Step 1: Desire a partner
Step 2: Do nothing
Step 3: ???
Step 4: Profit i.e. – receive a partner
This is the absurdly optimistic algorithm of romance created by John Lewis. I am, of course, referring to the department store’s TV advert to stimulate bourgeois consumption of its bourgeois products for the Christmas of 2014.
By virtue of reading this blog, I assume you have internet access and are able to view the video in first person. This renders the following description utterly obsolete. Nevertheless, I shall proceed to describe the advertisement with gusto.
Firstly, in what seems a non-ideal trans-species relationship, a human child has a friend who is a penguin – Monty the Penguin.
Already this throws up an assortment of both biological and moral implications. Is it safe and kind to rear an aquatic bird, whose normal habitat is the Antarctic, in the artificial warmth of suburban, southeast Britain?
Given that he lives in the landlocked county of Surrey, does the child have ready access to icy bodies of water in which penguins thrive?
Let us overlook these questions for now.
Next in the advert comes a montage of the child and Monty engaging in various enjoyable activities – trampolining, playing hide-and-seek and playing with Lego blocks.
I imagine they were constructing Lego igloos, presumably an activity a penguin would find akin to running on an indoor treadmill in a paltry attempt to recreate an authentic natural experience.
(Oddly, there is also a clip showing a pet cat. What is preventing the cat from ripping the penguin to shreds?)
Alas, these points are minor and tangential to the main thrust of the advert. John Lewis have used a member of a non-human species to highlight that universal human condition – loneliness.
Like me, and several other single humans at this time of year, loneliness starts to swipe at Monty the Penguin. Solitude, which has fattened insidiously within us over the past 12 months, starts to seep into our consciousness. Predictably, it can’t be staved off forever.
We begin to notice things. Everyone around us is coupled up – happy, fulfilled, socially embedded. Yet we don’t have what they have. Something must be wrong. Couples everywhere beam at us, unwittingly taunting us like a circle of school bullies.
Look at us! Look at how happy we are!
Loneliness may be the universal condition, but it only manifests as perennial singledom and involuntary celibacy in a small proportion of us, Monty included.
Just as the ravenous man becomes acutely attentive to the abundance of food had by those around him, Monty the Penguin senses that everyone has someone, apart from him.
Characters embracing in films, young couples hand-in-hand, old couples sincerely but somehow still ostentatiously kissing. To the cynic, these images would make one vomit from sappiness. But, even the cynic starts to pine for romantic company – someone to embrace, a person with whom to hold hands, a soulmate to kiss sincerely.
Monty longs for a partner.
So far the advert is a fairly accurate portrayal of the single person’s anguish. Alas, this is the point where accurate depiction ceases and pure fantasy resumes.
Monty is now greeted by a gift-wrapped partner, a female penguin, delivered to his abode.
This irks me. Not because of inaccuracy – female humans are rarely gift-wrapped. Not even because it evokes melancholy realities of mail-order Russian brides trying in vain to escape their desperate home conditions.
It irks me because, as someone who was single for 27 years and remains privy to the online testimonies of countless people who’ve had to endure longer durations of loneliness, it perpetuates a myth. The myth – that you can do nothing and still find a partner.
That missing piece: a lover, a spouse, a soulmate, will suddenly appear, apropos of nothing – gift-wrapped to your home. Just sit back and wait for delivery, no effort or activation energy is required.
Adopting such a laissez faire approach to romance means you can refrain from trying to radically change yourself or otherwise alter your odds of finding a partner.
Perhaps this sentiment is immortalised in the phrase:
“Love will find you when you’re not looking for it.”
Unfortunately, real life and my life suggest that is untrue.
For people like me; years, if not decades, of time and effort must be consciously applied in order to increase one’s mating value and attractiveness to others, thereby carving an escape route from singledom.
For some, this may be effort expended in transforming one’s appearance: daily battles against sugar-addiction and apathy to lose weight. Conversely, one may have to overcome the same apathy to build muscles and gain weight, thereby rendering him (or maybe her) slightly more attractive to his (or maybe her) desired sex.
For others, the labour towards requited love is psychological. For me, I had to incrementally overcome social anxiety and repeatedly force myself into uncomfortable social situations. I have written about this elsewhere, but the point remains that it was exceedingly difficult and took deliberate, concerted effort.
While some may ‘grow out’ of shyness as a puppy ‘grows out’ of his youthful corpulence, my (nascent) conquest over social anxiety didn’t ‘just happen’.
Perusing the lonely congregations of forums such as Reddit’s Foreveralone and ALonelyLife, it appears that many have only found romantic success after digging themselves out of unemployment, debt, or their parents’ basements. These are all calculated metamorphoses, not natural life trajectories.
The message is clear. If genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration, then, at least to some people, so is getting a girlfriend or boyfriend. Unlike the lackadaisical Monty the Penguin, landing a partner requires hard work.
Of course, like most things in life, there is an element of luck – the remaining 1% after perspiration. Monty the Penguin perhaps was simply lucky to have been literally gifted a girlfriend.
Luck mandates that you happen to be in a workplace where there are single co-workers. Luck played a role when you were in the right place at the right time, just as she rebounded off her ex with her self-esteem in tatters.
But luck also plays a role in being born ugly, short or poor. We exert no influence on luck. The world is cruel and unfair. It’s a social and biological lottery – good genes and circumstances, or not so good ones; we have no say.
In the pursuit of love, all we can do is try the best we can, with the cards we were dealt. Even so, spare a thought for those people who work and toil and labour, but still fail to attain romantic love.
To them, love’s labour is truly lost – lost to nothing.
To them, Christmas is just another day, another day in a path towards a single, lonely death.