For women the world over, romantic love has been a fantasy, a dream, a hope—growing up, we've been nurtured on Snow White and Beauty and the Beast, and then later When Harry met Sally, Barbara Cartland, Twilight. The little girls inside us are alive even at 50 (ask my mum as she smuggles another Mills & Boon from my library). We want the surprise flowers, the candle-lit meals, and our man making love to us with the sensitivity that only fictional heroes possess. We want to feel reassured and acknowledged by the men in our lives, and know they will love us, sagging breasts or not, 10 kilos heavier, and several stretch marks later.
[W]ithout him and our love, who was I? Rubble—nothing, loveless, lifeless.
We may be super-achievers at work, but we melt, quite literally, when it comes to the men in our lives. We quietly settle into the roles of being mummy and wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, lead-nurturer and lead-supporter at home while the Emperor calls all the big shots.
We naturally make our "better halves" the centre of our world and the sun of our eclipsing heart. Quite literally, we lose ourselves in the vortex of romantic love, and our partners.
Why? Because that's the appetite we grew up with, book after book, movie after movie, and dream after dream. We saw our mums and grandmums pedestalize the men in their lives. So, even as we hit an urban modernity at work, our sense of self continued and continues to be deeply embedded in the world of romantic love.
So tell me, then, when romantic love breaks its promise, and the love story leaps out of a book and into real life—what happens? What happens when we fight or argue or disagree, or find our boyfriends and husbands looking elsewhere?
We lose all sight of rationality and reason. Quite literally, as women, we break. We crumble. We crash. Because without our heroes, who we have dissolved into so utterly and completely, we are nothing. We become melancholic and depressed, leave our jobs, go back to living with our parents and find our existence meaningless.
The reason I know this, is because I have been there. Lost, confused and broken. Like many others, I gave into the illusion of a bookish romance and an ethical hero who could do no wrong. And when the hero left the frame (moral flaw or not), my diminishing began. Because without him and our love, who was I? Rubble— nothing, loveless, lifeless.
But life has a way of teaching you, especially when you hit rock-bottom.
A few heartbreaks later, I feel differently. I only have immense gratitude for the men in my life with whom it didn't work out. Because, I'm finally, forcibly learning to acknowledge and love that one certainty I had ignored my whole life. The certainty of loving yourself—madly, truly and unconditionally.
All these years I was told by so many people, "Love yourself." And I would stare at them blankly, not quite knowing what that meant. Did it mean indulging myself and having that extra hot chocolate fudge on a Wednesday afternoon? Did it mean getting my hair done just because I felt like, on a regular Friday? Did it mean taking that solo trip to Sri Lanka on my 30th birthday and "finding myself", like Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love?
My journey to the centre of my own being has only just begun.
But yesterday-- I realized what it really means. It means being proud of who you are, it means loving your smile and your dark circles, your demons and your accolades in equal measure. It means indulging your inner child with dark chocolate, but equally being accountable, even on a tiring day, to the 30-minute exercise regime you've set. It means recognizing that quiet inner voice which you always ignored—the voice that seemed to know the right thing for you to do.
My journey to the centre of my own being has only just begun. The quiet inner voice has become a little less shaky and a little more self-aware. And maybe, just maybe, that's reason enough to find new songs to love, interesting new stories to tell and new selves to create.