Oh fantasy… Do you remember the first time you see him? It’s like you’ve been struck by lightning in the best way possible. He’s tall, dark and impossibly handsome. Smart and successful and incredibly sensitive but still strong. He’s well dressed and worldly but down to earth and loves to cook. An athletic intellectual who showers you with gifts and loves you… just the way you are.

Ah, sigh. He’s Mr. Perfect. The one. Everything you’ve ever dreamed of and more and he’ll come along to rescue you from all your woes, like a knight in shining armor… won’t he?

Of course not. As any self-respecting woman knows (at least deep down, even if she tells herself otherwise), only we can fix ourselves. Besides which, this so-called “perfect” guy doesn’t exist — any more than his male fantasy counterpart, the leggy supermodel with an astrophysics degree she has no desire to put to use, a kindergarten teacher’s heart, no previous sexual history and a curious interest in threesomes. Yet somehow, he’s the fantasy behind many a woman’s rush to the altar. Or is he?

After all, it’s not like most of the women walking down the aisle are going to meet a JFK Jr. clone at the other end (and even if they did, he’d have his issues too — nobody’s actually perfect)! So what is it that drives us (women in particular) to want to get married so badly? Sure, there’s biology in it (we’re all born with a certain amount of drive to procreate, even if we decide not to), but in such sophisticated times, where women can hold the same jobs as men, make as much if not more than men and even seriously discuss the idea of men staying home to raise the children, I think it comes down to something more modern than the desire to be rescued. And sadly (but not surprisingly in this consumer driven culture), what it comes down to is one very expensive, overly hyped, fairytale-inspired day.

If you’re like most women, at some point in your life, whether it was as a little girl playing dress up, as a teenager after your first kiss, or as a twentysomething in the throes of your first true love, you’ve thought about getting married. You’ve seen the dress, the flowers, the ring, maybe even the guests who you’ll invite to surround you on your fantasy wedding day… In fact, wedding obsessed women are so accepted (and expected) in our culture, that if you’re of the rare breed who hasn’t planned your nuptials since the age of six, you may begin to feel like you’re a pariah — especially if you reach the age of 30 and you’re not yet wed!

But consider this:

Odds are, while most may have fantasized about their weddings, many haven’t given much thought to what it will be like to actually be married! We don’t think about sharing our belongings, making decisions with another person in mind, sacrificing our time and sometimes our desires to make someone else happy or being there as a support system to help shoulder the burdens of the person we’ve elected to be with in addition to our own. Not to mention housework and shared money and raising children (beyond the cute stages of babyhood complete with visits to Gap Kids). We think about Vera Wang. Gardenias. The atmospheric difference between a live band and a deejay (and what about a string quartet — just for the cocktail hour?). We think about aesthetics instead of feelings. And that’s where the mistakes begin.

Marriage is a merger of lives. And two complete people (with both shared and individual interests) are necessary in order to create one whole marriage. Joining forces with one other human being and intending to keep that bond strong until death do you part is a serious decision and one that requires a deep commitment, true understanding and the knowledge that you will both have to continue to discover one another throughout the years as you learn, grow and change — both separately and together. It’s far more serious than the carat, cut and clarity of the diamond you expect to get when he proposes. It means a lot more than whether or not you served steak or chicken or let the guests order their meals that day. It has a bigger impact on your future than whether or not you chose the flowers and centerpieces your mother wanted or the ones you designed yourself. It’s a lifetime decision.

And yet, more often than not, the partnership itself takes a back seat to the ceremony that makes it official. The wedding industry brings in 38 billion dollars annually in the United States alone! Why?

The answer can be seen as far back as the final pages of the fairytales we read as children.

And they lived happily ever after.

Fairytales (and their grown up counterpart, the romantic comedy) offer no talk how the happy couple achieved their happiness after the story ends. No fights over money or housework or what to do with the kids when they reach school age. No thoughts on making up.

It’s our jobs as adults to write our own endings. But wouldn’t it help to re-fashion the beginning?

If you’re one of those women planning her wedding eagerly while carefully sizing up each man she meets for his viability as the one, stop right now! Use these tips for re-assessing the way you feel about marriage — and the way you feel about yourself!

Consider yourself and your goals (independent of a man).
What do you like about yourself? Aside from a wedding, what have you always dreamed about? How do you want to feel every day as you inhabit your life?

Make a list of what you want personally, professionally, emotionally.
It’s okay if this list includes a husband and a family — just make sure it includes other things too! Things you can achieve on your own! Select your top three and make a plan for achieving them.

Stop the wedding planning — until you actually have a wedding to plan.
Now, consider what a marriage — not a wedding — would look like to you. What would it feel like to you?

Are you dating men who fit the look you described or the feel? They may not be the same thing. Consider that. Feelings are much more important!

If you’re seriously involved
Before you agree to a wedding, have a serious talk about marriage (preferably more than one)! Discuss what it means to you — and to him. Make sure your ideas are compatible NOW. Because you’re not going to change his mind down the road!

Lastly, don’t pressure the man to get married. If it’s not what he wants, you should seriously consider if you want it either. Getting married for the sake of being married, in the end, is hardly the fairytale you’re after. While Mr. Perfect doesn’t exist as a stereotype, your individual Mr. Perfect does (flaws and all), and there’s no point in settling for anything less!

After all, no one is saying that a fairytale isn’t possible. But in the real world, you have to create your own tale of happily ever after, and allow room for some bumps along the road. After all, the wedding itself is not the end of any good love story — it’s just the beginning — which should make us all a little more comfortable with taking our time!