Don’t waste yourself

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Do you remember your first crush? Our writers take a potentially embarrassing trip down memory lane to relive the joy and pain of their first loves.

My first bout of romantic love will be forever trapped flatly within two dimensions – which, I’ve since learnt, is probably right bang smack where romantic love belongs.

You see, Dimitri, my first and thoroughly unreciprocating sweetheart, was a cartoon character. Built of storyboards, ink and roguish charm, he was the romantic lead in the 1997 animated feature film Anastasia – a tale (very) loosely based on the fall of the Romanov dynasty and the rise of Communism in Russia. And I do mean loosely.

Forget any hope of facts or considered historical exposition there; it was almost entirely just a traditional love story wherein the boy wins the girl, and the girl is won. 2-D in every sense. Weaned on this and a litany of other flat instances of romantic, hetero-normative love in culture, I swallowed the relentless imperative to fetishize ‘True Love’, hook, line, and sinker. I duly fell for Dimitri, as all girls should.

Now, to be fair on my at-least-slightly-discerning six-year-old self, this was no sappy Cinderella situation; Anastasia was worth identifying with. Anya (as she’s known to her ragtag but devoted pals) was spunky and savvy and streetwise, she had cool, cropped red hair and a ready fistful of attitude. Which perhaps makes all the more woeful the fact that, in the end, even she lived solely for love. When faced with the choice to rule and not be ruled, she threw away her autonomy, her crown (and weirdly also her newly rediscovered long-lost grandmother), to be instead the centre of Dimitri’s tale.

And that’s the crock of cartoon crap we’re peddled. If even the most vibrant and admirable of our heroines are doomed to be desired, to be defined only in the passive, no wonder our little girls ape this vapid passivity from the off. We learn that even the sparkiest ultimately find their worth as the object of someone else’s tale.

But this grumbling rant about limited pop culture female stereotypes is not a new one – so here’s the novel bit.

What I want to add is a suggestion that even the most self-aware among us, we, the vibrant, autonomous wonderwomen – the feminists, the shit-stirrers, the ones with rooms of our own – still dutifully follow this training through right along our lives. From close pals to the wider world of women (cis or otherwise), lots of us do yearn for the typical, Disneyfied romance – an exclusive union with one other person in whom we invest an unfeasible amount.

But why the heck do we do that? No one person can meet another’s needs in all their chopping and changing, unique sprawl. And as people, we’re all fallible – to expect another person never to let you down is madness. I’d be the first to admit that putting the lion’s share of your hopes, dreams and support network needs squarely in my fidgety hands means you’re running a high risk of them getting inadvertently crushed.

If flat-packed Dimitri and my realisation of Anya’s wasted-self has taught me anything, it’s that we have to share it around a bit. Have relationships, don’t get me wrong. Love a person, allow them to occupy centre stage in your show. But as your co-star, or even one of many co-stars. And always as part of a massive and sprawling wider supporting cast of other wonderful, varied superstars too: friends, family, colleagues, cats. Push aside the shackling notion of inward-turning couplings. I’ve had a few romantic relationships since Dimitri (and some of them even with real world, actually in-existence people), and experience has confirmed that the best bits, the bits that are optimum in this, reality, are the bonds of respect, admiration, support and laughter. The bits that are friendship.

The ideal of romantic True Love, limiting and reductive, is the story we’ve been weaned on since the start, but it’s not a great one. Both it and Dimitri belong to a dimension of pop culture fantasies, pixie dust and Mickey Mouse. You and I belong to the organic gut and stink of reality.

Image credit: shayshayallday via Compfight

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