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It had to happen, sooner or later. I'd always thought I'd hoped it would be later, but if the truth be known, I suppose that all along I'd wanted it to happen now and be forever.

Like most girls in most societies, I'd been taught - brainwashed - since childhood into the belief that girls were meant to be married, to be mothers and housekeepers and lovers to their husbands, with all the responsibilities that entailed. And that society owed every girl a glorious wedding in full pageantry, with bridesmaids and an exquisite gown, followed by a lavish reception and an idyllic honeymoon in some private hideaway where bad things never happened and negative emotions had no place.

Marriage and a husband, children, responsibilities. Forever.

Some dream. So full of holes and half-truths and distortions that even considering it should make one queasy. Expecting it to come true should be immediate reason for a girl to go running for analysis. But that's expensive too, not only monetarily but emotionally. You might just discover that the person you chose wasn't the right mate for you after all. And just how helpful would all of that understanding be, in the long run, as long as society maintains that false image of the always perfect blushing bride and the ideal wedding.

Let's get real. We're human. As humans we make mistakes, sometimes major ones. And we all have some assumed and accepted delusions.

Why do brides wear white? It's a symbol of purity, an anachronism when a growing percentage of brides are either pregnant at the time of their wedding (and not necessarily to their groom-to-be) or have already discovered and begun to indulge in the physical act called sex.

Of those brides, whether they're happy at the time of their wedding or not, how many will still be married to the same partner at the end of say, ten years? The statistical answers can be found in the reference section of any library.

Not to mention the number of battered females, wives and mothers and mistresses; the number of battered children, or those from broken homes? Our society has more than enough of them all.

So why the glossy, pervading perfume of love that has seduced nearly every female in the world, including me? That dream snares millions of fresh feminine hearts each year, drawing them to the altar, or at least to the carnal side. Many get sidetracked along the way, into unhealthy substitutes, or develop unreasonable expectations in their long search for the “ideal man.”

Unfortunately, that “ideal man” is a myth, blended from the men of our fathers and uncles and brothers, tempered by a generous measure of the men we've admired; and our own fanciful dreams, built around the false images of those we see represented in the media and entertainment.

They do, however, all have one unifying factor: our admiration, and from that admiration comes our individual definition of the “ideal man,” the “perfect marriage.”

My own myth consisted of “taller than I am, smarter than I am, and a gentleman, strong and forceful and thoughtful.” Unsaid but by implication, also successful, a leader, and in love with me, just as I am. It would also be nice, I dreamed, if he were tall, athletic, and blonde, with gorgeous blue eyes.

Every girl to her own dream. More often than not, the dream also includes happiness, sufficient money so she'll never have to worry, her own car, a couple of blonde, blue-eyed children, and of course that all-encompassing and sin-forgiving, simple, gold band.

Essentially the same dream that millions of females dream every day, every month, every year, waking and sleeping.

Logically, because I am a realistic romantic – are the two compatible? – with ambitions and hopes of my own, I had carefully kept my romantic dreams at arms' length, set them aside in a tiny compartment in my mind where they sat, more less well-behaved, while I followed – and found – what I thought were my professional dreams. I set my life on hold until I could find that “perfect man”, just like any other girl.

Did I find him? I thought I did, several times, and at the last minute chickened out. Refused the ring. Returned the fraternity pin. Delayed setting a wedding date. All because I woke up one sunny morning and realized that although I loved him, I couldn't bear to spend the rest of my life with that particular man.

Love, that lovely dream, can be an ugly reality; more often, a total illusion. So, like so many others, I surreptitiously kept looking. Then one day it happened – he found me. He was far from perfect. He wasn't even what I had always looked up to as my “ideal man.” Perhaps for that very reason I fell completely and totally in love, almost at first sight.

Don't scoff at that term, “love at first sight.” It does happen, it did to me. But I didn't recognize it at first. We met casually at work, saw each other professionally a few times and thought little of it. I found him interesting, thought he could be a person I'd like to know better, but it wasn't until two years later that anything began to happen fast.

With my eyes wide open, my brain working (I thought) at its peak, and my emotions fully engaged, we entered that lovely bittersweet country known as “love.”

It isn't an easy road, they told me, and I tell others the same. There were long lonely nights, tears, heartbreak. There was worry and anxiety, harsh words, cutting remarks, whether intended or not. But love – or unrecognized desperation – lived through them. Imagined love flees in panic and frustration. Real love stands fast and fights out its battles, conquers the pain, and triumphs.

Why? It's really very simple. Real love accepts the other as he or she actually is, not as another thinks they should be. Real love recognizes that all people are human, complete with flaws and foibles, weaknesses, failures and frailties, in addition to all their admirable qualities.

No, my love – and later, my husband – wasn't my dream man. He was made of real flesh and blood and he loved me. I loved him. For a time, we had a good life, following mutual dreams. For years we'd had no formal ties; we didn't need them. We knew where we stood, both before the world and with each other. We were honest – or at least for most of our relationship I thought we were. And we found, through each other, ourselves, we found us, and it was good.

Until it no longer was.

When things went bad, when he needed me, I was there. But when, later, I needed him – he wasn't. It takes two committed people to make a successful marriage. My first foray into wedded life ended, sadly in divorce. Amiable, if painful.

Then, quite unexpectedly, I found my soulmate. We'd known each other for many years, visited back and forth, shared some good times. I'd been married; so had he. Now, both of us single again, I found that I truly enjoyed his company, so much so that I seriously considered – and then accepted – his proposal.

Our wedding was small and simple – family, witnesses and clergy, and our marriage was solid, warm, wonderful. We helped each other over rough spots, congratulated each other on our successes, hoped and dreamed and planned together, and spent together every available minute that we could. We both learned to think in multiple different ways: as individuals; as a couple, whether together or apart; and as paired minds, stronger for our bond.

Compress all the complexity and ambiguity of the dream of love to its essence, I think it's this. Happiness is just two letters: U and S. Us and we instead of you and me. That is love.

It's really very simple after all.

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