Whether you know it or not, if you have ever uttered “you’re my person” to someone in this crazy game we call life, you have the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy to thank. (At least, you have them to thank for giving us precisely this way of putting it.) The TV show introduced the term to an unwitting public back in 2005 to pay homage to female friendship, but for better or for worse, we’ve been using it ever since to indicate having found our ride or die, our soulmate, our boo, or whatever the one du jour is, and usually in the romantic sense.
Well, good news, everyone: You don’t need a “person.” You probably need more than one person, as in, “your people.” And it definitely doesn’t have to be your mate.
Writing at The Washington Post, social scientist Bella DePaulo makes the case against having just one person, citing research that has found that the more you spread the load for human connection across lots of people, the better off you are. One study she cites asked 60 adults to place the names of the closest relationships in their lives in concentric circles. As you’d guess, some married people did list their spouse as their main emotional squeeze. But those people weren’t as mentally healthy as others who listed a number of friends or relatives as their people.
Another study she cites found that those who could list different people they went to for various emotional events in their life, such as one person to soothe them when sad, another when angry or anxious, and so on — she calls them “emotional specialists” — were less vulnerable.
This is all pretty intuitive from just a practical standpoint. If you put all your emotional eggs in one basket and that basket is busy tonight, dies, or moves away, you’re fucked. Far better to have a wide ranging network to lean on for life’s ups and downs. And besides, for most of us, your friend you play video games with until 2 am is not necessarily the same one you talk to about your divorce.
Regardless, we, as a society, tend to really fetishize this idea of the “one” as the package deal, a two-for-the-price-of-one proposition who stands above all other relationships. Many people who get married delight that they’ve not just married their lover but also their “best friend” and soulmate who completes them, Jerry Maguire style.
And while it’s a wildly popular thing to announce on social media, some of us are beginning to wonder if it’s such a good idea to look to only one human for all your earthly needs. Yes, it’s totally okay to marry your best friend! But it has become increasingly more apparent that we should probably accept that one person can’t meet all our needs, and it’s totally okay to get our needs met in a series of different relationships that are romantic, platonic, collegiate, or otherwise. (Some experts even recommend that monogamous couples actually look to polyamorous couples to take a few cues on how to do this: it’s okay to have a little space in a relationship, and it’s definitely okay that you get different needs met from different people, provided you’re honest about it.)
Romantic comedies and cultural depictions paint women as the people who are single-mindedly obsessed with finding that one true love, it’s actually men who are far more likely to have just one close relationship, typically with a spouse or girlfriend over a dude. While men are notoriously bad at maintaining friendships, especially as they get older, women, on the other hand, are more likely to have a crew of people they stay close with to varying degrees throughout their lives, in addition to a romantic partner.
This comes up in a pivotal moment in About a Boy, the Nick Hornby novel-turned-film featuring Hugh Grant as Will, a stunted, island of a man who befriends 12-year-old Marcus and his mother. Through realizing it’s okay to rely on more than one person, Marcus figures out before puberty what Will hasn’t managed to deduce by middle age:
Suddenly I realized: two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If you’re only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least.
But, as DePaulo details back at The Post, some also get by with none. There are people who tend to take in big news or big events and process it entirely alone before turning to a trusted confidant later, if at all. That’s okay, too. “The belief that everyone aspires to such a thing, or does best with that arrangement, is a myth,” she writes.
In other words, your “person” could be your mate, and it could be your friend, and it could be your village, but it could also just be you. The real question is whether your arrangement actually satisfies you and meets your needs. If not, change it — and don’t go feeling bad about it all because of something off a TV show.