To the ladies, and for the gentlemen:
I grew up watching Disney princesses fall in love in 83 minutes. I would dress up in the costumes my parents bought and imagine I was Belle being swept off her feet with promise of everlasting love and an enormous library. I would bury my nose in Little Women and watch the March sisters fall in love one by one. I pretended to be Anne Shirley as I strolled through the field beside my house, waiting for my very own Gilbert Blythe to confess his love.
As I grew older, I traded in my Disney movies and Louisa May Alcott books for romantic comedies, television shows, and romance novels. I let my childhood imaginings morph into adult expectations as I read and watched couple after couple fall in love. Each ending held the promise of my own happily ever after.
Young people today look at the world and we expect something from it. We feel it owes us something. There is a sense of entitlement, I suppose, when we approach the most mundane things, such as education, careers, relationships, and love. We place expectations on these things.
We have a society drowning in a culture of happily ever after. We read the books, watch the movies, get addicted to the television shows, and we believe that we will have that too. We believe we will have the perfect boyfriend who is equal parts masculine and sensitive. He will proclaim his love in romantic gestures in front of an audience. He will sit with us as we watch Titanic and rub our feet. He will be possessive but not jealous; kind and compassionate; he will tell us about his feelings and hold us when we cry. He will be the perfect sexual partner, an Adonis of a man, and he will make us fall head over heels for him. He will fight for us.
We want a guy who is the living embodiment of a character in a book. And we believe we are settling when he doesn’t come around. We have a mental checklist in our heads, compiled as we read book after book, watch movie after movie. We make our future husband into some impossible amalgamation of Mr. Darcy, Chandler Bing, Marshall Eriksen, Robert Downey, Jr. circa Ironman and Sherlock Holmes, and the Norse vampire Eric Northman. (Okay, so maybe that’s just me…)
But really, who can live up to that?
Ladies, we hate being compared to the actresses, celebrities, and supermodels we see on television and in magazines. We look at them and know we will never be like them. We can’t be that thin, that made up, that well dressed, that airbrushed, that picture-perfect-traffic-stopping beautiful all the time, if ever. When we see a guy we like look at those gorgeous women and say, “Wow, that’s the kind of woman I want” we are crushed. That’s it, we think. We can never have him. We are afraid of constantly being compared, of coming up short and not being enough. We could never satisfy him.
We don’t want to go through our entire relationship being second best.
It’s unfair that we turn around and do this to the poor unsuspecting men who get written off before we give them a chance. I’ve done this. I’ve looked at a guy who was interested and instantly began comparing him to all the characters I’ve fallen in love with over the years. He’s no –insert ideal male character here- I would say to myself. He doesn’t have this or that, and those are important.
There is a difference between having a list of deal breakers and a list of unattainable characteristics. It’s one thing for me to want a man who makes me laugh. It’s entirely different for me to want a real-life Marshall from How I Met Your Mother.
We shouldn’t want the men in our lives and hearts to be carbon copies of a writer’s imagination. We shouldn’t try to mold them into what we want or what we think we need. We shouldn’t expect them to live up to a fantasy that is unattainable. We shouldn’t set them up to fail.
To be in a relationship should be about being exactly the person you are with the person who loves you because of it. It should be about letting the man (or woman) in our life be the person God created without expectations of them turning into our secret book-fueled fantasy. Because here’s a secret, the perfect guy for you is going to be better than anything a writer could have dreamed up. God is the master of design and creation. He can give each of us the exact man or woman to complement our best and worst characteristics.
We just have to be willing to let go of our lists, of the heroes we hold dear, of the requirements we think we need. We need to be willing to trust God and trust ourselves minus the unrealistic expectations from our favorite books and movies. We have to have a little faith that God is the better author for our love story.