The pre-eminent social anthropologist thinker and former Wales international Robert Earnshaw once said of the unexamined and imprecise science behind the way we forge bonds with one another:
Friendship is wierd.You pick a human you've met and you're like,— Robert Earnshaw (@RobertEarnshaw) November 25, 2013
"yup I like this one"
and you just do stuff with them.
Think about that for a second. Think about what ex-Cardiff, West Brom and Nottingham Forrest striker Robert Earnshaw really means. Think how incidental and accidental the basis for every one of your relationships is, how arbitrarily you’ve chanced upon your loved ones. We’re all just atoms clumsily being flung around the universe at the same time, colliding into each other in classrooms and office kitchens, at house parties and football matches, around pub quiz machines and in toilet queues. We meet these humans and are like, “yup I like this one.” And then you just do stuff with them.
Romantic relationships are even weirder. You’re not just meeting and liking humans, you’re meeting them and liking them. You’re picking humans you’re attracted to and being like “yup I like this one. Specifically this one. I like this one more than any other human I’ve ever met or might hope to meet.” And then you’re choosing to not just do stuff with them like playing five-a-side or going for an after-work pint every fortnight, but potentially spending your entire life (or, at least, a few hours of it) with them.
You’ve decided you want to watch films next to them and eat food in front of them. You’ll have endless conversations until you really get to know them, and keep going until you know them too well. You’ll congratulate their successes as your own and feel their failures just as personally. You’ll bring them Lucozade when they’re ill, and hold the toilet seat up and their hair back when they’re really ill. You’ll press your lips into theirs, and then you’ll really do stuff with them.
You’ll take off your clothes – those centuries-old fabric NSFW filters that hide your most indecent skin –in front of them and expose your fleshy sex organs to their eyes. Then you’ll manipulate those organs together. You’ll pant and grunt and sweat and moan until at least one of you is satisfied with the manipulating. Then you’ll go to sleep. You’ll do this often. You might even do this often you have to find new and obscene ways to manipulate them together in a way at least one of you finds satisfying. Then, if you’re really committed to doing stuff with this human, you might manipulate your sex organs together until you create another human. Romance is weird.
Celebrity romance is extra weird. They’ve already got the normal level or weirdness normal romances have, but complete strangers know what stuff you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. The stuff you’re doing is no longer a mortifying private dance that takes place behind bedroom doors, people are paid to take pictures of you doing stuff with telephoto lenses, which are then distributed to anyone who cares to see them. This is why celebrities go to great lengths to hide the fact they’ve picked humans to do stuff with. They meet in secret, through side entrances and in gated mansions, hidden beneath caps and sunglasses and their bodyguards’ coats. Which is why Orlando Bloom’s decision to whip his pants off and just let his impressive dick dangle next to the human he’s picked to do stuff with – globally famous pop star (and clothed) Katy Perry – has alarmed so many of us. It’s the weirdest thing yet.
It’s weird because he’s just so blasé. He’s on a surfboard on holiday with his impressive dick saying “Not only have I obviously picked this human to do stuff with, here are the tools I’ll be using.” His impressive dick is shouting “Behold!” with every sashay. “Behold! I will be doing stuff very soon!” Part of you thinks: ‘Good on you and your impressive dick Orlando, I wish I was comfortable enough to be so publicly open, so publicly intimate.’ You’d like to be able to display your love in plain sight as though it were nothing unnatural, nothing to be ashamed of. Another part of you thinks, ‘Nah, still a bit weird though. Deeply weird, in fact.’
Katy Perry knows this is deeply weird behaviour. Katy Perry has pointedly kept her swimsuit on and recoiled as Bloom longingly kisses her face over and over as if she’s been conscripted to the frontlines of a great war. Katy Perry’s grimace conveys the concern of someone who has flash-forwarded how this display of Humans Doing Stuff might play out in the press. Katy Perry also knows that because it’s in the press, her former humans (Russell Brand, John Mayer, Diplo) will almost certainly see it.
The thing about being in a relationship is: everyone else knows the dirty, shameful, lewd stuff you’re doing with the human you’ve picked. Stuff you’re not reasonably allowed to look at in a workplace environment. Stuff that makes people write to Points Of View in order to register their disgust about. The key is being discrete.
There are couples who don’t make their relationship status official on Facebook, that won’t bring up each other unless asked directly and whose only pictures together are in group photos. Then there are the couples that are ‘in love.’ They’ve found another human who will do stuff with them and they’re so happy that they just have to let everyone know. “Hey you!” They want to call out in the street. “You there! Yes, you! I’ve picked another human and we’re doing stuff together! Isn’t it wonderful?”
