Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love vs. Fulfillment vs. Me vs. Almost Everyone Else

There is something I have seen in cultures across the world that disturbs me. It concerns women, but I think it definitely also concerns men, too. This is the question of love and fulfillment.

A beautiful, or sexy, moment - depending on who you ask.

When we watch our heros on TV or on the silver screen swooping the lovely lady into his arms, we sigh. What a gorgeous match! Oh, if only I could have a gorgeous Clark Gable of my own! Or, well, in my case, Shah Rukh Khan of my own. Or, maybe, a Sarah Michelle Gellar of your own if you swing that way.

This here is what I call a kickass babe.

But what are these expectations that we are creating? Yes, there is this idea that films, TV, art, and advertising create these fantasies that we can never have. I completely agree with this. However, that is not what I want to talk about today.

What is much more dangerous, to me, is that media can create a desire for a partner to begin with. Usually, this partnership needs to be heterosexual. We have this thing drilled into our heads that a single lady or man is not a complete lady or man. They are lacking something. One of the components of the American dream is a family with 2.5 kids, we all know that - but then, why do we want this? Why is this so important?

If you really think about it, only thinking about life in terms of finding someone else to complete you really sucks. What kind of self esteem must you have to believe that you are SO incapable of finding happiness for yourself, that you absolutely need a life partner to be truly fulfilled. Are you not an individual with your own individual dreams? Can you not focus on yourself and let love come your way, when and if it comes?

But no, that is not what we do at all - yes, we focus on career but we also go out on blind dates, and feel miserable all alone in that apartment you earned. When you think about a great life, usually you think about someone by your side who can be there to support you. It's the next logical step, if not the FIRST logical step, for some.

Am I saying that this dream of a partner is wrong? No, not at all. I, too, wouldn't mind finding a nice person to spend my life with, if I do find that special someone. However, this dream, if you fulfill it, is not just going to be great and well once you get it. A relationship is work, and the idea of a perfect relationship has become so incredibly skewed.

Is every romance really going to be a picnic for the rest of your life?

This is where my experiences come in. Every country I have been to, I have met too many women who just need to get married or be in some kind of relationship, usually with a man because being with another woman is a no-no. They think constantly of marriage or a perfect man, and if they do get married, they do everything that is possible to keep that marriage alive even if it is really, really not working. I have met men like this too, but for whatever cultural or societal or family-related reasons, it is different. I see guys basically being the ones doing the choosing, while the women are there begging to be chosen. It's kind of sad.

I am making a generalisation here, of course (I have met different kinds of men and women in every place I have been to) but I can think of specific cases in every country where I have seen women who are desperate to "find love" and be "happy" with a new partner. I put "happy" in quotation marks because to them, happy meant a husband with a good job and a desire to have children. That's it. Is that real happiness?

Yay! I am jumping with joy because I will have a nuclear family that is expected of me by society! Yay for fulfilling expectations!

Let me tell you what I have seen in different countries. Maybe this will give you more of idea of what I am thinking of:

U.S.: I see women prettying up and going on dates with several men they consider to be "successful" - like businessmen (these women don't even really know or care to find out what the "business" is or what the men actually do), lawyers, doctors, etc. At a younger age, they should be attractive and fun. At an oler age, they should be "marriage material" or whatever that is. I know someone who dated a guy for two years, and basically became known as "[Guy]'s girlfriend who is a theatre major." Not many people knew much about her besides her name. Neither did I, until she actually broke up with him. Is this the guy's fault? Probably a little. But I still think that depends on a case by case basis - some women are genuinely proud to be "[Senator, Doctor, Lawyer, etc.]'s wife."

Mauritius: Similar to the U.S., girls throw themselves at whatever guy is decent on paper and who says they are in love with them. They get romanced by guys at school, and guys at weddings who are specifically there to sit with their guy friends and look at the pretty, well-dressed ladies. Guys and girls engage in this "wedding courtship" from when they are 14 years old, or even a little earlier. When a guy spots a girl he likes, he tells his parents or another older relative and they go and negotiate with the girl's parents. THEN, they can get engaged and start the dating, if the parents are okay with it. Playing hard to get is usually a sign of "being a girl" - another phrase I have heard that makes little sense to me. Apparently, girls don't give themselves away that easily, but if you are playing hard to get on purpose, then to me you have practically become engaged to the guy. These girls get married very, very young and rarely date more than one guy. If they break up, it is the END OF THE WORLD. Cue tears and Bollywood-style speeches.

Note to girls and guys in Mauritius: THIS DOESN'T HAPPEN. NOT IN REAL LIFE.

