For the volunteer group I’m part of, we recently had the group of young, budding writers create their own fairytales. As expected, the boys’ stories were ripe with fights between worlds and superheroes rescuing the day, while the girls wrote about princesses, friendships, celebrities, and falling in love.
As I’m going around to the kids, supervising and encouraging them to keep going when they get stuck, a sweet little girl in pigtails and polka-dots looked up at me and said, “Lindsay, I’m done! Look!” She had almost filled a full page in her composition notebook and because we usually encourage them to write a few pages, I told her I wanted to read it when it was finished. She replied by saying, “But, I ended it with ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ There isn’t anything else! That’s the end!”
Out of reflex and without hesitation, I bent down to her level and asked: “But what happens after they get married?” She blushed and answered: “They are happy! They have babies! That’s it!” Not willing to let another one be fooled by the delusions of forever-and-ever marital bliss, I sweetly challenged the 10 year old: “But don’t you think it is more like a beginning, not an ending? They just got married! Think of all the things they have left to do now.”
She looked at me funny and then smiled, “Well, I guess they have a party after they get married and then they have children and then those have children.” Hoping I made a little progress, I told her she should write at least five more sentences before it was time to read to the class. Looking like something was brewing upstairs, she nodded excitedly and continued to scribble. I walked around to the different tables, reading over stories, and answering questions, as all the volunteers and I attempted to keep control of 15 children who had far more energy than we do on a Friday afternoon. As I was supervising, the girl would come up and show me her progress, sentence-by-sentence. Each time I’d push her to write a little more and off she would go to squeeze in some more lines. When it was finally time to share their fairytales, she volunteered to go third and her story sounded like every other Disney-designed plot line, except for her last sentence:
“…and they all lived happily ever after, for now.”
Clapping for her and sharing unspoken sentiments, the other female volunteers and I exchanged knowing looks – this gal had it right: in today’s time, forever seems a tad suffocating and far-fetched. Doesn’t it?
But forever-and-ever-and-always as a child isn’t that scary; it is more comforting. After all, the stories we hear and the make believe we play all end when the prince drops to one knee, lovingly begs us to spend the rest of our life with him, and we say “I do.” We conclude happily ever after when we make a vow to another person, tying us to them in what we think (and hope) will be an everlasting partnership. But if we think about it – the wedding is just the start of the next segment of our lives, a chapter (or maybe the rest of the story) we’ll share with someone else. It isn’t a conclusion, it is an introductory sentence.
So why aren’t there fairytales about marriage?
About the reality of promising our loyalty and life to another person forever more? It is indeed a vast commitment that carries more weight than we understand until (or if) we get there. Why don’t we teach our children and our teenagers about what it really means to be an active, giving, and loving participant in a relationship? What it means to be a partner and what we should expect out of man? I have yet needed to be rescued from my “awful single existence” by a man in a tight-white getup, giddy-upping his way toward me – but I’ve dated some pretty incredible men. They aren’t always dreamy and they don’t come with a fortune or titles, but it has been the reality of who they are that’s turned me on the most.
I’m no expert in relationships – if I was, would I be writing this blog? – but I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the last few years that’s made me want to be less of a princess-in-waiting and more of a lady in transition: stop thinking in terms of forever and take people, especially men, as they are. Not all women but quite a few, never lose the rose-colored glasses we were handed as little girls playing house and wearing plastic sparkly crowns.
But the truth is, no man will be perfect and unless you’re Kate Middleton, he won’t be a prince either. Even when we wear the lace wedding gown and sport a diamond on our left hand, there is no promise that they will be standing next to us all of our dying days. We aren’t princesses and guys don’t hold a magical solution or power to free us from our unhappiness or our lonely nights. They are added additions that if we’re lucky, will develop our character and add a few interesting plots in our own story. They don’t make us and they aren’t the only part of our existence, and our lives don’t end if we decide to marry a special one.
They come and go, and one will come and stay, maybe forever, maybe for several years, and maybe just for a night. Regardless, the advice to take is from little Miss Polka Dot: enjoy what you have and be happy that he makes you happily ever after…