It goes like this: poor, oppressed common girl seeks handsome aristocratic man and dreams of a life with him, filled with love, beauty and unimaginable wealth. When her would-be betrothed first catches a glimpse of her, he is immediately smitten because, well, it is simply “meant to be.” However, first he must battle social prejudices/wicked stepmother/dragon in order to win her hand—which, of course, he inevitably does. In the end they ride off into the sunset and “live happily ever after.”
Romance In the Age of Hovercrafts
Okay, I buy all of it—the love at first sight, the riding off into the sunset, even the dragon—right up until the happily ever after. Oh, you creators of romantic fairy tales, have you never, ever met a real life couple? You forgot to factor in kids, mortgages and in-laws. To be fair, most of the fairy tales we’re familiar with today were borne of a time when many women’s only option for escaping excruciating poverty and labor was to “marry well.” These days, western women have a lot more agency and a little less tolerance for narcissists; dragon slayers they may be. It seems to me the romantic fairy tale is in dire need of a 21st century makeover.
I’m no Prince Charming (or even Charles, for that matter) but, as far as “guys” go, I’m not so bad. I can’t, however, for the life of me seem to make a relationship last. Believe me, I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. Longevity-wise, I once lived happily-ever-after for five years, meh for two years and one final year of seething resentment. (Fortunately, I got over the resentment and rekindled a cherished friendship—which is where our relationship should have stayed beginning eight years earlier.) And I’m a hopeless romantic.
In fact, it seems the problem isn’t that I’m not Prince Charming, it’s that no man is. Even if he did exist in the real world, most women I know would tire of his misogynist schtick pretty quickly. “You know, Prince, I do appreciate you throwing your jacket over those puddles so I can walk across but, really, I’m perfectly capable of crossing that raging two inch deep stream by myself and, besides, I’m getting tired of washing that stupid coat!” Besides, most fairy tale princes seem to be empty-headed simpletons—wealthy and good looking, yes; good conversationalists, not so much. So what’s a poor modern girl to do?
Lower Your Expectations
There, I said it. I’m not saying you should set the bar on the ground, but if a life free from toil, heartbreak, poverty or any other mundane worldly concerns is your dream, you’d better find another world. In this one, even if you’re that one person ever who was fortunate enough to live the fairy tale, there’s a good chance it all could come to a sad ending, like with Princess Diana.
In his book, All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage, couples therapist John W. Jacobs points out, with regard to the consummate romantic fairy tale, Cinderella,
“Real life in [the fairy tale] teems with envy, greed, pettiness, unhappiness, ambition and vicious competition. But with the final union of the prince and Cinderella, all those problems are supposed to be conveniently erased by the triumph of romantic love and the presumed marital bliss that must inevitably follow”
He goes on to note that, even though we’re grown-ups, we somehow hope beyond hope that “marriage will bring the same relief to our lives.” Good luck with that.
Happy Enough Ever After
Although I’m no marriage counselor, I think I can take it from here. Having been in a string of relationships which have lasted from just a few hours after I slew the dragon to the aforementioned eight year marriageathon—and watched countless other people’s relationships implode before my eyes—I think I’m qualified to speak on the matter. There are no highs absent lows nor ups without downs. Relationships are like that. Hell, life is like that. Just because happily-ever-after can’t last, though, it’s quite possible that “happy enough” just might. But, then again, I’m a hopeless romantic.
When he’s not penning posts for Tokii, award-winning Portland, Oregon writer M L Kerr takes solace in uncomfortable silences.
Jacobs, John W.. All you need is love and other lies about marriage: a proven strategy to make your marriage work, from a leading couples therapist. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Print.
“Narcissistic personality disorder – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. N.p., 4 Nov. 2011. Web. 14 May 2012. <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/DS00652>.