Author Michelle Cove helps single women get real about happily ever after.
Ask most girls under age 10 what "happily ever after" looks like and they'll talk to you about meeting a man (probably a prince) and kissing him at the royal wedding. Ask a grown woman what "happily ever after" looks like, and she'll probably tell you the same thing. If you respond, "No, what does it look like to you NOW, as a grown woman," she'll stare at you blankly. I know this is true because it happened to me repeatedly while I interviewed women around the country for my book and documentary, Seeking Happily Ever After. No one ever told us that we could redefine happily-ever-after for ourselves—and that doing so might make us, well, happier. So here is permission for you to do it, and four ways to go about it.
Step One: Block out the noise.
It's hard to know what your own "happily ever after" looks like when many people are busy defining it for you. The usual version goes like this: married, babies, house, mini-van. You've got your mother or grandmother or friend (or all of the above) blurting out tips on landing a husband and pointing out what you're doing wrong; reality shows, romantic comedies and TV shows confirming that your goal is a man on his knees presenting you a diamond ring; and books for singles advising you to fix that defect so you can finally find a spouse. How To Fall In Love With Mr. Good Enough
According to popular culture there's one route to "happily ever after," and you better get on the bandwagon, sister. So the first step to creating your own path is to see all the programming around you for what it is: noise—loud noise. The good news is that you get to stop listening the moment you decide to.
Step Two: Check in with your compass.
Most single women I know call their friends when they're having self-doubts. Some of the things they wonder about: "Will I ever find someone?" "Do you think I'm giving up if I stop online dating?" "I just don't know if I'm with the right guy." Although friends can be wonderful sounding boards, YOU are the best-equipped person, the only person, really, who can figure out what's right for you. That's because few women ever learn about tuning in to our inner voice—to our true self that knows when things feel right or wrong. It is your internal compass that shows you where you are at all times. You simply cannot define your happily-ever-after without hearing from it. What To Love About Being Single
So find somewhere quiet to sit with no distractions, close your eyes and ask yourself what you want for yourself now—not in five years or ten—but right now. If you hear the voice of your mother or grandmother or anyone else telling you to "get a husband" "settle down" or "have a baby while you still can" gently push the voice(s) aside and go back to asking, "What do I want?" You'll know you've landed on it, when your body relaxes into the answer with no resistance.
Step Three: Realize there is no RIGHT answer.
When I dug a little deeper with the women I interviewed, asking about "happily ever after," they told me it looked like "paying off law-school loans," "traveling to Morocco," "opening a bakery in a city somewhere," "buying a house of my own."
As far as relationships, many still wanted the wedding and babies either now or someday. Others wanted to live with a man but pass on marriage. Some wanted to get hitched but not have babies, more than a handful couldn't picture spending an entire lifetime with just one partner. Marriage: Sacred Or Smashed Institution?
The real face of "happily ever after" has already changed without women really even being aware of it. And, by the way, your own "happily ever after" will probably change again and again in small or large ways throughout your lifetime—because it's supposed to. We are not stagnant creatures, and neither are our needs.
Step Four: Change the rules.
If we're going to break the notion that "happily ever after" has one look for everyone, we've got to make sure people know they have a choice. So I'm asking you to talk to the women in your life about the new "happily ever after." Tell them your version and ask them about their own. Discuss where ideas come from and how the traditional path to female success has become ingrained in popular culture—and perhaps in you. I Was Taught That Dating Is From The Devil
It's all too easy to get locked into stories about whom you're dating, why you're single, how you're coping after your last breakup, and what you plan to do next to meet a guy. After all, that's how we women often connect with each other. But that doesn't mean you have to play by the old rules. If you want to, of course, that's OK, too. I want you to do what feels right to you. But no matter what happily ever after looks like to you, know that you are so much more than your relationship status. Check out YourTango's humorous, new "relationship alerts" on Facebook.
So next time you're hanging out with your gal pals, instead of rehashing the latest info from your love life (or lack of it), bring up what you did or saw that week that was interesting or lifted your spirits. If there's not much to draw upon, try something new: take a Zumba class, sign up for Italian cooking, listen to new music, book an exotic adventure, become a mentor to a young girl . . . and maybe tell her the fairytale story about the girl who redefined happily ever after and rescued herself.
Michelle Cove is the author of Seeking Happily Ever After: How to Navigate the Ups and Downs of Being Single Without Losing Your Mind (and Finding Lasting Love Along the Way) (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010) and director of the feature-length documentary Seeking Happily Ever After: One Generation's Struggle to Redefine the Fairytale. She is also the editor of 614, an e-zine for young, Jewish women.