I've finally forgiven Walt Disney for his part in my dysfunctional love life. Years ago, I thought about suing Disney & Co. for filling my head with romantic ideals about love, but I knew I wouldn't get far with their legions of attorneys at the ready, so I dropped the case. To be fair, Disney didn't start the problems, those classic fairy tales—Cinderella and Snow White—had been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, but Disney perpetuated their romance by animating the tales, throwing major marketing budgets behind them, and then building an entire corporate empire off the proceeds. Disney knew a good storyline when he saw one, and in even in the 1930s when he first released Snow White, he saw what are now collectively known as the "Princess" tales would sure-fire box office hits for generations to come.
I remember distinctly going to see Snow White at the movie theatre with my sisters. It was first released in 1937, but that was way before feature films went to DVD and cable within a year, so I guess it routinely made its way into the local box office. I recall watching the beautiful Snow serenading woodland creatures with the tune Someday My Prince Will Come, and I was hooked.
Of course, we all know how that tale goes, and it's much the same story plot for Sleeping Beauty (released by Disney in 1959.) Pretty, rich girl is resented by her evil stepmom. Kindly caregivers—fairies or dwarves—whisk the kid away for safekeeping. All goes well until the girl comes of age and starts befriending woodland creatures, and then despite all attempts to stop the inevidetible, the heroine meets her fate, falls under an evil spell, and goes into a coma. The antidote? Something even House wouldn't deduce: The kiss of a handsome—not to mention powerful and wealthy—man.
Okay, do I need to spell this out for you any further? Plenty of sociologists and psychologists have analyzed these fairytales to the nth degree, and feminists have torn them to shreds. Julia Roberts played the slutty version of Cinderella in the blockbuster Pretty Woman and her character even owned up to "wanting the fairy tale," which Richard Gere's character ultimately obliged by scaling her fire escape. We all know real life doesn't work this way, and yet...I admit, I have always been a hopeful romantic.
In my version of the myth, however, Prince Charming doesn't swoop in and save me from the evils of the world, nor from certain death. Honestly, I've never wanted a man to just whisk me away from all strife and set me up in a McMansion. What I have longed for was someone who could challenge me to be a better, smarter person and be my traveling companion. Yes, at one point, I thought that I would meet a man, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. And in a way, that's what happened, but the difference between my imagined fairytale romance and my real life experience is that Prince Charming is a collective, not one solitary knight in shining armor.
I realize now that each of my significant romantic relationships has nudged me into consciousness in one way or another, just as each travelled with me for whatever time we had together on our journey. Roads diverge, of course and sometimes, like now, we must part and go our separate ways, but it doesn't mean the time spent together was meaningless or a loss. It was what it was, and what it was is a significant part of my history and certainly informs my future. I marvel at friends who met their true-loves in high school or college, married and found themselves in a life-long commitment. I definitely see the advantage there. But that is not my lot. I'm not sure if my ex-husbands (for those counting this is number two—don't give me shit, okay) or ex-boyfriends (headcount? don't ask) would be quite so nostalgic or sentimental about our time together. I will never know. But I hope they look back and say, "Oh, yes, if not for our time together, I would not be enjoying the life I now lead." Truly.
Marriage vows or no, sometimes couples just grow apart and can't grow back together. You can meet at a significant point in your lives when you both want the same things and are on similar paths, and travel a while together only to find that after a period of time, you want very different things. That doesn't mean that one person was wrong, or bad, or uncaring, it simply means the fundamental common ground that brought you together shifted and you can no longer continue together.
Sure, I could beat myself up for making mistakes, for dating or marrying the "wrong guy," but I have to give myself some credit and give credit to the guys too. He wasn't wrong. I wasn't wrong. We just weren't meant to spend our entire lives together. These relationships were basically happy and loving—if even for a couple of months—and were not entirely negative experiences. Sure there were plenty of heartbreaks and tears along the way. Unrequited love is never fun, no matter which side of the equation you are on. Yet, I would not be in the place I am now, if not for the lessons I learned—some of them real eye-openers. Yes, just like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, each significant man in my life opened my eyes to greater possibility, even if that possibility did not include him.
Of course, every good fairy tale ends on that definitive, positive note "and they all lived happily ever after," and I contend that still holds. We can all live happily ever after—just separately, and not under the same McMansion roof.