Saudi Arabia: Because Saudi is such an eclectic mix of different people of different nationalities, I am going to describe what little I know about Saudis and leave it at that. Women and men who are not related by family or marriage can't just hang out. It doesn't happen, especially in public. This means that dating does not happen in the way that it happens in other countries. Marriages are usually arranged and need to be accepted by the parents, especially the father. Women have expectations of a huge dowry and a guy who, again, looks good on paper. If women do not marry at a younger age, the older they get, the less of a chance they have to marry at all. These women are basically looked down upon (as they are in other countries, but here to a greater extent). Someone once told me that not getting married is "a sin" and "unIslamic" or something. And oh yeah, forget about sex before marriage. It happens, but if it does happen, things are done to hide it - I know "embroideries" exist here, as well as other means to hide a loss of virginity in women. Men don't have this same issue because of their physicality but they are sometimes caught due to the diseases they give their virgin wives.

Oman: I was young when I lived in Oman, and again the friends I had were of different nationalities and cultures, but I talked to an Omani girl recently who said the following: "I cannot wait to get married and hang out with the married women. We'll finally be able to find things to talk about! I want to shop with them and buy baby clothes with them. They have such experience in life, these women. I really want my mother to find me a nice guy. Of course, he should treat me well. That's important, too." The girl was really a girl - she was 13. I don't think this reflects on all Omanis, but I am sure she is not the only girl her age who thinks like this. There are women of different ages who definitely think like that, I assure you.

As cute as this cover is, um, yeah. YYYYYEAH. Women of different ages, indeed.

I think I have such a problem with this because I want to believe that I can have a fulfilled, happy life without the presence of a husband, partner, or children. Because I want to meet someone on my own, and I don't want anything arranged, I might never bump into the person who makes me want to live and grow old with them until our years have passed. If that does happen to me, I want to be able to live the rest of my life without feeling inadequate. I also don't want to lose my identity to another person if I do find someone I fall in love with. I want to be strong, independent, and happy forever, in more ways than just marriage or relationships.

The reason I am writing about all of this is because I have previously felt like I lost my identity to a partner. It was no one's fault but my own, and I never want to let that to happen to me ever again. Here, in this desert I am growing to accept, I truly feel that I have discovered one source of my unhappiness - that I forgot how to enjoy being on my own in my own company. When I was with them, I gave my heart completely to everything that would make them happy. It was selfless, but also self-damaging. I have since become very lost. Now, I want to get my heart back - not to hurt them, but so that I can love myself and rely on myself again.

Every woman and man should be able to say of themselves, "I have had a good, happy life. I am happy with what I have accomplished." So what if these men and women have not necessarily gotten married, or ended up with a significant other? I truly believe that true happiness is not found within the other person, but within yourself. That is what everyone should be looking for.

NOTE: All of these images were found randomly on Google image search or Bing (sometimes I like to switch it up!). Besides searching for Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bollywood and Desperate Housewives in particular, I found the rest by searching for things like: "women in love", "happy women", "love", and "romance."


  1. Deja, I love your writing and I love this post. Soooo true!

    It is crazy how there is such strong emphasis on finding "the one" and it does lead to unhappiness. And I think it is almost expected that you give up your identity for your partner. (I'm in a bad habit of that myself.) There is a lot of pressure. It's strange being in the United States how it's all about individuality, supposedly, but ultimately you end up giving up a lot of your identity because it is expected.

    Great post.

  2. Thanks, Loey! I am glad you enjoyed this.

    There is such a great danger of losing yourself in the other person. I have seen women do it more than men, although I can think of a few male examples. If you are worried about doing it, then just try ad be more aware. What are you like when you are alone or when you have little contact with him? What have you done for yourself lately? Do all of your goals revolve around him?

  3. I agree with what you say for the most part, but I also think you should acknowledge the biological pull within every human to find a partner, settle down and make babies. Of course it affects some more than others and some people can ignore it entirely, but especially in cultures where women wait a long time to get married (actually here I mean the US because even waiting till we're as old as we are (20's) is waiting a long time biologically) because the pull is stronger and stronger and I think it drives a lot of this need for another person. Society does drive us to find the "perfect" (whatever that means in whichever culture) person, but I would guess that it's biology that makes us feel the need to complete ourselves. There are some parts of human nature that have been so evolutionarily drilled into us that they are hard to shake, even for the most independent and strong women.

  4. I feel the same way about losing yourself in a relationship. Maintaining a separate identity from your partner is very difficult to do and I think many people don't realize it until it's too late. I try daily to discover who I am and what makes me worthwhile as a person and building that confidence is important so that when I am in my next relationship I can remember who I am. I think the identity issue is not talked about in our culture enough. Too often having a partner is viewed as a sign of success, which it may be for some people, but what about the success of the individual? Do they need someone to complete their life and make them whole? Or can they be whole on their own and have someone who loves them for that and supports them and vice versa without seemingly becoming symbiotic? Great post as always.

