.’ This seems particularly true of romantic love — we expect it to fill the hollow places (and not just the obvious ones) where previously we might have welcomed a deity. Until comparatively recently, there were ‘three of us’ to quote Princess Diana, in every marriage; it was a sacrament which the Almighty witnessed and a promise made to Him as much as to the spouse, in the knowledge that passion lasts a few years but The Passion never dies.

It might have seemed all fun, fine and dandy deconsecrating and deconstructing marriage, getting spliced on theme park rides and underwater, but removing the religious (I hate the word ‘spiritual’; it denotes a sad-sack who doesn’t inhale and drinks decaf) element from marriage has made it far more claustrophobic than it was before, rendering it something of a psychotic seesaw. Let me stress that this is not some pathetic paean to the entirely fictional Good Old Days. I am a creature of — and one in love with — the modern world; as I always says, ‘If the past was so great, how come it’s history?’ Though I am a believer, some of my best friends are hardcore atheists, and anyone with a brain understands that a society with too little religion is far more likely to be free, healthy and yes, righteous than one with too much.

But I do think that the removal of the idea of the Almighty from society in general — and romantic relationships in particular — has left people more likely to seek superhuman solace from mere mortals — The One! — and be bitterly disappointed when they inevitably find them to be less than perfect. Liz Jones, one of the most relationship-obsessed yet man-hating of our newspaper columnists, goes so far as to capitalise the words He and Him when complaining about her current pash — not Adonai, but a middle-aged baker with a grey ponytail going under the unfortunate name of D(avid) Scrace. In place of proper feminism, there is a real rage at men from women who would in no way consider themselves militant, a real anger that men can’t be everything — provider, co-parent, best mate, sex beast — and fix everything. And the fetishisation of The One adds to this claustrophobic climate of discontent in modern marriage.

I would be very upset indeed if my husband — who I have been with for nearly 20 years and adore — and I broke up. But do I think that we would each be alone for ever, mooing in the wilderness, because we’d lost The One? Not on your nelly! If you believe that someone has so many fine qualities that you love them, you surely believe they’d easily find loads of other people who saw the same in them. (And as for oneself, of course, this goes without saying.) Peter Ustinov brilliantly said of friends that they are ‘not necessarily the people you like best, they are merely the people who get there first’. The same is true of lovers; it’s more like ‘The Queue’ than the ‘The One’. Do not seek the meaning of life in the dear, fallible creature lying next to you; instead, look upwards.

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  • White Wednesday

    Maths can help here.

    How many eligible marriage partners does one actually meet in one’s life before needing to reproduce? 2,000 tops? Yet there are millions more you could meet if you had the time.

    Ergo, there could be thousands/armies of ‘Ones’ out there. And that’s just considering this country.

    • girondas2

      You get a bad reputation if you try them all out.
      Not fair, but there you go.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Logic? We can`t allow that when selling a dream.

  • Kitty MLB

    I actually met my chap at the tender age of 20 whilst a student and studying the
    lives and loves of the ancient world, competing with Ovid, Plato and Adonis can be a
    bit much for most men. But I caught him in my net and that was that.
    But it doesn’t fill a gap.. you have to have your own happiness within yourself,.
    but if he were to run off with the little goddess down the hill, I’d hope he’d soon be sorry and start wandering the moors wailing like some Bronte character .
    I’m not too sure that girls now worry too much about finding ‘ the one’ not in their twenties anyway, they are usually studying or whatever. But there is still that knight in shining armour syndrome.. everyone looking for their Sir Lancelot or the female version for a man. Yet as Princess Diana realised they don’t often pop along and she
    shouldn’t have married Charles but she was a foolish woman.
    Oh and I cannot stand Liz Jones she’s so needy and miserable and forever moaning about the latest man …so therefore avoid her pointless articles..
    I could write better ones myself.

    • Gwangi

      OMG Princess Diana snared herself a prince despite being thick as a brick. She wanted that, and in a better age she would have done her duty and stuck with it, instead of slapping around with Asian millionaires.

      • saffrin

        She wasn’t doing it for fun, she did it to humiliate the royal family after she realised she was nothing but breeding fodder.
        Which it did and why she is now dead.
        I actually cried in the local superstore when they had a one minute silence. I would have been about forty seven at the time.
        Truly gutted.

        • Sanctimony

          Better than being thrown out of the local pub for laughing at all the hype and mass hysteria on the pub’s TV…

        • Jackthesmilingblack

          Check the movie “Unlawful Killing”. Illegal to show in Britain naturally, that bastion of free speech. The part about the driver`s blood sample being switched with that of a suicide rings true.

      • Sanctimony

        The Asian millionaires were merely the hors d’oeuvres…

    • Sanctimony

      You should dear Kitty… Marjorie Proops springs to mind…

      • Kitty MLB

        Who is Marjorie Proops? Before my time clearly.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      ” studying the lives and loves of the ancient world, competing with Ovid, Plato and Adonis”
      Glad to know you weren’t wasting your time and intellect.

  • tjamesjones

    nice to have an article for the ladies

    • Kitty MLB

      Well three men have already posted.There was an article about nice girls last that was certainly for men. But thank you for your politeness.

      • tjamesjones

        you’re welcome. and I did print it out to read on the train (old school), because I do like julie b.

  • davidshort10

    Why is this in the Spectator and not the Daily Mail?

    • justejudexultionis

      Because the members of the London media class are all in bed together.

