Once I graduated college, I thought it was time to graduate from dating guys to dating men. You know, trade in dating guys wearing Underarmor and start dating men in shining armor.
At a then-naive 22, I defined a “man” under strict parameters; he was over the age of 25, lives on his own, drives a car, has a career, and is a gentleman.
…Now onto Page 2. He surprises me with affirmations and flowers and makes me a top priority in his life. He would never pressure me to have sex, because he would never propose the idea of sleeping together before we were in an exclusive relationship. He wants to make me smile, and he wants to be my biggest cheerleader. And if he wanted to build me a house or write me letters every day for seven years, those would be incredible (maaaaybe expected) bonuses.
You may think this storybook narrative ends with me never finding Prince Charming because he doesn’t exist.
Well, I’m here to tell you he does.
I’ve dated him many times.
I’ve been spoiled by him many times.
And I’ve broken up with him every single damn time.
Love is not a novelty. People tell you to marry your best friend because your best friend doesn’t look at you as a possession or trophy to be won and polished for display. Prince Charming does.
The Prince Charming prototype is practically born and bred in Dallas, Texas. Boys are taught to open doors in order to open a woman’s heart; that a compliment is just as effective as foreplay; and you don’t need to be her best friend because diamonds are. So it’s pretty standard to have a well-dressed and well-spoken man captivate you away from other suitors and Tinderfellas with his smile and charisma.
He will call you two days before he wants to see you, and he will make reservations at a nice restaurant. He’s like Mr. Big but better at hiding his commitment issues.
And in a town where looks and appearances are everything, and being successful is determined by your collection of accolades, cars and property; women are seen more as damsels that can be groomed into arm candy and considerably beautiful collateral for business dinners and work parties.
You will never find a happily ever after with a man who believes every woman must be rescued in order to be loved.
Between the ages of 22 and 24, I experienced a multitude of dating experiences. I saw that every box on my checklist was being checked off when I was dating Prince Charming; because I was merely checking off every box he had for a Princess: He was kind because I was beautiful. He was generous with his money because he needed me to be generous with my time to attend his gala events and important family outings. It began to feel like I was dating for an arranged marriage filled with antiquated beliefs.
The longer I dated these Prince Charmings, the less charmed I felt. I wasn’t seen as a beautiful young woman with depth and ideas, I was told how to dress and where to be. Ironically, I felt more imprisoned than Rapunzel letting down her hair waiting for such treatment. So each time, I broke it off with Prince Charming — sprinting from the ball, hoping to not be found again.
After about a year of this, I went back to dating guys from the Midwest, opting for the Under Armor I thought I never wanted to see again. With every date, I was reminded how I should feel: light, and like myself.
Little by little, I erased my expectations for affirmations, lavish gifts and a man with a fancy job title, with expectations for honesty, a mental challenge and a man who values integrity and staying true toward his convictions whatever they may be. I began to see; I should value someone who challenges me just as much as I value someone who spoils me. With pampering treatment, comes a sly sense of control. With a challenge, comes an opportunity for growth and intimacy.
At 22, my idea of a perfect relationship probably looked like the glossy images we find of Kimye–globetrotting and loving social media proclamations for the other person. At 24, I think the best couple out there is Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. They seem like two big kids who loves to wrestle in the dirt, and wrestle in the bedroom. You can sense they are equals in their relationship and bring a sensibility to the phrase “power couple”. My new #relationshipgoals include life resembling an ensemble cast, not a Nicholas Sparks movie. I want to date someone I consider my best friend and greatest partner in crime, partner through the tough times.
As I continue to date, the previous dealbreakers (not calling, not opening doors, not paying the check) appear more shallow and frivolous. Manners do not necessarily lead to spiritual growth and passionate intimacy. A great presentation to others? Sure. A sense of maturity? Maybe. Not that I don’t appreciate or even want to be treated like a dainty lady from time to time, but I want someone to see through my soul and find my bullshit beautiful. I want us to care more about how we can build each other up and build our own empires, and less about if this is a person I can bring home to my parents.
As we demolish gender roles and claw at gender binaries, it’s becoming more obvious than ever: we all need to be equal, and find our equal.