  5. @Alison: Thanks for your point of view. Needless to say, you bring something very different to the table! I think I am a much more culturally-minded person and I regret to say that the biological need for a partner did slip my mind. I guess it's not something I think about often enough. But if I were to add something about that to the post, I would prooooobably say this: the desire to make babies and find a partner is desired by just about all species (hence mating times and rituals) but as we are also socially-minded creatures AS WELL, we need to not be harsh on the people who might not find it as easy to find a partner, and we should not rush this process. People are made to think of relationships in what I truly think is an unhealthy way. It is NOT the end of the world, to me, if someone doesn't end up married with kids. We'd all love someone by our side, but we shouldn't think of it as our only aim in life. That's my bottom line, I guess.

    @Kathleen: I think your last question says it all - why should partners lose themselves in one another to the extent that their individual values and differences become blurred? No, I truly believe that people can be supportive of differences and separate goals without taking over. They can also spend a lot of awesome times together with the things that ARE similar between them, too. That'd be a really great relationship, in my opinion. I think you're doing great to build confidence in yourself. If you have good self-esteem and self-awareness, you'll probably have healthier relationships to begin with if you do meet someone special enough anyway.

  6. Well, a relationship is kinda like a car (if cars generally lasted a lifetime); it's all nice and shiny at first, quite fun to drive around, but then, and many times through no fault of your own, things break, get smashed up. Most of the time it can be fixed, sometimes not, though, if you know what I mean. Now, you definitely don't need one to be truly happy, that's for sure, but it can make it easier on you sometimes. Finally, if you're out shopping for one, and it feels a little cramped inside, definitely look for another, it'll just end up suffocating you. By the way, if I find out that SRK put his grimy mitts all over my girl Kajol in that film, well........ I'll do something! :P

  7. I have to post this in two parts because it's really long:

    You know, now that I think about it, I realize that I do have a (most likely) over-romanticized idea about love. I don't have a plot or a trajectory or any other kind of course that my eventual relationship is supposed to follow, but sometimes I have these little daydreams - me and my partner cuddling in bed together, me and my partner lying on top of each other watching a movie, me and my partner with a baby, etc. - and the more I think about it, the more I think they're just too perfect to be real. Not that relationships can't have moments of perfection, but I think I've romanticized my ideal partner so much in my head that I've become incredibly picky.

    The weird part is that I don't think I've gotten any of this directly from the media or from the culture around me. This is kind of where I get up on my soapbox and start ranting about inequality and whatnot, but I personally think that a lot of lesbians find themselves at a pretty significant disadvantage when they want to start dating. Apart from "The L Word," which in my opinion is an extremely poor example of lesbian culture and lifestyle, there is, and has consistently been, NOTHING in popular media about anything pertaining to lesbian relationships - nothing about pursuing a woman, nothing about the culture, nothing about relationships - just nothing. I may be a little biased, but I really do think that to some extent, same-sex male relationships are more acceptable in a lot of eyes than same-sex female relationships. There's more of a conceivable culture surrounding the gay male community, in my opinion. Anyway, that isn't really my point, although if anyone reading this wants to talk with me about it, please do, because I want to talk about it some more! What that all leads up to is the fact that I have learned pretty much everything I know about lesbianism from literature, gay friends, heterosexual teachers and therapists, and whatever was already in me to begin with.

    However, when I say 'literature,' I partly mean books and stories and whatnot, but I also mean fanfiction (yes, yes, I am a big geek; I hide it well...at least I think I do...). What's interesting about fanfiction, or at least the fanfiction I read, is that people watch a TV show (or movie, but I don't generally read movie-based fic), see some subtext that may or may not be there, and then write what they wish would happen. It's basically original work, but they're using characters that belong to something else, and often times they're basing their interactions off of subtle things they are picking up when they watch the show - or at least things they want to be there. For example, a show might not be written to have any lesbian subtext whatsoever, but people who are very sensitive to that kind of thing - other lesbians, horny weirdos, people who may be attracted to the characters, etc. - see it and are absolutely convinced that it's there. I have done this on occasion too.

  8. Anyway, this is shaping up to be a ridiculously long comment, so I'll wrap up by saying that a lot of the ideas I have about my ideal relationship come from fanfiction in which the characters have either overcome something major in order to be together, or are just so damn happy that they FINALLY found each other and worked out that the other one is actually gay AND attracted to her (I guess this is what I mean by authors seeing what they want to see. I saw a Livejournal user icon once that said "Femslash: Where every female is gay." That's a pretty accurate assessment) that their relationship is just perfect. No one writes fanfiction about their ideal couples fighting or having problems in their relationship. They're writing romanticized accounts of what they wish were going on between the characters. So the more I read fanfiction, the more I think "Man, I want that for myself!" and begin to over-idealize my own potential relationship.

