Happily For Now

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…

…for now.

A Royal Reminder of Love

I did not get up early today to watch the wedding of Kate and William. I have not been following all of the blogs, scrolling through pictures, or admiring her beautiful heirloom engagement ring. I haven’t been up to date and I haven’t found myself submerged in Royal Wedding bliss and obsession.

But I’ve found all the hype refreshing.

And while we don’t know more than the glamorized surface level perception of their relationship, it is nice to have trending topics and stories about love. This nearly decade-long courtship that started at college, made its way through breakups and makeups, has now ended in what so many are calling a modern-day, real-life, fairytale. The bride, without titles or royal heritage not only finds the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, but he happens to be an actual prince. The charming is negotiable.

She may not be Cinderella, but she is living and breathing the story so many little girls grew up reading over and over again, praying and hoping and wishing that someday, their prince would come too. Kate didn’t need rescuing and she’s always projected an independent, classy, sophisticated, and ambitious attitude. When they did split however many years ago, she admitted her sadness but wished him well and sought out on her own accord to pursue her own pursuits. And as things always do in one fashion or another, they worked themselves out, and here she is the new stunning Duchess of Cambridge.

As I went to write this blog, I found myself more interested in Kate herself than the wedding. I thought what it must be like to wake up and realize the vows you’re about to take – not only promising loyalty to a man but to a country and its people. She’s slipping on a new pair of shoes, handmade McQueen and lovely, that carries more than just a hefty price tag and heel. She stepped into a role she may have dreamed of being in, but never really conceptualized until she found herself there.

Go ahead and call me a romantic, but she accepted this part and is beautifully playing it all because of love. All because she met someone who forever changed her life.

Getting married to a non-prince may not carry as much weight and pressure as Kate probably felt today, but perhaps that’s why love is partly so scary. And why so many are quick to advise against marriage than for it – the skeptics are quick to deliver divorce ratings if you dare mention you’re interest in nuptials at some point in your life. They are right, it is a wager: when you agree to become exclusive or to ultimately promise to dedicate your life to someone else, you put a lot on the line. Not only your heart but your identity, your day-to-day choices, and your priorities. And if it doesn’t work out, say in the bittersweet story of Princess Diana, you must rebuild your old life back – though, you’ll never be quite the same again. Every lust and rush takes its toll and while I believe we can all find our footing no matter how severe the shatter, making a commitment and being vulnerable carries great risk.

So why do we do it? Why do we all admire the glowing bride and the gushing groom, rising so early to watch people we don’t know share their vows in front of the world? Why do we stand in front of TV monitors at Dunkin Donuts, blocking the line to sip coffee and watch the bride walk? Why do we admire a woman who is living out the fantasy we’ve all seen ourselves in at some point? Why do we tear up at weddings – royal and promoted on Twitter, with its own special section on People.com – or just the typical ceremony? Why do we buy into the buzz, even when we don’t always buy into love and all that stuff, anyway?

Because love is love. And resist it or not, wonder if you’ll lose who you are or find yourself buried in regret at the end of a relationship’s tenure – love is heavy in our hearts and hopeful in our minds. Seeing love displayed with such splendor in magic makes us remember what it felt like to be naïve and optimistic about the love we surely knew we’d find before we knew what it felt like to lose at the game. It makes us get back some of that faith that fairytales can come true, it can happen to us, if we are among the very young at heart.

If we are among those who would rather believe and be deceived time and time again, then to never believe at all. Because someday, maybe our prince will come and maybe he won’t – but I’d rather kiss dozens of frogs than never kiss anyone at all. I’d rather be scared out of my mind of being crushed than to never have a crush or take a leap of faith and trust someone almost as much as I trust myself.

And though I’m not sure I would sincerely want to be a princess and manage the pressure of possibly leadingEngland or any country– I toast to Kate and her prince, who have reminded us all that love doesn’t have to be legitimately royal to be spectacular. Love itself is royalty – something that should be prized and preserved, and with or without money, makes you richer than any jewel or Cartier bridal headset can.

