Dolly Alderton Book Club

Words by: Tiffany Forbes
Collage by: Kate Thomas

From the day I entered this world kicking and screaming, to the day I was introduced to Cinderella at age five, I’d been force-fed the same old stories: happy-ever-afters defined by a true love’s kiss and fairy tales that only ever ended with finding The One.

These social constructs neatly packaged like products on a production line and sold at every crossroad of our lives to remind us happiness only exists in a significant other, and that romantic soulmates are life’s final destination, with everything else simply forming part of the collateral.

But what these stories always failed to mention was that these endings were nothing but a big fat scam. Instead I, like every other impressionable teen, traipsed around for years longing for that all-consuming Georgia and Robbie from Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging kind of love — albeit the olive costume. The type that promised flowers on Valentine’s Day and the perfect innocence of an excruciatingly awkward handhold at your first tragic Hoyts date. The type that sent currents through every fibre of your body, because a belly full of butterflies just wasn’t going to cut it.

And hell, I wasn’t the only one. I’d see girls on Instagram as young as nine proclaim, “no one loves me, because I can’t get a boyfriend” as if it were the quintessential phrase of every primary school sleepover. Even family Christmases were no solace from the matchmaking, with questions about my relationship status placed high and proud on a pedestal above anything else that could possibly be plaguing my young teen-life at any given time. It’s no wonder these systemic ideas are ingrained in our thinking.

When I finally started dating a boy in year 12, I naïvely thought, this was it. I’d finally get to experience what it was about this whole ‘love’ business that people crossed oceans for, and singers like John Legend wrote ‘All of Me’ about. But without fail, every time I’d leave more disappointed than I’d started.

The truth? True love is much more nuanced than Cinderella ever let on. It’s a flawed mentality to believe this idea of achieving a happy-ever-after lies solely in the hands of Prince-fucking-Charming. Perhaps it’s time we shift the narrative and learn to embrace love in all its varied guises.

Why? Because true love to me is my first primary school friend and I vowing to be forever inseparable over a shared juice box and a canteen mac n’ cheese 14 years ago. Since then, I’ve found true love in my best friends who send me pictures of their hairy legs at 4:00pm and call me only to sit in silence at 5:00pm. I’ve found soulmates in people I’ve met halfway across the world as they lay appreciating the beauty of a simple sunset with the same utter passion and vigour as I. I’ve found true love in the friends who send me Betoota Advocate articles every day — as if it were a religion — just because they know it’ll make me laugh.

I’ve found true love in friendships built on the foundations of one too many group assignment Zoom calls (over wine and tears, no doubt). I’ve found soulmates at almost every crossroad of my life, and not a single one of them needed the added layer of romance or intimacy to make me feel both worthy and loved.

A quote I read once said:

“They force it down your throat until you choke on it. Girls aren’t pretty unless they’re wanted. Boys aren’t men unless they’re having sex with someone. People aren’t loveable unless they’re dating someone. But a relationship won’t always make you happy, and as wonderful as romance is, it isn’t the only love that exists.”

We so often use our romantic relationship status as a mechanism for validation, to define our worth, to define our success, and when we don’t have it, we’re led to believe we’re unwanted, unloved and undeserving despite owing so much to the beautiful friendships in our lives. The people who love us, for literally just that, us.

So, to the world that taught me I’d only find true love and happiness in the person I marry, to the Disney movie that taught me a fairy tale ending would only ever be found in a true love’s kiss: it’s time to redefine our happily-ever-afters.

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