Once upon a time, there lived a young girl with big dreams and even bigger glasses who fed into the concept that one day, her own personal Prince Charming would drop into her life, and they would buy a house and have babies and live happily ever after. She didn’t come up with the idea of him on her own. The culture around her recolored reality by painting the fairy tale. She just cast her own characters.

I was that girl. Fast forward a few years (okay, a few decades), and I’ve learned the hard way that waiting for Prince Charming is indeed a fairy tale.

Chick flicks, romance novels, Isley Brothers songs, Disney movies, even our families — they’ve all played a part in making us single women crazy. We’re running around here clutching to the vision of one amazing, kiss-me-on-a-mountaintop-as-doves-circle-overhead kind of relationship. According to them all, there’s a man roaming somewhere across the Earth who possesses a combination of qualities that supposedly make him hand-designed just for you and you and you and yes, even me and my crazy self.

And they all whisper—or in some cases, holler—“Ooh girl, maybe he’s the one.” 

Knowing he exists should theoretically take the worry out of this whole dating and relationship thing. Sure, you may get stuck with some duds in the meantime. I mean, I’ve entertained dudes who clearly weren’t even close to being The Fifteenth, let alone The One, because I was just biding my time until this fantasy man showed up. But the older I get and the single-er I am, I have to question whether there is such a thing as one ideal man for every woman.  

We’ve all fallen in love before, some deeper than others. I’ve had it bad four times, but not one of them has been The One. I’m not even sure I know what that means. Maybe seeing him is supposed to produce those middle school butterflies in my stomach or make my knees buckle when we kiss. But does that mean that this singular person is supposed to be so amorously superior that I couldn’t be happy and content with, say, The Second? Or maybe even The Third?

Mr. Something to Do in the Meanwhile has shown up. Mr. He’ll Do for the Time Being stopped through. This dude who’s supposed to be The One? I’m over here singing my grammatically incorrect Jennifer Hudson tune at the top of my lungs: Where you at? Is he in a bunker somewhere? On some covert spy mission? Oh, I get it. He turned state’s witness and is in protective custody. Or he’s in the tenth grade and I’ve just got to be patient. Real patient.

Truth is, The One might not be anywhere. The One might be a figment of social invention, something forced on single ladies to create this flowery, fabulous, romantic notion that the heavens will shower down one amazing man who runs to us across a field of blooming poppies with his stuff together, his credit on point and his desire to be married a top priority. In the meantime, we’re shooting down guys who may not be this fabled superhero of love that we’re waiting for, but they’ll make darn good husbands and life mates.

I’ll take a strong runner-up, rather than holding out for a man who may or may not exist. You may call it settling. I call it weighing my odds. I’m starting to believe that we all get a few chances to be happy and content in love with someone we’re compatible with… isn’t that enough to build a lifetime on? Marrying The One might be the ultimate fairy tale, but waiting him out means the years are ticking by. I don’t know about you, fellow single girls, but I’m tucking my storybook away.

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