Love Bites

Find­ing Mr Right starts with be­ing Ms Right.

CLEO (Malaysia) - - NEWS -

“When I was in my first re­la­tion­ship, I was en­ter­ing univer­sity and it was a very dif­fi­cult time for me. It was ba­si­cally like start­ing anew [be­cause I moved out], and I lost con­tact with a lot of my old friends. The night when we broke up, I be­came hys­ter­i­cal and ended up get­ting sent into the emer­gency ward. But it was only af­ter sub­se­quent re­la­tion­ships fell apart that I re­alised there are other prob­lems within me that I need to con­front and not run from. For ex­am­ple, I don’t know how to be alone, or how to deal with loss.” Elodie Tan’s story is a fa­mil­iar one. Most of us have been there be­fore, to vary­ing de­grees. As much as a lot of us would like to be­lieve in hav­ing the per­fect re­la­tion­ship with Mr Right, the re­al­ity is they don’t al­ways pan out the way we would like them to. Ev­ery girl han­dles heart­break dif­fer­ently, but a re­cent study by the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico has re­vealed that women tend to take break-ups far more se­ri­ously than men, and young girls are more prone to suf­fer from neg­a­tive men­tal health ef­fects when a re­la­tion­ship doesn’t match up with their ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s easy to blame hor­mones, teenage angst, or even the an­noy­ing phrase “it’s just a girl thing”, but the root of the prob­lem stems from some­thing much deeper than just girly mood swings. Wait­ing For Prince Charm­ing While women have (thank­fully) come a long way from the days when the fairer sex was dis­missed as the “weaker sex” chained to hearth and home, some things haven’t changed. “Although many as­pects of women’s lives have changed in mod­ern days, par­tic­u­larly with ed­u­ca­tion and work, women still gen­er­ally place more im­por­tance in re­la­tion­ships than men,” agrees Dr Tan Hwee Sin, Spe­cial­ist in Psy­chi­a­try and Con­sul­tant at the Raff les Coun­sel­ing Cen­tre. “In terms of gen­der roles, women are viewed as nur­tur­ers and care­givers, hence women’s self-es­teem is very much tied to how suc­cess­ful they are in re­la­tion­ships.” On top of these be­liefs, pop­u­lar cul­ture has shaped ideas of how women should be in re­la­tion­ships. Brigette Tan, 21, admits that be­fore she started dat­ing, most of her ex­pec­ta­tions on re­la­tion­ships came from “books, movies, and TV shows”. While re­cent films such as Frozen and Brave do in­di­cate a shift away from the tra­di­tional Dis­ney sto­ry­line, we are still a gen­er­a­tion of girls who have grown up on a fare of tales of princesses and the mantra of “some day, my prince will come”. You only have to look at the films that have cap­tured the hearts of young girls (like the Twi­light se­ries) to see that find­ing love still forms the crux of each story. With me­dia and so­ci­etal norms con­stantly shap­ing what the ideal re­la­tion­ship should be like, it’s no sur­prise our ex­pec­ta­tions are sim­i­larly af­fected. Elodie, 24, con­fessed: “At the start, I wanted the guy to pay for ev­ery­thing, I wanted f low­ers, and I al­ways wanted to be taken out. I didn’t want to be bored in a re­la­tion­ship. But af­ter a while, you re­alise that that’s not what a re­la­tion­ship should be built on.” And aside from find­ing the per­fect part­ner, there’s also so­ci­etal pres­sure on what it means to be “the per­fect girl ”. Brigette ad­mit­ted that af­ter

“grow­ing up in [a cul­ture that ob­jec­ti­fied] women and know­ing that I don’t look like [a Dis­ney princess], all the more I wanted to be [the ideal girl­friend]. For ex­am­ple, even if I don’t look like this person, at least I want to have the bub­bly per­son­al­ity that guys will like.” As a re­sult, girls end up putting pres­sure on their part­ner, their re­la­tion­ship and them­selves to meet this “per­fect” stan­dard.

