Celebrating 21: A Princess, a Bad Bitch, and Feeling Greedy for Romance

I hate romance. I despise how society prioritizes romantic love above all else: how romance pervades almost every song on the radio, how we have a separate romantic “relationship” status on Facebook, how we glamorize marriage as the ultimate act of commitment, placing it far above friendship. A large part of my now-21-year-old self thinks romance just serves as a patriarchal ploy; another part of me feels repulsed by giving into a clear-cut social construction like romance.

But I want it. No matter how much I fight it – no matter how much logic or self-love I throw at it – I still want it. Sometimes, I want romance so much it hurts.

caroline knapp the merry recluse essay what a queen

Transitioning out of that melodramatic sentence to showcase the title of the amazing essay that inspired this post, from Caroline Knapp’s magical collection The Merry Recluse.

How can I desire something I dislike so much? I want to experience romance, the intertwining of physical and emotional connection within one bond. But I detest the notion of allowing romance to influence my upcoming grad school search, when I have always prioritized my career and my service to others above all else. I revolt against thinking so much about romance when I could spend my time volunteering, researching, and writing instead.

I used to think that we all used romance, like drugs and sex and video games, to safeguard us from our insecurities. And while some may indeed do just that, I feel secure in myself: I have confidence in my strength, my values, and the ares I must work to improve. I just want more. I want romance.

queen ariana grande slaying as always japanese album cover

Queen Ariana, the pop start who inspired the title of this post as well as my will to live (I kid, sort of.)

In her most empowering, flawless, and romance-driven album yet, Ariana Grande includes a super fierce lyric in her song “Bad Decisions”: “Ain’t you ever seen a princess be a bad bitch“? Through asking this question, she asserts that, yes, she and other women can be more than one thing, both pretty and pristine as well as powerful and dangerous. Grande embodies this nuanced message throughout the album, singing her heart out about desire and heartbreak and contentment, all under the umbrella of asserting autonomy.

I can want romance while detesting how much society emphasizes it. Conflicting feelings can coexist; you can survive cognitive dissonance. As Ariana drives home in “Bad Decisions,” everyone can be more than one thing. I can confront the fear of never finding a man who will satisfy me while also celebrating all of my dear friends and mentors who have supported me so well. I can jam out to spectacular pop music about attraction while researching the underlying social implications of romance. I can claim my desire without any hesitation – yes, I want this, so what? – and empower myself as a result.

As the years have gone by, I have grown more comfortable tolerating discomfort. In Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart, the spiritual leader advocates for sticking with challenging feelings, embracing pain instead of running away from it. Delving into pain has proven worthwhile for me – doing so has helped me to overcome my eating disorder and my trauma, to improve as an aspiring psychologist and writer, and to live with empathy and compassion. Accepting and sticking with the multifaceted challenges of life brings pain, as well as joy and sorrow and satisfaction. May 21 bring many worthwhile challenges, both romance-related and not.


As per tradition, a selfie to conclude this post. Do I even look 21?

I could not have made it this far without all of your support, so thank you to everyone who has taken the time to comment on and to read this blog over the years. Did you do anything crazy to celebrate your 21st birthday – or are you planning to? How do you feel about romance? Also, I forgot to mention that I once had a girlfriend many years ago before I came to terms with my sexuality (a story for another post). Hope you all have a fabulous day today, and see you all soon!



Filed under Personal

8 responses to “Celebrating 21: A Princess, a Bad Bitch, and Feeling Greedy for Romance

    Feelings on romance: it’s over-rated, When I was coming up to 30, I panicked and dated an unsuitable guy. He pursued me with “diamond” earrings (er, not so much the diamond), cuddly toys, special meals etc. He was also manipulative, unavailable, borderline abusive to me and his family.
    Gave up on love, everything. Met the now Mr Liz. He has never bought me flowers and only jewellery I’ve picked, after the odd disaster. He once gave me a book on how to do your hair when I was 32 (but, to be fair, I do moan about my hair). BUT. He’ll bring back discounted sushi from the supermarket whenever he sees it. He does the shopping every day. He does making phone calls for me (and I do dealing with tradespeople for him). He brought me home an extender for my headphones. He supports me in running races, all of them. Not much romance, lots of love.
    And it’s a truism, I know, but YOU HAVE TIME. Concentrate on your career as you need to, but you have time.
    And Happy BIrthday! Can’t honestly remember what I did for my 21st! Long time ago …

