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Happily ever after?

The other week I stumbled across this image on Facebook which gave me LOLs.

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I don’t know who created it but it appears to be a twist on a piece originally by Carlos Naude, which you can see here. It tells the story of a prince who stays single and thus gets to drink beer and go to strip clubs and other such life-affirming activities. However, I’m not sure if this version is by Naude or someone else.

Anyway, I watched with interest at the comment thread that appeared below the image. As the well as the people who found it funny, there were several men who had to stick their oar in to sneer: “And then she died a lonely, sad old lady!” And also a few woman who noted: “Always put herself first? Went to rock concerts? Sounds a bit immature to me!” But the comment comment that really grabbed my attention was from a woman who wrote: “Of course, with the right person you can still do all these things. What we need to do is teach girls not to lose their identity in relationships.”

This pretty much summed up for me what the poster was trying to say, and the point that many commentators seemed to be missing. Because even though sharing your life with the right person is an amazing experience, sharing it with the wrong one can be damaging, traumatic and, sometimes, potentially dangerous. How many amazing women do you know who’ve compromised themselves, forgotten who they were, been dragged down by relationships that were, let’s be honest, just not worth it? So why are we not given as teenage girls, when we’re first awkwardly snogging boys in the park after school, important lessons about what makes a good, healthy relationship?

The only message I remember hearing through my teenage years – in between ‘blue mascara is a really cool look’ and ‘vodka doesn’t taste that bad if you mix it with strawberry milk’ – was to find a relationship, get a man to fall in love with you, work towards getting hitched one day. No one ever explained to me that the most important thing is not just being in a relationship but being in a good one, working out what you want from your partnerships – if you want one at all – and what kind of person is right for you. It was all about just finding someone that fancies you, not that values and respects you.

And it seems that a fair amount of other women were never taught this either, judging by the number clinging onto sub-par partners well into their twenties, thirties and older, sadly believing that any relationship is better than none and scared they’ll be ‘left on the shelf’. Just look at the crap certain sections of the media feed us – Jennifer Aniston is still portrayed as sad and lonely just because she got divorced and hasn’t remarried. Given that she’s a multi-millionaire several times over and has dated a string of the planet’s hottest men, she’s probably anything but. Yet her lack of a husband is somehow seen as a huge failure that cancels out all of her amazing achievements.

I know you have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince and all that jazz, and every bad relationship can be a lesson towards finding a good one, but I still think many of us could have worked all this out a hell of a lot quicker and poured our youthful time and energy into much more positive activities– rather than wasting it on no-hopers – if we’d been given a few words of wisdom at age 16.

Last month Helen Fraser, chief executive of the Girls’ Day Schools Trust, gave a speech suggesting that girls should be taught at school how to pick a supportive partner, and that they should learn to be ‘ambitious in their relationships’. I read a pretty good response (can’t find the link now though – sorry!) that pointed out we should also be teaching men how to be better partners, otherwise there’ll be a large number of women with high standards, and not enough guys that match up to go around. But apart from this fairly-obvious point, I think it’s a great move – relationships, respect and consent should be taught to kids as soon as they reach puberty.

But until then, I’d just like to say – a relationship isn’t key to happiness. If you have a niggling feeling that the one you’re in isn’t really giving you what you need, then you’re probably right. Don’t be scared to be alone, and don’t worry that you won’t meet someone else eventually – you absolutely will. No relationship is better than a bad relationship.

And I’ll leave you with this:

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About the Author

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I am a journalist living in Bristol, UK. My work has been published in The Independent, The Guardian, Dazed and Confused, Mixmag and DJ Mag, amonst others. Drop me a line at jess.fmb@gmail.com.

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