I was recently doing a bit of cleaning up when I found a note that two of my friends had written to me in high school. It was a list of the things they liked about me. While reading it gave me as much of a confidence boost as it did when I first received it, and most of it hasn’t really changed (like my ‘unique sense of humour’ and my ‘nice arse’) there was one item on the list that has changed completely: ‘Her steadfast belief in the Prince that will come.’
I’m a little embarrassed at it even being on the list because up, until the age of about nineteen, I really did believe in the metaphorical Prince Charming that would one day sweep me off my feet. But I can’t really blame the seventeen year old me, living in a world where most boys ignored me completely as a romantic interest, and the very few that didn’t really weren’t right for me, I fed myself a steady diet of happily ever after stories from Disney to Jane Austen and my concept of a romantic love was mostly fictional. It wasn’t very long after high school that I stopped believing this.
Now at the age of 26, I don’t really believe that I’ll ever get married. It’s not that I don’t think there are nice single men out there, it’s more that as a highly introverted person I’m rather unwilling to meet any new people. I certainly don’t feel that I’m unworthy of love, but I am really quite happy on my own and don’t want to spend any of my time on the drama that comes with romantic relationships. My concept of love has shifted as I have matured.
I now see the searching of/waiting for a romantic and exclusive love to be fraught with all kinds of dangers. In the real world most jerks you meet are actually jerks and not misunderstood Mr Darcys. If you put all your energy in to trying to find a ‘soulmate’ (a concept I also don’t believe in anymore) you could completely miss your life. I have seen how this glorification of coupled love has led to so many toxic relationships and such low self esteem as people wonder what’s wrong with them if they can’t get/keep a partner or the partner they get doesn’t magically make them happier.
It’s not that I don’t believe in happy marriages. I have witnessed some, with my parents, grandparents and friends. But I also now believe that the reason why they’re happy marriages has more to do with each person treating the other one lovingly than some imaginary sense of fate. It’s not so much that they are perfect for one another, it’s that they know how to act lovingly even when the other’s faults are really irritating them.
But for every happy relationship I have seen, I have also seen its miserable, codependent, toxic and sometimes abusive counterpart. I now believe that some people can be head over heels, crazy for each other, and for there to be no genuine love between them. Possession, attraction, jealously, romantic gooey feelings are real, but it’s not love. I know genuine love – it doesn’t injure, it doesn’t manipulate, it makes someone more of a person, not less.
I’m also not disparaging of either Disney or Jane Austen now, as I have matured so has my understanding of them. When I read Jane Austen, I notice less about the romantic main storyline and look at the much more interesting elements. I notice the incredibly detailed and flawed characters. I see how many people in her novels don’t actually end up with the happily ever after. I contemplate the character of Charlotte Lucas and thank God I live in a time period where I can support myself and I don’t have to secure a good match to be fiscally responsible. Singleness is much more palatable to me than the modern equivalent of Mr Collins.
I now think that maybe fairytales weren’t ever supposed to be exclusively about romantic love. I think maybe they’re metaphors about how powerful genuine love is. Genuine love can overcome some pretty bleak circumstances. I have seen love bring my Grandmother back from a point where she couldn’t speak to a place where people meeting her for the first time don’t realise she has had a stroke at all. Now fair is fair, modern medicine had a lot to do with the fact that she lived and experts knowing that needed to be done in her rehabilitation made it all possible, but I know that without my mother spending hours of her time practicing those rehabilitation exercises with my Grandmother the results would not have been as great. I say love because love is what causes someone to do selfless things like doing repetitive and often frustrating word exercises with someone.
I don’t feel emptier because of the rejection of the belief that there’s someone out there who would make me happy in marriage. In fact, it has made it all the easier to accept the love I do have in my life. Earlier this year I went to the Musée d’Orsay and spent some time staring at my favourite artwork but unlike Blair Waldorf there was no handsome stranger also staring at the statue. But it didn’t matter because I wasn’t looking for one, I was too busy explaining to my family why it was my favourite artwork and taking it all in. I later had extensive discussion with my sister about its various meanings. I would have missed all that if I had been looking at the crowd for a fantastical Prince Charming instead of at the artworks.
I know love because I see the joy that my father gets from spending his hard earned time off doing menial labour to help my sister and his mother, just because it makes life easier for them. I also know the joy in helping my mother with the housework because it helps her. I know that caring for other people, my friends and my family, multiplies my joy because I can be happy when they are happy. I think genuine love is when someone else’s happiness becomes inherent to your own.
Maybe this large amount of love in my circle of family and friends has spoiled me a bit. All the people in my life that I love and that love me have been there for at least five years. One of the reasons I don’t think I’ll get married is that I’m not an easily trusting person; I’m not sure I could ever trust someone enough to marry them. Not that I’m not open to extending my love to new people, it’s just there’s so much baggage that comes with romance that it’s easy to get in the way of authentic love. So I don’t believe that there’s a metaphorical prince coming to marry me anymore. But I do still believe in love. I’m not waiting for it. I already have it.
What kind of love do you believe in? What opinions and beliefs have you completely changed since high school?