The Problem with ‘Happy Ever After’

Earlier this year, a reader told me that until very recently she always thought she needed a man to “complete” her, citing the line from Jerry McGuire.

Fortunately, she later realized that wasn’t the case and discovered new interests and relationships that filled her in ways she never imagined possible.

I definitely recall a certain feeling of emptiness when I was single, and sharing my life with a man I love has eased that ache quite a bit. But my husband doesn’t complete me. I’m not finished.

I still have hopes, dreams, sleepless nights. I’m still making new friends, starting new business ventures, and traveling to unfamiliar places. I still like throwing parties, taking weekend workshops, and talking to strangers in airports.

I was reminded of all this by a terrific essay in The New Statesman by Laurie Penny, who points out a serious problem with the way we’ve traditionally discussed romantic love: “The worst thing about traditional romantic love is that it’s supposed to be the end of the story—if you’re a girl. The music swells, the curtain drops as you fall into his arms, and then you’re done. You get to drift off into a life of quiet bliss and baby making.”

But Penny, like many women, doesn’t want this kind of “happy ending”—or any kind of ending—and she believes that the best way for women to avoid the fade out is to remain single for a substantial portion of their adulthood.

Penny explains that while she was often lonely and frustrated during her unattached years, she can see now that they were incredibly productive. She loves her partner, but she also finds that being in a relationship involves a lot of compromise and work.

“It’s work I definitely would not have had time for two or three years ago, when I was completely absorbed with churning out three books at once while simultaneously trying to become a better human being. And it’s work I’d advise most young women not to be bothered with,” she writes.

Being single is also a lot of work, but I think its work worth doing. During my single years, I learned to cope with emotional and financial challenges without the buffer of a loving spouse. I learned to create a support structure in a world designed for couples. And I became very clear on who I was and what I valued.

My single years were hard sometimes, but by building a strong foundation for my life and for myself, I ensured that my wedding day was not my “happy ending.” It was just the start of a new chapter.

its not you sara eckel

Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.

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