Finding Mr Right starts with being Ms Right.
“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.