  2. I just love how this entire post, published on your birthday, pretty much embodies you, and your maturity and clarity when it comes to thinking out your issues. I’m in the same boat as you – I want to know how love and romance feels like, but at the same time, I know there’s more to life than romantic love, and I’m hyper aware of how idealised it is.
    Anyways, I hope you get to mark your birthday in some form you like – reading a good book, busting out to Ariana Grande. I know I wished you on twitter already, but Happy Birthday again, and the best of wishes to you, Thomas.

    • Thank you so much for your kindness, always – for supporting me throughout the years and for reminding me of the times I have done/written well. I am inspired by you and your commitment to the written word, as well as your passion for uplifting minority voices in the realm of books. Hope you are doing well and I am sending you much strength and cheer and support.

  3. Happy birthday!! 😀
    I’m not 21 yet (2 more years to go), but for my last birthday my friends surprised me with a cake and a big bin of banana laffy taffies (because they’re my favorite flavor). It was so sweet!
    I feel a similar way about romance… I’m just going to wait it out and see what happens!

    • So glad you got that fab surprise from your friends! Cool to find someone who feels a similar way about romance. Hope you are doing well and thanks for stopping by.

  4. Amy

    Happy Birthday, Thomas!

    I just celebrated my 21st birthday last month, so we’re pretty close in age! My friends just bought me some wine, cheese, and crackers, and we had a quiet, classy night in.

    Huh. Romance is such a difficult topic to think about. I definitely once thought of romance as a means for the insecure to gain reassurance in themselves, but I really don’t think that’s the case anymore. To me, my yearning for romance is my longing to find another soul to connect with on a level beyond anything I’ve had before, to find my true best friend, someone who will challenge me to become the best version of myself possible, and I them.

    I can relate to your worry that romance will influence your grad school search, and I’ve struggled (and continue to struggle) with keeping romance a non-distraction myself. One thing that usually keeps me on track, ironically, is my idealism and active imagination. I know it sounds weird, because those things are exactly what tend to get me distracted in the first place, but they’ve also been surprisingly helpful in keeping me focused. I think about my future, about OUR future, whoever my significant other will be, and take a very pragmatic approach. If I want us to have a happy, stable life in the future, I have to sacrifice all of this time I could be spending daydreaming and get to work. If I put in the hard work now, I can build us a happy future together later.

    It might sound a little silly, but I try to be as straightforward as possible with myself when I need to be. That’s the only way I can pull myself away from my fantasies and focus on the practical aspects of life.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Love your approach here, Amy! I think you’re right about how we can use our relationships (platonic, romantic, familial, etc.) as platforms for self-improvement and mutual growth with another person. That way we can view it as everyone gains something, as opposed to the idea that we are losing something without a romantic partner. It inspires me how you are able to use your idealism to stay focused, to use your vision to stay grounded in the present and take the steps necessary to succeed. So happy that we have maintained contact via our blogs and that we are around the same age – and I am so inspired to see how we continue to progress! Thank you for stopping by.

      • Amy

        Haha thank you, Thomas! I’ve always tried to look at relationships as motivating factors for personal growth. Although, now that I’m a little older and it seems everyone and their mother is in a relationship, it’s definitely gotten a bit more difficult to stick to. But I guess that’s what makes love so worth it– you’ll make sacrifices along the way, and you’ll have to work hard when you’d rather play, but nothing worth fighting for ever came easy. And love is one of the most valuable things of all! Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with love, and I sincerely wish you the best in your future romantic endeavors! I’m also so glad that we’re still talking, even after my longggg disappearance. But your blog was one of the few that I really remembered enjoying, and so I checked your posts as soon as I dropped back onto WordPress. I look forward to reading your future posts!

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