“I’ve been lonely for a long time now, hoping anyone who I perceive as better than me will scoop me up on a night kite rescue mission and love me so hard that I can finally forget about this feeling left over from all the years my blood was boiling. Dear Gravel, it doesn’t work like that. If anyone ever loves you that hard, hard as you’ve been dreaming, chances are you will not believe them until you accept yourself.”
Buddy Wakefield, Start
The first movie I ever saw as a little girl was Mulan, and ever since then, she has been my favorite Disney princess.
Not only was she a kick-ass Asian, she emulated everything I wanted to be: beautiful, strong and just one of the boys. She believed in love and honor, and never compromised it once. Most of all, she, unlike the other Disney princesses, didn’t wait for a man to slay the evil witch or dragon and rescue her. She did what she knew was right and rescued herself, and eventually she found a man who loved her for it.
I remember back in school, I was a shy and quiet girl who never dated anyone. But the truth is, no boy really asked me out. I was not phased by this because outside of school life I went out almost every weekend, from clubbing to gigs to house parties, and I met boys I became hopelessly attracted to. On the outside, it looked like fun and games: the flirting, the touching, the giggling, the late night phone calls. But deep within, I was hurting and looking for someone to rescue me. I was searching for someone to fill the empty spaces of my heart, someone to tell me I was beautiful and loved, someone to hold me at night and tell me that everything was going to be okay.
Somewhere along the way, I came to depend on boys to rescue me. And in the process, I lost myself. Moving from boy to boy didn’t meet my desire to be caught up in a fairytale kind of love, it just left me more unsatisfied and emptier. I was stuck in a downward spiral of loneliness. I knew that the feelings I felt weren’t wrong. I believe God has wired all of our hearts with a desire to be loved and for companionship. He understands our innermost desires to fall in love and find a husband, and he does not think we are bad because of it. But when we direct all our longings toward a flawed man in the hopes that he’s going to complete us, that’s when things start to get messy.
I’ll admit it. I was waiting for a handsome knight in shining armor to sweep me up onto his white horse. I thought that once that happened, my depression would magically disappear, the flashbacks of my past would be less painful, and perhaps I would finally be happy. Disney taught me that princesses were to wait for their prince, and then they would live happily every after. In modern times, it seems just about right. Single, powerful, dream-driven women are not asked about what motivates them, their desires or their passions. They’re asked instead, “Where’s your boyfriend?” I mean, really?
Somewhere along the way, some women have become all to reliant on men to approve of them or give them some way out. It’s dangerous to be codependent on the opposite sex for the fear of being alone. I know there have been times where I’ve really struggled with that. Times when I would cry myself to sleep at night because I missed someone so much, pursuing him restlessly because I thought that he was my ticket out of my misery. Times when I would move from one guy to the next, searching for validation in each of them for my worthiness and beauty. Times when I would sit in a pool of pity for myself because I haven’t even had a boyfriend yet while many of my friends were in serious relationships or even getting married. As much as I am embarrassed to admit this, I have very much played the helpless princess in my life.
I know there’s that fear that’s always looming above you – fear that you’re going to be alone forever if you don’t scramble to find the one, fear that you will be the third wheel while all your friends are settling down in droves, fear that if you’re too independent and strong, that will scare off all the men as being too intimidating and perhaps unattractive. That fear is natural. Whenever I’m in those situations, I get a pang of sadness and disappointment. Being single for near 23 years is no easy journey. But I remind myself how I’m perfecting who I am as a person, building my character and learning to love my whole being. I remind myself that after years of relentless pursuit of the opposite sex that doing so doesn’t satisfy the need for love, security or validation. Pursuing it leaves you emptier still.
I learned to stand on my own two feet and created a world of my own without needing a man to contribute to my journey of self-healing. I stopped looking for my ticket to happiness in men because I realized along the way that a man, no matter how wonderful, cannot complete me when I can only find completion in God. I began a self-love journey that took to me to Bible college, courses where I finally became aware of my feelings and needs, books upon books of learning to lead safe relationships, and finally, it took me on a solo trip to Europe to quench my thirst for travel and self-discovery where I ate alone in restaurants, dragged my own 25kg luggage everywhere, slept by myself in hostels and enjoyed my own company. And instead of believing that a man could rescue me from my depression, I’ve been learning to heal from it the best way I know how – through supportive friendships, through films and art and music, and through grace for myself and from God.
I learned that I didn’t need a man to sweep me up and carry me off into the sunset. If a man rides up next to me now, I would politely refuse and tell him I’d rather walk the journey instead. I’ve distanced myself further and further from the notion that I need a man to complete me, heal me, or make me happy. They can’t, because it was God’s job all along. This journey has stretched me and challenged me, and because of it I know who I am, I understand my feelings and needs and I know how to meet them in healthy ways. I’ve learned to ultimately stand on my two feet and be that kind of princess who takes no crap, slays her own dragon and gets her hands and feet dirty. Had I not embarked on this life-changing adventure, I think I would be wallowing in despair for still being single.
Solo traveler Brooke Sayward once wrote, “But regardless of whether you are in love, hate love, long for love or really just don’t even think about it at this point in your life, the most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself. You will in turn become the truest and most happy version of yourself. You will know what you like as well as what you don’t like… You will have your own opinion… By loving yourself you allow yourself to be loved for who you are… not who you intend to be.”
You may think that the man who comes along into your life is going to one day sweep you off your feet, heal all your battle scars and fill the cracks that run deep beneath your heart. You think that when he tells you you’re beautiful, you’re finally going to believe it. But, I don’t believe it works that way. You can’t accept love when you don’t love yourself. So do it. Learn to fall in love with yourself. Learn to stand on your own two feet. Learn to rescue yourself by doing things that will strengthen who you are as a person.
You can’t do life on your own. You shouldn’t. But don’t wait for a man to walk into your life so you can finally begin it. Don’t be deceived when a man who seemingly has it all offers you the world. You’re going to be just fine without him. There’s a whole, beautiful, wild world out there for you to adventure in by yourself, first. And even though that world may try to convince you that you need a man to be successful and happy, it is a powerful thing to go against the grain and choose yourself instead. That is a journey in itself – a wonderful, challenging, freeing one you mustn’t trade for any man. And I know, when the time comes to meet you future husband, like Mulan, you will be ready – confident, strong, loved-up and beautifully, entirely you – a woman who has a world of her own.