Why College Students Should Stop Fantasizing About 'Happily Ever After'

Contrary to popular belief, the term "happily ever after" doesn’t have to equate to a Disney-esque fairytale. We're all familiar with the final scene of the movie where the protagonist walks off into the sunset with their one true love while rosy music plays and the credits begin to roll. These endings may be satisfying to watch, or even admirable when you think about the cinematic outcome of it all, but this doesn't have to be something that you aspire to. Yes, many beliefs about a “happily ever after” are commonly practiced and widely accepted, but what does this phrase even mean? Could this allude to us being swept off of our feet by our partner in a horse-drawn carriage? Will we have the kids, the house, the dog, all acompanied by a white picket fence in the near future? Or will we end up alone and content without those things? Personally, the term “happily ever after” is subjective.

For women, this choice can be especially difficult as it’s much more normalized and expected for females to be the ones to decide between a family and a career. 

However, the nuclear family structure is no longer the norm. With the numerous victories for LGBTQ+ communities in recent years, there is no longer just one way for a family unit to look, nor should there be. YouTube channels like Jubilee are paving the way for open conversations and open-mindedness with video informationals on polyamorous partners and couples in open relationships. Many of the outlooks surrounding marriage and reproduction are influenced by the dynamics of personal own childhood households, religion, peers, and societal influences.

It's refreshing to see millennials and other members of Generation Z forging their own paths, and also, that in 2020 it’s totally common to forgo the traditional routes to happiness that our parents and grandparents pursued.  

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While long-held attitudes and certain themes are evolving, media representation isn’t always as quick to adapt. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres, Chelsea Handler, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Lawrence have publicly spoken out about not wanting kids, for reasons that include already feeling complete, not having the desire, focusing on their career, or not feeling ready for the responsibility. The media and even fans of these celebrites haven’t always reacted kindly to these statements. More specifically, Jennifer Aniston has had a career that spans several successful decades. However, she’s also been heavily scrutinized for choosing not to have children

Ariana Madix, from Bravo TV’s Vanderpump Rules, is another example of a star who has been outspoken about her lack of interest in being a traditional homemaker. Early last year, Madix called out the double standard she regularly faces during press interviews with her long-term partner Tom Sandoval. She tweeted, “I get asked about babies and he [Tom] gets asked about TomTom and future career plans...I have goals. I work hard. Ask me about it.”

The rest of the Vanderpump Rules cast members have gotten engaged and are tying the knot with their SO’s but Madix and Sandoval declining to follow in their footsteps has become a frequent storyline.

The choice to bypass motherhood or even marriage is one that shouldn’t have to be explained or justified to anyone. For women in the public eye, it can be incredibly frustrating to be asked about their fashion choices and familial plans in higher frequency than their male counterparts. Additionally, it’s important for us to not only acknowledge, but be sensitive to women that cannot conceive or carry children.

Archaic attitudes towards relationships are also prevalent in the films we watch. The 2008 film 27 Dresses centered on Katherine Heigl’s character Jane Nichols, who happened to be in charge of the wedding between her sister and the man Jane was in love with. The tipping point in the film was the reception, and a fellow guest infamously told Jane, “Must be so hard to watch your younger sister get married before you.” 

Similarly, the 2019 film What Men Want explores Taraji P. Henson’s character Ali Davis’ newfound ability to read men’s minds. Chaos erupts when Davis airs out the groom's dirty laundry at the altar, and a fellow bridesmaid retorts, “I think you’re just a little jealous because we’re all married.” Statements are easily found in entertainment are just as likely to be found in our social circles as well. Snide comments about always being single or not being able to maintain a relationship, has the potential to start a major argument.

The holidays have recently passed, and there has been no shortage of circulating memes about women going home to be met with a bombardment of questions about why we lack partners or children.

Similar to how we should be open-minded about those not following the norm, it’s also crucial to be open-minded to those who are following the norm. The term “happily ever after” is allowed to appear a certain way to you and look completely different to someone else. We’re all deserving of a satisfying outcome, no matter what that looks like.