It’s Time We Redefined Happily Ever After

We all acknowledge love as the wildest and most uncontrollable of all emotions. We say that love is blind, love is reckless; we posit that we cannot choose who we love. We wonder about love at first sight, about love driving people to do crazy, unfathomable, or miraculous things. It is the sentiment that cannot be tamed or controlled. Yet, for the so obviously unconfined nature of love inherent in the very way we define it, we often still manage to keep it boxed in within certain parameters — as if, though love may be wild and free and uncaged, it must meet certain qualifications. This seems oddly contrary.

The definition has loosened over time, more slowly and less surely than it should, but nonetheless it is happening. The problem is that we continue to confine love to very strict limitations: the traditional notion of love is a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. We already know that the bounds of that narrow definition are challenged regularly, but it seems that many people forget, or perhaps don’t realize, that true love does not need to be solely between significant others — or that others other than “significant others” can be significant and true.

You see, when I watched Maleficent, I realized that the film redefined true love — in what I found to be an overdue, refreshing lens through which to view the idea of happiness and love and “ever after.”

In every fairy tale, the woman eagerly awaits her prince, the entirety of her life’s happiness — hell, sometimes even her literal existence (i.e., Snow White, the original Sleeping Beauty, etc.) — dependent upon some unnamed, unknown male figure sweeping in to kiss her lips and literally breathe life back into her otherwise lifeless body and pointless life. It’s a happily ever after dripping with patriarchy and a pile of other antiquated notions.

The problems with the Disney endings are numerous and varied, and tied in to a whole slew of societal constructs and issues. This is why sociology tainted the vast majority of my movie-watching childhood. But putting aside for a moment the majority of the elements that can be discussed, including but not limited to the incredibly problematic idea that happiness should be tied intrinsically and absolutely to a (heterosexual) romantic relationship, is the fact that love exists in so many different forms.

The new perspective on Sleeping Beauty was a step in the right direction because it acknowledged and celebrated another type of love. Love is far too powerful to be locked into a strait-jacket definition. Love exists between parent and child, between siblings, among friends. These are only a few broad realms of countless, specific connections in which love exists. The idea that Aurora had found true love with a young boy she exchanged 10 words with in the woods is ridiculous. It’s a fun fairytale, and it can be nice to believe in, but at a certain point, it becomes far more wonderful and moving to showcase something that is real and that you can believe in because it is powerful and actually exists.

These happily ever after endings instill in young minds the idea that your prince(ss) is out there and that one day, you will bump into them — probably while frolicking through a meadow and singing a good morning song to woodland creatures — and then, POOF! You will be in love, married, all your problems will be solved, and you will spend the rest of your life walking into a sunset horizon with hearts in your eyes. I love a good fairy tale, and I love entertaining the notion of the unlikely — the seemingly impossible — the perfect, unadulterated happiness, especially in a world so riddled with sorrow, tragedy, loss, and misery. But, more than that, I find a far greater, more significant joy in cherishing and relishing a genuine love, and a real happiness.

The deluded, limited ideas of love and happiness do us no favors. Instead, there is much to be gained from appreciating and nurturing the loving relationships you do have. I am grateful every day for my incredibly wonderful relationships that demonstrate to me what real love, and real connections look like. That way, I won’t settle for an on-paper Prince Charming that lacks the real-life connection of depth and substance. I want my happiness to include the overcoming of difficult times. I want my moments of contentment to be soaked up, as they glow brighter in contrast to my moments of unease or discontent. I want my love to be strong — to weather tough times, to be resilient in the face of hardship and strain and the tests of time and circumstance that life inevitably throws in its path. I want my relationships to be beautifully marred with imperfections – to have character wrought of realness and authenticity and the magic of flawed people loving each other past their flaws. I want my joy to be tough — slightly calloused — to not be contingent upon perfection – to walk across fire, not to tiptoe on eggshells. I want to know that there is not only one prince, but a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a friend that could awaken me if I fell into a slumber irreversible but for a kiss from someone who loves me truly.

The truth is, we are not redefining love for the sake of love. Love, if it is as untamed and free-spirited as we claim it, is not waiting for us to define it properly — it’s not counting on us to realize that some things need not be confined to a definition. It’s boundless and wild, as always. The expansion of a definition is for our own sakes, so that we do not take for granted what we have, or miss out on what we may come to cherish to the imperfect depths of our souls. For its dent in an outdated definition, for its acknowledgement of something that is so obvious it should not need acknowledgement, Maleficent was wonderful.

Happily ever after is not a destination on the horizon — it is the now and the here. It is choosing to work toward your happiness at every moment, with your own hands, your own heart, your own mind. And love is not a pulsing heart that you must sit and wait to fall into your lap — love is so much more, and it is so much better than that. TC mark

featured image – Disney’s Maleficent

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