How liberation from the fairy tale lifestyle gives me focus
Liberation from the fairy tale lifestyle has allowed me to better achieve the life that I actually want. I am now able to be the best version of myself.
Boy meets girl – it’s never girl meets boy. The girl is just a supporting character in his story and has one purpose, to fulfill romance. If not the only one, it is certainly the main plotline of her life. They meet in some charming way, with neither looking consciously for a partner. One or both are probably emotionally unavailable. Yet somehow love wins and they are ready to act on their feelings for each other. Drama from their family, society and friends can’t keep them apart. Nor can other obstacles like physical distance, war, socioeconomic differences, or clashes of civilization and culture. After all, Diderot did say of the French Enlightenment said way back in the day that obstacles are what’s needed to fuel passionate romantic love.
After love conquers all, he slips a ring onto her finger and records the proposal for posterity. Maybe he even does a live stream on Facebook. Then they get married and she has her moment as a Disney princess. This is the happiest day of their lives. Until Baby Number 1 is born the fruit of their love. Then Baby Number 2, and then Baby Number 2.7. With the help of Mark Zuckerburg’s facial recognition technology, they can be tagged before birth – because of the number of sonogram pictures posted, not to mention the gender reveal party. They live in a big house in the suburbs with a dog, and a yard for the kids to play and the dog to roam around in. The end.
What is wrong with me?
I don’t really have much to do with this culture. I am instead a single urban woman just turned 30, surrounded mostly by friends who are either similar or coupled, and not too many have babies. Some actually openly admit disgust at the sight of newborns. But I can say that it affects me. My failure to follow the cultural narrative does weigh on me. My parents followed the formula pretty successfully (although it seems the main obstacle was that my mom wasn’t that into my dad at first). So what’s wrong with me?
Is the satisfaction I feel in my life going to evaporate one day, to be replaced with existential and reproductive panic? Am I going to experience the ultimate Millenial emotion of FOMO? Do I just not love myself enough? Am I too picky? Do I not put myself out there enough? Do I need to better edit my public persona and not post so many opinionated things on Facebook (thanks Mom and close friends)?
I may not have some kind of fatal flaw or lack of game. The truth is a bit harder to handle- I have not attracted a man in my life to give me The Fairytale because on some deep level, I don’t want it. Maybe it’s not that I don’t feel like I deserve love, or that I haven’t found the right dating app. I might not find a life partner because I’m not honest with myself about what I really want from life.
What do I want?
A few days after my 30th birthday, I visited my best friend. She lives with her husband and their three month baby in a giant house with a beautiful yard in the suburbs. I was afraid that my ovaries would explode. That maybe I would go on a dating binge and become a sadder, Bridget Jones-esque version of myself. Instead, I was pretty happy to be an auntie, and felt literally no envy whatsoever.
I used to go to church regularly. I would pray for the Virgin Mary to send me a good husband with whom to raise a family. And I would try to find a bloke that ticked all the boxes that conventional wisdom told me were important, even if there were obstacles and a lack of emotional availability in one or both partners. I would convince myself I was maybe a little more deeply in love with him than I was. I didn’t realise that it was just the idea of him I was attracted to. And then the guy would kindly point out the obstacles and/or lack of emotional availability, before exiting stage left. I felt unlovable and tragically flawed. I blamed my past, my weight, my not being happy enough on my own.
Who is there for me?
At some point, I just gave up. I focused pretty much all my attention on other goals. It became harder and harder to imagine giving someone a central role in my life and depending on him. Especially when I looked back at all the relationships that didn’t work out, I would see my current situation as a blessing.
If I hadn’t broken up with my high school boyfriend, who wanted to marry me, it’s hard to imagine who I would be now. If that guy I fell in love with just before moving to France had been willing to do long distance, I don’t think I would be half of the bad ass chick that crossed the ocean and made a life for herself. I might have been a girl who was homesick and missed her boyfriend and didn’t actually enjoy her time abroad. And that guy who broke my heart a while back has come out as gay and is dating men now – so I guess he did me a favor too by breaking up with me.
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I took a stroll through Notre Dame de Paris, where I live now. I lit a candle, even though I am not much of a regular church goer these days (shhh don’t tell my mom). Today, I ask for humility and grace to accept love and family in whatever form they come to me. I am blessed with friends who love and accept me for who I am. They support me whatever I do.
I don’t always get a good morning text, but I do have people who are there for me when I need it without question, and someone to talk about my day with. Perhaps I won’t get a white wedding. But I do know that someone has my back, even when I know I am being the worst version of myself. I might not be a biological mother, but I take extra special care of my friends who have lost their moms or who have strained relationships. As for romantic love, it comes and goes with a lot of fanfare, and so far it hasn’t stayed.
A different purpose
Of course, there is a degree of intimacy in being sworn to be someone’s lifelong roommate, business partner, lover, and potential co-parent all in one. Especially when the whole matter is signed in blood and witnessed by 200 of your closest friends, in a shindig that costs something around a year’s salary. But then, the ancient Greeks thought friendship between men (with or without a sexual component) was the highest form of love, and the domestic and reproductive matters were of a lower order.
Many religious orders have asked serious practitioners to abstain from romantic relationships. This is so they can focus on their mission and companionship in their like-minded community instead. I am far from a nun. But maybe my thirty something and mostly single and/or childless friends are not missing out. Maybe we are just focused on a different purpose? Even if it’s not all that clear what it is yet.
Liberation from the fairy tale lifestyle
The important thing is to focus on what will make you happy, rather than what society wants from you. Keira Knightly has recently brought attention to this with regard to her expectations for her daughter. She has said that she does not want her daughter to learn the lessons that princesses like Cinderella teach you:
“She waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don’t! Rescue yourself.”
I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but I was Wonder Woman and not Cinderella for Halloween. It is true that in the movie she did love a mortal man. But he had to go and sacrifice his life for the greater good. The good ones are always gay, taken, or too damn heroic! Maybe ferocious beautiful Amazonian women with god-like powers don’t always get the happy ending they deserve. And this is not because they are unlovable in all their strength and sassiness, but because they are too busy saving the world, and themselves, in their quest for liberation from the fairy tale lifestyle.