The heroines of my youth went by the names of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. As a child, I saw these characters as beautiful women -- delicate and kind, polite and nurturing, positive and trusting -- who survived some hardships to eventually live happily ever after. One day I hoped to be just like them.
As an adult, I see three naïve women who lacked the backbone to stand up for themselves and relied on wealthy guys with not a lot going for them besides some basic equestrian skills to get them out of bad situations. These women did not run off into the sunset alone and free after some good old-fashioned ass kicking. No. They were rescued by a kiss from a man whose commitment guaranteed their bright future. They are exactly the kind of women my mom, whether she consciously realizes it or not, didn't and doesn't want me to become. And though I grew up with fairytales (let's face it, they're hard to avoid), it's my mother's story that stuck in my head. My mom is the reason I'm 31 and single.
Any early aspirations I had about getting married and having babies were systematically diluted by listening to my mom's conversations with her two best friends, Terri and Linda, for years, upon years, upon years. The three of them met in their early 20s and are inseparable to this day. The same cannot be said for the men in their lives. Though my parents are still married, my mom was married twice before she met my father (and even came close to divorcing him, but that's another story). When I was little and could have been off playing during their get-togethers, I preferred to pull up a chair and sit with them at the table as they drank coffee (sometimes wine) and had "girl talk." During those conversations, I absorbed their stories of first loves and wrong loves, separations and divorces, of failed attempts to change partners and tinges of regret for some of the things they sacrificed for the happiness of their families. It was 20 solid years of straight-up relationship repellant.
These tales were so effective, I saw "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" -- in college -- and feared for my future. It wasn't that I didn't like boys, it was that the ones I liked never liked me back, so I never really understood the point. Relationships didn't seem worth the time or the effort. Plus, I had more important things to do like write bad poetry, eat candy, and watch MTV. (Mind you, I maintain that philosophy to this day. Thank you, Terri, Linda, and Melody. Thank you.)
As I've gotten older, this hands-off approach to dating has gotten a little harder. Most of my friends are moving in with boyfriends, getting engaged, marrying, and having babies. Their lives are obviously moving in directions that mine is not, and sometimes it's pretty lonely being the odd woman out. Whenever I cry on the phone to my mom about how hard it is being single and how all I want is a family of my own, she never fails to remind me that she would have done anything to have my life. At my age she was taking care of a seven-year-old and was on her way to a third marriage.
"You have your freedom," she says to me, as if she's describing some place she's always wanted to visit but knows she'll probably never see.
And she's right. When I start feeling the pressure to get hitched and knocked up, worried I'll never find Mr. Right, I think of the women before me and the choices they didn't know they had. I've been able to pursue my dreams and pay my own bills on my own terms without having to consider anyone else's needs. Even if it's not always comfortable, I'm the opposite of a fair maiden waiting for rescue.
For my mom, her friends, and especially those old-school Disney princesses, men were tickets -- a ticket out of their parents' houses, a ticket to security, a ticket to happiness -- and
that's not what I'm after. I've bought my own ticket -- I'm just looking for someone to sit next to for the long haul.
And so I've been dating but not rushing. Trying, but not forcing. I know that settling isn't any kind of shortcut to happiness because it wasn't for the women in my life. If my prince doesn't come along until I'm 60, so be it. I won't chase the illusion of happily ever after just so I can check the "married" box on my tax return at 31. In other words, good work, Mom.