They have matching profile pictures within minutes of swiping right. They go out of their way to get invited to things so they can ask for a plus one. They go out of their way to get invited to things so they can turn you down because they’re really sorry, but it’s ‘date night’ but another time perhaps. Any possible conversation on any possible topic you have with them is somehow brought around to the other human they’ve picked that they do stuff with. “Well, you see, the funny thing about early Venetian architecture and the best flavour of Pringles and Philip Schofield’s performance on This Morning is…” they start, threateningly. “The Human I’ve Picked To Do Stuff With made a really great observation about them the other day! Wish I could remember what it was, mind, but I gotta tell ya… when I’m with them. It feel like nothing else matters, you know? Boy, I feel so lucky! Anyone I’ve just got a text from THIPTDSW and, yeesh, it’s getting pretty late so I’ll have to leave you guys to it. Catch you later!” It’s 6pm. They’ve had two sips of their pint and they’re darting out the door like Wile E. Coyote. You know where they’re going. To do stuff.
If you’ve ever actually made your relationship ‘public’ by broadcasting it on social media, you’ll be aware of the metric for gauging opinion in your tryst: likes. The more you get, the happier people are for you, right? Consider how many times you’ve liked someone’s relationship update, and then consider how many times you were truly, actually happy for them. On those rare occasions, you were probably perfectly content with the human that let you do stuff with them at the time. Your romantic life made you so happy you had happiness to expend on others’. Now think about the times you were single and you saw your mates getting in a new relationship. Made you remember you didn’t have a human to do stuff with didn’t it? But you had to like the post, because they were your best mate after all.
Think back now to that time you were in that staid relationship with that human you found you no longer much wanted to do much stuff with, and who likewise didn’t much seem to want to do things with you, when you saw that Insta post of your two workmates enjoying a lovely dinner together. They’d been having a ‘thing’ for ages and were now formally announcing taking the plunge, and even though they were both lovely and a great you couldn’t help but feel that pang of jealousy – that resent at two humans entering those giddy early stages of picking one another that you’d long left behind. But you liked anyway. You liked to try and recapture a tiny slice of that feeling.
Remember when you split up with the human you’d picked? Fuck that hurt didn’t it, especially after all the things you did together? Now recall how you saw they’d picked another human to do stuff with? You’d stalked all their pictures to put the clues together, you’d all but worked it out, and it had crushed you, but then they just announced it and took the wind right out of your sails. You had to ring your pals and wail ‘my ex-human has picked another one now, and they’re doing stuff!’ down the phone and lie on your bedroom floor with a duvet over your head listening to a Spotify playlist you’d titled ‘BANGERS FOR MY TINY BROKEN HEART’ which only had one song because you couldn’t bare to finish it. And then when you pulled yourself out of your pathetic wallowing stupor, you had to like their post. To show you weren’t bitter. Obviously. A little ‘fuck you’ like. A like you’d know they’d see and feel annoyed about, because what’s the point in picking other humans if it isn’t to make others feel unhappy? Your relationship post is to make other people unhappy and all the likes are people telling you to fuck off.
“All of my friends seem to be getting engaged, married or having kids at the moment,” is a statement that’s never been said cheerily by someone in love. Nobody likes finding out about anyone else’s relationship unless they’ve secured their own humans to do stuff with. And because we see everyone else has secured humans, we feel lacking, and we frantically try to find someone to do stuff with and it devours our free time and occupies our minds. And as soon as we get into a relationship, we shove it in everyone’s face. “Ha!” we say. “I’ve found someone! Fuck you!” We’re all making each other unhappy with our love.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Keep your swimming shorts on. Write down your sweet nothings and pop them in a letter. Learn your human’s likes and dislikes, then from those make the small gestures that will make their days more bearable. Stare in their eyes in a way that wordlessly conveys they affection you have for them and your gratitude that they also picked you to do stuff with. Make them feel selfish over you, so much so that they can’t bear to tell anyone else, because your relationship belongs to you, and broadcasting it would only allow invite others to experience it through observation and judgment, and this could only dilute the purity and completeness of your love. Take them on a nice city break. Somewhere charming. Paris or Rome or Barry Island. Wherever. Anywhere. You’re the one that’s in love, pal. Google it.
Basically, we’re all extremely resentful towards you and the humans you’ve picked, so just do stuff with them we can’t see.