Do I really have to …
Q: Why does being in love feel so good?
A: Rose-tinted glasses.
Q: Won’t having children kill me?
A: It only seems that way, sometimes.
Q: Does it matter who or what I love?
A: Only if it matters to you.
Q: Why is being lonely so bad?
A: We all need somewhere to belong.
Q: How do I find my perfect partner?
A: Fate, karma and luck.
Q: Is there an elixir of love?
A: Only in Harry Potter.
All we need is love. We may want for many other things, but love is all we need. Even if it weren’t such a catchy mantra, there are very many reasons for believing it to be absolutely true. Not least of which is the significantly better health and longevity experienced by those people in supportive long-term, loving relationships.
But really, how could love make us live longer? It’s very hard to know, partly as there is no easy way to work out who is lovingly coupled and who is not. One possible indicator of this kind of relationship is marriage. Obviously, not a perfect indicator. But still, if long-term love existed in the past, it was often but not always associated with marriage.
And it turns out that people who get hitched have, on average, better health and a longer life expectancy than those who live alone and never marry.
Despite its obvious limitations, marriage remains one of society’s most useful health-giving institutions, chiefly through its capacity to enhance and sustain relationships. Simply as public health strategy alone, marriage deserves to be more widely available.
Equally, it is abundantly clear that those people who, for whatever reason, have few social connections are not only isolated, lonely people (like Eleanor Rigby) but their health also suffers from their loneliness.
The magnitude of this burden is probably as significant for their survival as being a smoker, being overweight or a couch potato. For example, lonely hearts have twice as many heart attacks and are four times less likely to survive them, even after adjusting for higher blood pressure, cholesterol and rates of smoking. Cancer, stroke and other diseases are also more common.
At every stage of our adult lives, it seems that those people in a stable relationship are less likely to die than those who are out on their own.
How this actually works is mostly still a mystery. Much like love itself.