It felt like my whole life was training to find a man.
Everything I learned about fashion and cosmetics. To be attractive to men.
Everything I learned about the social graces. To delight and entrance a man.
Everything I learned about culture, wine and foreign films. To impress a man.
Sure, I had career aspirations. I had a bucket list. But all of those goals paled before that monolithic cultural imperative:
You are nothing if you don’t have a man.
Not married yet? What, no man will have you?
Still dating? Of course no man will buy the cow when he can get the milk for free.
Stubbornly single? Good luck to you, dearie. Just don’t complain when you end up in a dark apartment choked with cat hair, dying alone.
No one can resist cultural pronouncements like that. Not when they come from everywhere. Well-meaning aunties. Patronizing advice columnists. Gay besties. Your mother.
And it’s just a female thing.
Men aren’t defined by their relationship status.
No one looks down at that single bachelor coming home to an empty apartment after long hours at work.
He’s building his career. Sacrificing now for a better tomorrow. No one asks him why no woman will have him. They assume he’ll marry when the time is right for him.
The time is always right for women to marry.
Graduate from school, and the hourglass starts running out. You’d better find a man before your biological clock comes to a stop.
We know that’s silly. We know it’s not true. But our hearts understand. Life without love is lonely.
What Will You Be Remembered For?
For years, one of my heroes was Dr. Christiane Northrup.
She practiced as an OB/GYN for nearly two decades. She wrote the classic Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. That book, published back in 1994, shifted the language of women’s health. She went on to write books on menopause and aging and appeared regularly on Oprah, though her legacy was tarred by her involvement in the anti-vax community.
You would think that having a medical degree and several New York Times bestsellers under your belt would give you confidence. You’re doing important work in the world. You matter.
But Dr. Northrup still felt that she was nothing if she didn’t have a husband.
She writes frankly about her divorce over 20 years ago. She was the good wife. She did everything she thought she was supposed to. And still her world came crumbling down, right as it was time to put her two daughters through college.
She’s very open about the fact that she believed, on some level, she needed a man to be whole. She explains:
We’re taught from childhood that love is a game we either win or lose—it’s not. We believe that other people are the source of our happiness or unhappiness—they’re not.”
Waiting To Be Loved
Have you ever felt that way?
Is it really possible to be happy if no one loves you?
Is a woman less important if she doesn’t have a man by her side?
Even the most independent, accomplished women are vulnerable to that cultural programming. Hear over and over again that the only relationship that matters is the one with Mr. Right, and you can’t help but believe it deep down.
The truth is that romantic love is just one kind of love, and romantic relationships are just one kind of relationship.
We have relationships with our girlfriends, our family, even our pets. Love flows into us from many sources. There’s no proof that a man’s romantic affection trumps all the other sources of love in our lives.
The most important love of all is the warm regard you have for yourself. As Dr. Northrup writes in Goddesses Never Age:
The truth is that when you feel whole, complete, and lacking in nothing, that aching abyss you think only a mate can fill will finally go away.”
So are you lonely for a man’s love?
Or are you lonely for love?
A yearning that can only be filled by the one kind of love that’s always available, always reliable, and with you until the day you die:
The love in your own heart for the woman you see in the mirror.
I think that we get better at self-love as we get older.
We’re less critical. We understand how difficult it is to get everything right.
We’ve lived enough that we know everything comes and goes. The people who love us now won’t be around forever. Loss is as normal as love.
In the end, the only relationship that’s forever is the one you have with yourself.
Had I known this as a teenager, I might have understood that all those things I was doing—learning about makeup, fashion, small talk and flirting—weren’t actually to “get a guy.”
They were to feel LOVED.
They were to convince me that I was lovable.
It shouldn’t have taken me decades to figure that one out.