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Why do women still buy the fairytale marriage bull?

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As a commitment-phobe, I am often viewed as someone in denial; that deep down I desire a loving relationship regardless of my reticence. And to an extent, this is correct. Yes, I would like to share my life with someone special. But do I need this to feel complete? Er, hell no.

You see, I am truly content on my own. Honest. It took me a long time and much introspection to get this way after a traumatic break-up years ago. But today, I know a partner can only and should only add to my happiness; not be responsible for it. But damn I’m having trouble convincing other women that this is the case; that to be truly comfortable in your own company is perhaps one of the most important achievements in life.

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I am constantly seeing women who are still buying the fairytale bull. They’re often the same ones who question the truth in my circumstances, who find it impossible to believe contentment can be achieved without commitment. These women are trapped in a Disney dystopia, where marriage is the ultimate goal, that a spoken “I do” and exchanged rings signal a sigh of relief that they will never have to be alone again. Someone will always have their back. Their futures are assured. The fact one in three marriages end in divorce is a reality for others. It couldn’t happen to them. But oh, it can and does.

You don’t have to be Barnaby Joyce's or Karl Stefanovic's wife to realise what you think is a sound marriage is often not. Believing in the archaic notion that Prince Charmings come along and scoop up Princesses, treating them as such thereafter, is up there with Santa and the Easter Bunny. It’s once the I do's are done, the hard work really starts. And it takes two willing and consistent partners to get the job done. High hopes are admirable but naive fantasy is not.

I was made aware of this distorted view when a discussion among friends turned to “poor Jen” recently. Yes, this is a reference to Jennifer Aniston, the beautiful, accomplished, wealthy and well-supported actress who, if not copping the condescending “poor” tag, gets lumbered with an “unlucky in love” moniker.

Now, bear with me here but I can’t see how a woman who has been married to Brad Pitt and Justin Theroux and has dated John Mayer and Vince Vaughn is unlucky in love. But now facing divorce, she is viewed as “not being able to keep a man” (don’t start me on that one) and someone to be pitied (note there are no “poor Justin”, a failure who can’t keep a woman lamentations).

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Well call me heartless but I won’t be shedding too many tears of concern for poor Jen. Just because her relationship ended doesn’t mean the love wasn’t real. It just wasn’t forever.

It is expectations of forever fulfilment I see as the cause of much disappointment in relationships. Let’s take a look at TV’s Married at First Sight, which I have closely watched for research (OK, gratuitous amusement), as an example of how pie in the sky some women are still regarding marriage.

Contestant Alycia, a 28-year-old student from South Australia, is described on the show’s website as a “hopeless romantic who has dreamed of her fairytale wedding since childhood. Alycia’s quest for a husband knows no bounds. This smiley and sensitive student can often be found at home creating mood boards of her ideal wedding day. Long before entering the experiment she had already written her vows, picked out her dress and embarked on a wedding diet to ensure that when she did meet the right guy, she would be ready. Unsuccessful on the dating scene, Alycia has been single for four years but has never given up on her hope of meeting Mr Perfect."

If ever there was a description of someone likely to be let down by marriage, it is this woman. Because matrimony is more than a wedding and Mr Perfect is an oxymoron. This idealistic outlook belongs in a Mills and Boon book and that’s where it should stay. Because putting marriage up on such a high pedestal leaves it precariously open to falling over.

No man can live up to Alycia’s ideal and in this instance he sure didn’t. Her instant husband, plumber Mathew, believed he wasn’t good enough for her and didn’t want to hurt someone with such high expectations of love. In other words, he couldn’t or wouldn’t be Prince Charming so reverted to being a decent and honest bloke instead.

And in reality, this is what women should be looking for. Not a prince but a person, faults and all. Because if you pity poor Jen, you’re likely to pity yourself should your lofty ideals be a let-down.

Relationships are a wonderful part of life but they shouldn’t be a reason for living. Because if you are waiting for a man to create your happiness instead of just adding to it, then the reality is “poor” you.

Wendy Squires is a Fairfax Media columnist.

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