Grow­ing Up, Grow­ing Wiser

It’s easy to pi­geon­hole girls who dis­play ob­ses­sive or ex­treme be­hav­iour af­ter a breakup as girls “with is­sues”, but in the end, all of us strug­gle with in­se­cu­rity. “Peo­ple who don’t love them­selves enough and who have low self-es­teem think that a ro­mance will fill that void within them,” ex­plains Andrea Chan, Cen­tre Man­ager of Cen­tre For Ef­fec­tive Liv­ing. “So to make up for the lack of love for them­selves, [their part­ner] has to love them dou­bly hard – on be­half of them­selves and for the person in ques­tion.” This lack of self-con­fi­dence could stem from grow­ing up in a dys­func­tional fam­ily, or an ab­sence of fa­mil­ial sup­port. “Grow­ing up with a sin­gle par­ent, I didn’t know what was the right way to look for some­one or the right way to be treated, so I went on a wild goose chase with re­la­tion­ship af­ter re­la­tion­ship,” says Brigette. Af­ter a se­ries of bad re­la­tion­ships, Brigette re­alised she owed it to her­self to start anew. “A sig­nif­i­cant event was when I fell in love with some­body who al­ready had a girl­friend, and we went out to­gether for a year,” she ex­plains. “Fun­nily enough, that was when I re­alised I was ca­pa­ble of tak­ing a step back. And when I left the re­la­tion­ship, I thought, at least I still had some self-re­spect in me. It re­ally was a wake up call and made me re­alise that I de­served bet­ter.” While grow­ing up in a bro­ken fam­ily can af­fect both men and women, Dr Tan re­minds us that bi­o­log­i­cally, both gen­ders re­spond dif­fer­ently when fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties: “Women tend to ru­mi­nate when they are stressed about some­thing, whereas men tend to dis­tract them­selves.” It is this act of over-think­ing that makes us more vul­ner­a­ble to our in­se­cu­ri­ties. How­ever, women’s in­stinc­tive abil­ity to ref lect also work in our favour.

Down, But Not Out

We are a gen­er­a­tion that’s very pub­lic with shar­ing our feel­ings and opin­ions on so­cial me­dia. But de­spite our ap­par­ent trans­parency, we still wrestle with per­sonal trou­bles and blow them out of pro­por­tion at times. Ms Chan sug­gests that it is Gen Y’s com­fort­able life­style that has made us less re­silient to emo­tional set­backs. “We don’t go through big tri­als, we don’t suf­fer as much, and prob­a­bly, our great­est set­back is our first breakup,” she says. And while some would protest that our gen­er­a­tion has ad­di­tional prob­lems that our el­ders didn’t (such as cy­ber bul­ly­ing), it’s true that in terms of our ba­sic needs, we are more shel­tered. Thus, our strug­gles usu­ally come in the form of emo­tional and men­tal in­se­cu­ri­ties, rather than prac­ti­cal ones, like hav­ing a roof over our heads. Un­sur­pris­ingly, when it comes to deal­ing with emo­tional strug­gles, the so­lu­tion is found in self-ref lec­tion. “Hav­ing me-time is very im­por­tant. Spend­ing time alone to just di­gest what you have learnt, to just be still and know that ‘OK, these are the voices that I hear. What is it that I want to ac­cept and what is it that I don’t want to ac­cept?’” sug­gests Ms Chan. What’s most im­por­tant is putting aside the white noise to fo­cus on build­ing your core sense of self­worth and con­fi­dence. “[Ex­ter­nal fac­tors] will inf lu­ence you, but they should not make you who you are,” she em­pha­sises. Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a “shat­tered” emo­tional state upon find­ing out her first boyfriend cheated on her af­ter a three-year long re­la­tion­ship, Zoe Lee’s out­look on love is now more ra­tio­nal and prag­matic. “You have to want to be happy. The de­sire to be happy and be the best ver­sion of your­self has to be stronger than the hurt. I don’t mean to say I don’t get hurt. I do,” Zoe, 23, clar­i­fies. “I just try re­ally hard not to let it run my life.” There will al­ways be times when we feel un­lucky in love, but what’s more im­por­tant is find­ing who we are and de­vel­op­ing our own sense of self-worth. So let’s hear it ladies: It’s time to first fall in love with our­selves.

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