Does anyone else remember growing up with Disney movies constantly on rotation in the VCR?
I can recall being sat down in front of all the great princesses as they found trouble, adventure, excitement; then eventual true love’s kiss came to save them from all life’s woes.
What Disney neglected to teach us was this isn’t real life.
From my teenage years until my quarter life crisis—I firmly believed my other half was out there looking for me as I searched for them.
I found myself in abusive relationships, a rape victim and mentally exhausting situations. No one thought to teach me that my path wasn’t actually going to be a rom-com.
At 16, I was infatuated with my high school sweetheart. I’d blather on about our future together, make plans based on where our lives were headed and what our wedding would look like.
Where was my fairy godmother to tell me that heartbreak was inevitable?
No, I didn’t figure that out until he hit me.
I’d be going to college single.
University life. I was in what we all thought to be the prime, or so my elders said.
Enjoy it! You’ll never get this time back.
I joined a sorority, rocked the college swag; here, I mused, is where I’d meet him. The love of my life. There would be a meet-cute just like in The Holiday. I’d say something silly, a twinkle in my eye and a glinting white smile would laugh back at me. We’d walk hand in hand off into the sunset with a happily-ever after. Insert eye roll here.
That didn’t happen.
I launched into my first career head first, living so quickly, bouncing through experiences because the movies I’d watched growing up made me feel like I had to.
And I met him. The pilot. Handsome, strong, enduring. Here I had become guarded, untrusting. My experiences with men had been lacking. I was turning into a hard, cynical stone in my pursuit for love and happiness.
Instead of jumping headfirst into an affair, I put him in the friend zone. He was married after all.
Just a few short months later, he informed me his divorce was finalized. I told him how much I cared about him; and while the sparkling butterflies I thought to expect were not making my heart aflutter, I tried.
You’re supposed to fall in love with your best friend right?
He moved into my apartment. Slept next to me every night. We worked together every day. Twenty-two years old and I had it all. I felt like I was set for life.
What was the catch, you’d ask?
He was still married. He had lied, manipulated every story, and made me into a homewrecker.
Yet, I still tried. Continued the relationship when he told me it was over with his wife. I was the one. After all—Grey’s Anatomy shows you that you can get the man if you’re the other woman.
Wrong. He left. I was broken. A shell of the human I thought I had become.
Who was I?
I changed jobs. I changed my life. How could I look any of my co-workers in the eye knowing I had ruined a marriage?
The year ended. Still lonely. I discovered a ton of feel good movies on Netflix showing women that it’s acceptable to have opinions other than vapid notions of babies and domestication. A light was being shed on coming of age and being yourself.
I still had one lesson to learn though in real life.
Falling in love and realizing you’re not right for each other up front. Falling in love and not even attempting a relationship. Being so in love with another human being that even though you want them in your life, heart, body and soul, you just know it wouldn’t be right. Recognizing that they don’t belong there. Happiness wouldn’t be attainable.
Then becoming his friend. Rooting for him and providing support as we both walked through different seasons, separate from one another. Loving him wouldn’t make him love me back in the same way, but I could still be a pillar of pride when providing a different kind of fondness.
In fact, I read up on love. I don’t mean romance novels (even though I’ve got my fair share in my e-reader.) I mean the Greek. The Philia, Eros, Storge. Eight different kinds of love that helped me identify what I did wrong. That I was looking for acceptance, stability, and familiarity in all of the wrong places. Through books and learning… I found the love that meant the most of all.
The love of myself.
The Greeks call it philautia. Respect, comfortability and independence of one’s own self. I had finally become a woman.
A woman with her own unshakeable beliefs and opinions; a mind to make up or change. Able to hold my own in educated conversations and inquire about more than the superficial weather, school or partying topics; that inundated the people I was surrounding myself with. My mind could also be sexy. I wasn’t just meant to sit in a corner quietly while supporting another’s success. I found I could take myself out to dinner, read a book in a park or watch a movie in a theatre without another soul; and be comfortable with my own company.
I could fight tooth and nail for a life that I was proud to live singularly.
My own thoughts didn’t scare me anymore. Looking out into the world, I no longer felt my eyes roaming for an eligible partner to make me whole.
Why? Because I was whole with myself.
A doe-eyed romantic no longer. I had become a realist able to identify red flags, capable of having conversations about compatibility; and setting boundaries without trying to fit myself into someone else’s expectations because I didn’t want to be lonely.
While I do still wish for that pragma love that’s long and lasting, I’m aware that the elusive relationship I’m searching for doesn’t have to be my everything.
I can be my own woman. I can build my career and my mind with the knowledge that maybe someone will come around to support that passion. And I can keep driving to be a good human. Eventually, someone will come along to match me step for step along the way. Stand next to me as I face life’s challenges and rewards. I don’t have to chase after the affection of others. Instead, I’m okay to build myself up, compliment generously, and snuggle up contentedly on my own.
Why am I telling you this? Why is it important?
Simply because no one told me I could be complete on my own. No one raised me to be independent. I was always to be someone’s wife or princess to be saved. I had to figure out on my own that I could be a strong, revered woman without a man by side.
If you take anything away from my story, I hope I’ve provided a resource of acceptance of one’s self. Why hope for a happily ever after when you can be happy right now?
Build a good foundation for yourself of kindness, forgiveness and patience. People will be drawn to you in ways you’ll never imagine. Friends and family alike will view you as someone they can’t live without. You may find that romantic partner to fill your days, and they’ll respect you more for it. Or you may build a community upon that foundation that includes all different types of adoration that you never dreamed of. You can make your own cinematic universe to tell your narrative. Make your own masterpiece.
I believe in me. I believe in you. Your story deserves to be told.