    This became really long-winded, but I would love to talk to you more about this, because apparently I have a lot to say. I wish this were a more constructive comment instead of just me spewing my somewhat coherent thoughts, but there you have it.

  9. @Chris: Haha the car analogy is a simple one, and effective, but relationships are extremely complicated, a bit more complicated than a car! If you need help with a car, you have a mechanic. Usually, the mechanic can figure out what is wrong (and cheat you for the price of the repair). We don't really have a mechanic we can go to if the relationship breaks besides a therapist, and a therapist cannot see every single last detail. They are the closest thing we have, but they can only help with what they see, right? I believe in therapists but sometimes, we have to be our own mechanics when it comes to relationships. As for a car that is too small, sometimes we only want a bigger car because we see that other people have big, shiny cars. That, I must say, is what popular media and art can do to us - show us the big, shiny cars that aren't practical and wayyyy too expensive. I am sure you get what I mean.

  10. @Anna I am always glad to hear what you have to say so long comments are definitely welcome. I was very glad to hear what you have to say.
    First of all, I have heard before this argument that lesbian relationships are less acceptable in the media than male gay relationships. I have heard 2 main reasons:
    1. Women having sex together is a man's fantasy and causes men's lust, so if this is shown on TV then it is just appealing to men's lust. I think this ignores something else, that women like to see men on men action too a lot of the time.
    2. Women are just...hated in general. This is yet another way of attacking women's happiness. This seems a little extreme to me and I don't really WANT to believe it is true. I think there are some people who hate women, but this seems even too much for me.
    Anna, from time to time I have seen lesbian couples being shown in a normal light like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even random Grey's Anatomy. I see Ellen DeGeneres being accepted and she hosts a mean talk show that I actually like. There is SOME HOPE!
    Now I want to talk to you about fanfiction. Fanfiction is sometimes well written, but to me it is like a romance novel you can buy with those cheesy painted covers: they are fun and dangerous. I warn you - the relationships are so idealised that they put very, very unrealistic images in your head. I think that that can be very entertaining, but I am happy you are wise enough to see that these relationships are not exactly real. Be careful, Anna, because people are not perfect. People can be WONDERFUL but they are only human - and so are you. Okay?

  11. Okay!

    Yeah, that was basically my point. As much as I enjoy reading fanfiction, I realize that it is by no means a realistic account of...well, anything. I'm glad I'm astute enough to pick up on that fact, and right now I am working on loosening up a little and learning to love people (by which I generally mean potential partners) for their flaws and not in spite of them. What maybe wasn't clear is that I was also making a broader statement: that I worry about people who don't realize it. What about the poor people who think that harlequin romance novels - and by extension, fanfiction - are perfectly realistic? What are they setting themselves up for?

    I had totally forgotten about Ellen DeGeneres, Buffy, and Grey's - I guess because I don't watch any of them (I'd watch Ellen, but I don't get the channel - lame!). As great as those things are, though, I still wish that we could see more homosexual relationships - or just any non-heterosexual relationships - portrayed on prime-time television as realistic, healthy relationships and not as tragic, over-dramatized tear-jerk factories, if that makes any sense. For instance, there had been a great lesbian relationship on E.R. back when it was on, but then one of the women died tragically and it was just kind of like "can't anything GOOD happen to the gays?!?!" But I understand what you're saying and I'm definitely glad that there is SOME portrayal out there.

  12. If your "relationship" is "extremely complicated," then that's not a real relationship... that, would, be, a; lemon! Like a crappy car! ;)

  13. @Anna A lot of people have, sadly, become engrossed by these weird ideas of perfection. They are the ones who go out on dates and get mad because their date got them white roses instead of red ones. They have lofty, strange ideals, and they get disappointed very easily. They have a lot of issues with keeping partners for a good, sad reason.
    A normal, happy lesbian relationship on TV is still very, very hard to find. A lot of bisexual or lesbian women are just very promiscuous and weird, if they are not incredibly depressed and fighting against society for whatever. It's very frustrating, but it's getting there...as long as there are even a couple of series with lesbian/gay characters, we're not doing too bad. Now, let's see if Muslim characters will ever be normal, or transsexuals. THAT is not on the right track at all!

    @Chris The reason I say relationships are complicated is because PEOPLE are complicated. It's not all roses, chocolates, and walks on the beach. ;D