  • Gwangi

    I agree absolutely. The silly concept of ‘The One’ and the constant bleating and nattering about it in the media is due to the feminisation of our society; this often takes the form of the infantilisation of the media output, which seems written by and aimed at 12 year old girls with pink mobile phones and self-obsession.

    The situation was far better 50 years ago when people got married as a deal to have kids, especially if you got your girl up the duff (a la John Lennon). Divorce was rare and the man provided for the mother and child. Now the state does that, so feminisation has ironically allowed men to become as infantilised and irresponsible and selfish as they want to be.

    I assure you that Asians in general do not believe in the silly Western concept of romantic love and ‘The One’. More like ‘The doctor’ with them – marry the best status person you can. Have kids. Don’t split but make your business partnership (AKA Asian marriage) work with or without love, but just with acceptance and tolerance.

    • StephanieJCW

      I’m not provided for by the state or a man. Imagine that.

      Having a business partnership (aka Asian Marriage) sounds utterly horrendous. And the sex life would be non existant.

      • Gwangi

        Yep, but a huge number of women are. Not in my family though.
        However, you’d be surprised how many women do 1) live off a man’s money; 2) leave all decisions to men. I found this out when working for a electricity company when talking to many people of the sort I seldom associate with (e.g. uneducated, lower social class etc)
        These women often inherit well – most women who own houses have them because of dead men huh!
        As for Asians, well, the Karma Sutra was Asian eh?
        Marriage since it began was a business relationship to have children and run a home; it was formalised in the 18th century to sort out issues of inheritance (with bstards around). That is the act you sign if you are stupid enough (for a man at least) to ever get married!
        All boys should remember:
        Stay unwed – don’t lose your head!

      • Liz

        Gwangi is just sad that he can’t afford to buy a wife from a former colony.

  • Shenandoah

    Wow: this is the ‘someone for everyone’ position and the ‘bus theory’ of love (when one departs, just wait and there will be another along in a minute). That stacks up to reality? I think the reality is that the higher your standards, the less likely you are to find someone that meets them — and you can’t artificially have lower standards than you do, just and only because that would be so much more convenient. And then too, the Burchill bus approach completely ignores the fact that, however many people you might be able to love and vice versa, without availability, it means nothing. It’s the ‘friends got there first’ observation turned on its head. People match up and remove themselves from the love pool. This is what led Marcus Berkmann to observe (it’s worth quoting):

    As all single women over thirty-five will tell you, the standard is not high. If you discount opportunistic married men (of whom there is apparently an infinite supply), the only males left out there are weirdoes, dullards, milksops, morons, loons, oiks [are we having fun yet, campers?], toughs and sh-ts. This is why so many attractive, intelligent women seem to end up with daggy men. There just isn’t the choice.

    –from A Shed Of One’s Own, p. 226

    • Kitty MLB

      S, I believe ‘daggy men’ is an Australian slang..and a general
      insult they’ll say :you dag, I suppose its similar to ‘you prat’.

      I also suppose the floppy haired types with their furrowed brows and softy mannerisms etc …could be David Cameron
      and Hugh Grant.

      • Shenandoah

        Well, there are milksops and then there are competent flatterers with lefty-green political wives. The latter is Cameron, arguably. In that way he reminds me of Bill Clinton, except that the Camerons are far, far nicer than the Clintons.

        • Sanctimony

          And that is perhaps why the Camerons will flop while the Clintons continue to flourish.

          Can you imagine Samantha’s reaction if Dave splashed out on a Downing Street intern’s new dress ?

        • Kitty MLB

          The Cameron’s have many faults but they’re
          nice and genuine.Oh I always thought Hillary
          Clinton nice(but not her grinning Blair like
          husband) but changed my mind with the Benghazi attack in 2012..a mystery surrounds
          that one.

      • Sanctimony

        Oh, Kitty I do so love love your naive, non-malicious analogies… you never see the worst in anyone… and I mean that…

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh i mean those two mentioned could be ‘milksops’!

    • StephanieJCW

      Ha ha! I am constantly amazed by the sheer number of married men I have coming onto me.

      Why on earth do they think I would want to have a relationship with somebody already in one?

  • tomgreaves

    What a thoroughly repugnant and valueless piece of work this article is. The spiritual as a sad-sack who doesn’t inhale and drinks decaf. Sometimes I despair at the sheer rudeness and senseless garbage that parades as journalism. Tell you what Julie Burchill, you would never be the One to exemplify dignity or intelligent analysis but rather the one who makes money without shame.

    • John Lea

      Spot on, Tom, old fatty Burchill has to be the most over-rated hack in the business. Decent writers like Melanie McDonagh and Douglas Murray must be embarrassed to see their thoughtful and intelligent work placed next to her junk on The Spectator.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        “Decent writers like Melanie McDonagh and Douglas Murray …”
        Did I hear right?

        • John Lea

          No, you READ correctly. Eejit.

  • Sanctimony

    Good grief… what were you on when you wrote this garbage, fatso… mescaline or meth ?

    And to drag dear old Oscar W and GK Chesterton into your garbled meanderings truly traduces those dear old codgers ….

    Spectator,what have you inflicted upon us ?

    • Kitty MLB

      There is no account for taste, darling.I am no where near
      the ‘old codger’age group that you charmingly mentioned
      but appreciate GK Chesterton. Eloquent writing is timeless.

  • Innit Bruv

    Does she get paid to write this drivel?

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    One thousand words that say essentially nothing. And that’s being charitsble.

  • Jules

    I love Julie Burchill…!

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