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The truth about white picket fences: "I know that the reality is very different."

I grew up with an image of how my life was supposed to pan out.

Career in full steam by 25.

Engaged at 27.

Married at 29.

First child before 30.

I had an image of who the father of my children would be. Where we’d live. What kind of life we’d lead.

I wasn’t regimented about it. But it was a loose idea of how I envisioned my future.

Slowly, but surely, everything was on track, albeit a few years ahead of schedule. Tick, tick, tick! How wonderful was life? Fairytale engagement, beautiful baby. I truly had it all! At least, I thought I did. And it certainly looked like I did to everyone else. Until, I didn’t.

One of the hardest parts of the last five months since my fiancee broke my heart, has been deciphering between the illusion of the fantasy I’d constructed in my head versus the reality of the situation.

My psychologist calls this the “white picket fence” mentality.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve nostalgically recounted stories of what life was once like, only to be corrected by a well-meaning friend or family member.

The story I was telling was true, it was glossed over. Details were conveniently left out to fit a narrative of how I thought life was chugging along.

It’s equally as difficult to reconcile with the fact the future you had mapped out no longer exists.

Family holidays at the beach house? Sorry, you’re no longer invited.

Raising our child alongside our friend’s babies? Unlikely, they’re his friends now.

Deciding to have another child together? Nah.

Idyllic wedding in the Byron Bay hinterland? Never. Going. To. Happen.

It’s time to take off the rose-tinted glasses, so I’m going to shatter my fantasies. One by one.

Listen: If a woman’s partner is cheating and she doesn’t know, should you get involved? Post continues after audio. 

Fantasy #1 – my fiancee is the man of my dreams and we will live happily ever after

Ah, how much easier life would be if I really did find my soul mate at 22 and let life take care of the rest. But that hasn’t happened. The father of my child isn’t the man of my dreams. And you know what? Thank god for that. When I take off the blind fold, I realise our relationship was doomed. I know now that there is someone out there much better suited to me, who will treat me a lot better, and I will be much happier.

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Fantasy #2 – my family will consist of me, my husband and our baby

A nuclear family always sounds lovely in theory. Instead? My son will grow up in a broken home. And while that devastates me, I have to remember that he will grow up surrounded by so much more love and happiness then if his father and I stayed together. That morning my world unravelled (you can read about that here), I made the choice my son will not grow up to the sound of fighting. Instead, he is adored when he is with me and my family; equally as nurtured when he is with my ex and his family. He has double the love. None of the drama.

Fantasy #3 – one day we’ll add to our family, perhaps a little girl? Oliver will be the most amazing big brother!

He will be a big brother. I will fall in love with my soul mate and fall pregnant again (manifesting, guys!) but it won’t be with Ollie’s father. It’s taken me quite a few months to accept I will have children to different dads. It’s an uncomfortable truth I never would have envisioned just six months ago.

Fantasy # 4 – sure, we had problems. But we were working to overcome them

Nope. They were deal-breakers. I put up with too much for too long and I deserved better.

Fantasy # 5 – I miss my family

I ache with the pain of missing my family every day, but only when I get caught up in the delusion of what I thought it was like. The reality was that I did a lot of things alone and I was continually let down and disappointed. I certainly don’t miss that.

Fantasy #6 – I miss the family and friends I gained through our relationship

I’ve written extensively about this one (you can read about that here). Truth is, those who matter will stick around. The ones that don’t, won’t. I can’t get too caught up in losing people I met through my ex along the way. I know my mother and father in law will always be in my life. I will always love them and think of them as second parents, and in turn they will continue to consider me a daughter. I am so lucky for that.

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Fantasy # 7 – marriage is sacred

I believed in the commitment marriage represented. So naturally, I always pictured a beautiful white wedding to the man of my dreams. But now, I feel very differently. A ring on your finger, a marriage certificate, a beautiful J’Aton dress, they’re all meaningless if it’s with someone who doesn’t hold the same value. All I now want is someone who wants the same things as me. Marriage is just a bonus, no longer a requirement.


It’s only now I have the strength to strip back the layers of my consciousness. What’s emerging is a true picture of what my life was once like, who I was engaged to, and how I moulded myself to keep up with a game with shifting goal posts.

Because that’s the thing about a white picket fence.

It sure looks good on the outside. It’s easy to wish you were living behind it. But the reality beyond the fence is starkly different. And it’s only now I’m on the other side, I can see it for what it was… just a meaningless wooden fence coated in glossy white paint.

Elizabeth Anile is a journalist, writer, and single mum to one-year-old Oliver. She blogs about her experience of starting all over again as a single mum on her blog Bambi & Baby.
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