Make-Believe Boyfriends

When I was a kid, I played a lot of make believe.

From cops and robbers with my next door neighbor and Mary Kate & Olsen detectives (forgive me, please) with my childhood best friend to Peter Pan & Wendy with my pre-school playmate – I was always imagining a world outside of my own. And, when my friends and I took a more classic approach and played “house” – I refused to be anything but the girl because well, I am a girl, after all.

I can remember full days of pretending to be something else – a princess, a mermaid, a singer, a movie star, and of course, a reporter. There was something magical and wildly entertaining about escaping from reality and entering into a new realm where I could be free to explore and to capture a persona I didn’t actually embody. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a great dress up (even today!)?

As we get older, the masks we put on and the roles we play change, and while it’s not make-believe, per se, we present ourselves in different manners depending on what the time or situation calls for. We can turn on happy-and-enthralled while at a networking event, or super-duper professional for work, or pseudo-interested for a date that’s going all wrong.

And sometimes, if we are clever enough to trick even our most difficult critic, ourselves, we can pretend we’re in a relationship when we’re not. We can even call them non-dates and non-relationships and non-love because we’re calm, cool, and collected about the situation. We can even have sex without terms or conditions or without saying the infamous three words or without spoken expectations.

But – in terms of love and well, dignity – is it ever healthy to play make-believe with a man? Or is it better to send Mr. Non-Committal back to where he came from?

I can’t say I’m in the situation where I’m seeing someone I want to call my boyfriend or I want to be exclusive with. But, I will admit, without giving names or specifics, that I’ve dated a few guys that could have possibility in this big, beautiful city. Somehow, though, my relationship with myself is currently trumping all of them. Call me selfish and self-absorbed with this journey, and I’ll nod my head in agreement – but somehow, the getting to self-love is helping me grow in leaps-and-bounds, without requiring a man in the mix.

Though, as I’ve been going on non-dates and kissing non-boyfriends – I’ve thought a lot about the relationships we go through as single ladies that never “technically” (by Facebook standards, anyways) ever become official. Does a lack of a title or commitment make them less important or influential? Or is a label something we place on a courtship because with commitment comes a promise that we can depend on?

I’m not sure if actually becoming a pair as opposed to just mimicking one, truly changes the relationship – but I will say that playing make-believe with love doesn’t result in a happy ending…in the long run. But at the beginning, before happily ever after, I think a period of pretend is necessary.

The reasons for make-believe and dress up in the first place – where it be as a little girl or a 20-something woman – are to test the waters and try something new that you enjoy. How do we know if we will ever be a famous celebrity if we never act? Or how can we be sure we’d accept the princess lifestyle if we don’t give it a whirl in our minds? (I doubt any of us would decline putting on Kate’s shoes, though). The same goes with any new courtship with a dude – if we don’t act like we’re in a relationship, without the title or the supporting documents, we can’t be sure we really want to be part of an “us” with them.

At some point, the talk we all dread bringing up needs to be addressed – but when you’re just starting to get to know someone, why rush? Before I started this journey, as soon as I started remotely liking a guy, I was damned-and-determined to reel him ‘em and put a “taken” bow on his forehead (and profile). I wanted to do everything and anything in my power to make sure he made me his girlfriend so that I wouldn’t risk losing him to another chick.

But now, instead of letting myself get lost in the rush and the romance and visions of our kids and what my last name would be – I step back, I enjoy his company, and most importantly, I just take it slow. I picture in my head and feel what it would be like to be by his side, on a permanent basis, and I figure out if I want to move to the reality of a relationship or if playing pretend for a while is all I really need. While I do want a committed relationship one day, there is no need to be Ms. Committed when I first meet someone.

There is no hurry, no reason to worry – because if during playtime you realize you don’t want to be a fairy princess or a famous musician or a girlfriend – you just take off the crown, put down the mic, and let go of his hand…and go back to you. But if you do happen to enjoy it, while playing make-believe, that magic you feel reminds you that anything is possible.