As a little girl I played “house” with my friends and imagined every little detail of my wedding so that by the time I was in high school, I knew exactly who my bridesmaids were, what my gown would like, and where it would take place. The only thing that was missing was the groom. He was just a blurred out face standing at the altar. As I got older and went to college—moving from relationship to relationship—my girlfriends and I felt the same societal pressures weighing us down. My best friend continues to go from one serious live-in relationship to the next, hoping desperately this guy will be the one to marry her; my other friend recently remarked (half-jokingly) that she wouldn’t go to our high school reunion unless she found a hot husband to accompany her. As for myself, I am in a long-term relationship that is slowly unraveling. I find myself worried sick that if he isn’t the One and the last two serious boyfriends didn’t work out, there really is no hope for me in finding the right guy.
Movies and mainstream culture idolize romantic love, that finding the right one is the ultimate goal in life—especially for a woman. The girl who is constantly bar-hopping? She’s out. The ambitious, career-focused woman? She’s out too. Culture portrays these women as incomplete, broken in some way, and (most importantly) unsuitable for marriage. So someone like me who was wild at clubs in her younger days (and still got a little wild left in her), and is also totally career-driven, is penalized as not being “marriage material.” I struggle with the fear that by age 28, I better have a ring on my finger–otherwise, clearly I am not good enough.
In the last year, I wrestled with The Man of My Dreams ideal and media’s portrayal of women as Disney Princesses searching for Prince Charming—sealing her life goal with one incredible kiss. As the reality that my long-term boyfriend didn’t want to get married set in, I spent many a drunken nights (within the last month) ruminating over my three failed relationships in four years. I felt that I wasn’t doing something right if I couldn’t keep a man.
Eventually, I put down the liquor and sat down with a few rounds of meditation and my journal instead. And came to the conclusion I’ve been brainwashed by our romance-obsessed culture. Why does love have to mainly encapsulate the bond felt between lovers? What about the love felt for a child, pet, friend, parent, the whole world, or even just yourself? While I always felt I was chasing my dreams career-wise, I was simultaneously and unknowingly chasing away the fear of not being alone. At barely 23, I was already afraid of ending up a spinster, and pushing myself and my relationship towards an early end.
Despite what the RomComs show, a woman’s life isn’t defined by getting married and living happily ever after with Mr. Right. Our desires, aspirations, and abilities are so much more complex than that. We want more than sugary domestic bliss (or the other alternative, professional glory/train wreck of a personal life, a la Carrie in Homeland). It’s not just that the goal of our existence shouldn’t be finding that dream guy–it’s also that the dream guy isn’t real.
In all those Disney Princess films I cherished as a kid, love was simply finding your Prince Charming. I grew up writing lists of what my dream guy would be like: he would have an artistic career, read the news, and be a progressive thinker. And while these attributes helps me understand what I want, the whole concept of Mr. Right lacks reality. He’s flawless. He’s charismatic. He always says and does the right thing. We build up an image that is destined to be torn down by any human flaws. Love is not about finding someone perfect, but about finding one who shares your same values, who can share your happiness, and who you can trust and (importantly) grow with.
My life shouldn’t revolve around my career, but it definitely shouldn’t be defined by my love life and dating history. As a woman in the modern age being single and navigating life independently shouldn’t be scary. Companionships and connections don’t have to narrowly fit into something romantic in order to be fulfilling–and yes, you are okay on your own.
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