There’s a beautiful moment in the film About A Boy when it suddenly dawns on teenager Marcus that he and his single mum need the support of their community.

“Suddenly I realized; two people isn’t enough,” he says. “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.”

In a recent piece for the Washington Post, psychologist Bella DePaulo reaches a similar conclusion.

“The investment of all your relationship capital into just one person is probably fine when things are going smoothly,” she says. “But it’s risky.”

Happily ever after?

Popular culture has long been obsessed with the notion of finding The One.

The chemistry with this one person – so the fairy-tale goes – will be both instant and profound. They’ll like us just the way we are, intuitively understand our quirks and be able to solve all our problems.

Sure, we might have a few awkward moments where we pour coffee over one another, or fake orgasms in a diner. But ultimately, we’ll waltz off into the sunset together, in a blaze of rosé wine and happiness.

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This is a Hollywood vision and needless to say, Hollywood doesn’t re-visit these couples 12 years down the line.

If they did, they’d come up against stubborn statistical evidence of divorce and break-up that is the inevitable bedfellow of modern relationships.

The truth is, the whole notion of The One is a near-impossibility – as science shows. And not only that, but one person is not enough to prop us up anyway.

The power of friends

Friendship, on the other hand; well, that’s a real and tangible force. Good-quality friends, research suggests, are more important than family in terms of bolstering our wellbeing.

Having a supportive network of people around us boosts our happiness and health to the point that actually we live longer (even taking into account diet, exercise and other variables).

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Why then, do we tend to dismiss friendship – as though it’s not akin to love?

“‘Oh, we’re just friends,’ is how we talk about our platonic relationships,” writes DePaulo. “As if even the closest of our friendships that are not of the exalted romantic variety are not all that valuable.”

Two’s company, four is better

Even where popular culture does acknowledge friendship, it does so in a one-dimensional way. We have one best friend, Thelma and Louise-style, or we have a lover. But either way, there’s just one Significant Other.

In reality, many of us look to a broader and interchangeable network of people to fulfil our needs. Different people meet different demands within us.

“I have overlapping ‘my people’ rather than one person,” one single woman, Sylvia, tells the Post. “They get me and I get them. We debrief difficult experiences, we laugh and we problem-solve, and congratulate and celebrate.”

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And this variation seems to pay off; one study found people with lots of emotional confidants were more satisfied with life, compared to those who relied on just one person to get them through the tough times.

Another found that, even where people did have a “go-to” person in the form of a spouse, they preferred confiding in their best friends anyway.

The myth of The One

Valentine's

None of this means we should stop investing in romance. But rather, we should stop glorifying it as the golden standard. We need more than a single, heroic figure at the centre of our lives.

One person – be it your mum, your lover or a best friend – can never be enough to sustain a multitude of human needs. And, while the evidence for soul-mate happiness is scant, we know without doubt that friends in the plural are vital to wellbeing.

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In other words, having a partner is not a guarantor of lifelong happiness (sorry, Disney) but building a community of people around you IS.

A boom in happy singles

We’re seeing a meteoric shift in the way that we conduct our relationships right now.

More people than ever before are single and living alone, and happily so.

This demographic is also more likely to nurture a supportive network of friends and neighbours, compared to married people.

Perhaps they are ahead of the curve in recognising a basic truth. Namely: it’s friendship that is the potent elixir in life, not romance.

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If we look inwards and rely on one Significant Other, our lives will always be insular and limiting.

But, single or no, if we make “just friends” (and an assortment of varied extras) the baseline of our existence, happiness will never be far off.

Images: Shutterstock