We live in a culture obsessed with the fairytale.
I’m aware that this isn’t a life-changing revelation and that most of us have come to terms with this phenomenon in some way or another, and before we dive too far into this, let me be perfectly clear: No, this isn’t going to turn into a diatribe about the damage Disney has done to young girls everywhere by convincing them they deserve a One Great Love with a Prince Charming and a Happily Ever After. I’m actually all for Disney and their lovely tales of captivating characters who sing their way into our hearts, and believe their charm adds some soothing balm to the state of the human soul if we take it at its intended purpose, which I see as to entertain and inspire and transport us for a brief moment in time.
I think the fairytale has an important place in child development (and, um, adult optimism) and serves a lovely, whimsical intention of bringing happy-ending stories to life and giving us hope in all the right things: in wonder & community & family & connection & adventure & self-exploration & love. Most of us are well aware that life was never promised to be a blissful, coming-up-roses occasion at every twist and turn, but it’s sure nice to have stories of love and strength and the belief in the resilience of the human heart to give us a hope for humanity and our own little lives, isn’t it? I’m not naïve enough to be claiming that our lives will follow fairytale trajectories; please don’t misunderstand me. I’m simply saying, a little hope and idealism never hurt anyone.
So yes, then – I support fairytales. I believe in love, and hold out hope that people can learn to dig deeply enough within their souls and allow themselves the heart-wrenching, glorious struggle of true self-realization to set aside their insecurities of what others will think and learn to live authentically, chasing whatever passions serve as the ships they sail in their wildest dreams. What these tales of finding love and fulfillment don’t show us, however, are the other side; the aftermath of the honeymoon stage, the day-to-day reality of doing life with another person and putting the words “through thick and thin” through every test in the book. This is the second part of the story, and it is ours to write from our own points of view; ours to narrate and re-narrate how we see fit; a glorious unfolding of romance & heartache that lies at the center of our burning world.
Like I said, I was always a fairytale-chaser. I sought after the ideal relationship; the perfect-for-me guy who set my soul on fire and just “got” me; who treated me with the utmost compassion and respect and made me laugh till my stomach hurt and wanted to sign up for a life of unparalleled adventures with me, only me. I was raised by wonderful parents who instilled a healthy self-concept within me at a young age, and I believe my own security in my sense of self and the fact that I genuinely liked who I was and what I had to offer further cemented the truth in my mind that I would absolutely never settle for someone who did not stack up to my version of an ideal guy.
Yes, I was the girl who made a list of everything she wanted and believed God would one day give me my him, undoubtedly, and I wouldn’t waver in my knowledge that I’d found my person. I knew he had to be incredible and beautiful and completely set apart in my eyes, and that it would all just be and look and feel that much different. I was resolute in my belief that this would happen for me; that my life would include a great love, a passionate love far surpassing any of the impostors I waltzed through along the way. I believed, somehow, that I was different; that my story would be indelibly, uniquely ideal. I believed I deserved a love that was rare.
And so, armed with this idealistic, sky-chasing affirmation of the soul, I set out into the world of dating – and made a blustering, dramatic, chaotic mess of it all. Not exactly what you thought I’d say, right? But alas, it was the sad truth. I spent my 20s dating randomly, almost blindly, stumbling into relationships as though they were unforseen shelters into which I bumped while bumbling around in a blackout blizzard and decided I might as well stay for a bit while attempting to get my bearings and face the wildness of nature again.
I put little thought into why I chose many of my short-lived boyfriends and it was not until years later that I realized I’d adopted quite an alarming pattern: I had assigned myself the script of the girl who never wanted anything serious and played hearts as though it were a numbers game, all silliness and fun, and so I subconsciously dated people with whom I knew I was in no danger of ever truly falling in love. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it aligns perfectly with my commitment-averse mentality, for it would always be easier to lose someone to whom I was never fully attached or committed.
In my heart of hearts, I knew these boys weren’t My Guy, that Mr. Everything for whom I’d told myself I would eternally wait, so I approached dating the way one approaches drinking wine: with a mind open to dabbling in different options, compiling a short-list of what seemed to work for me, and adhering to a consistent favorite for a time now and then with the assurance that I could always be persuaded to change my mind should I find something else that better suited my palette. I had not, at this point, fallen completely enamored with a certain cabernet. That day had yet to arrive.
Looking back, I can clearly see how naive and immature my logic was, if I can be said to have displayed any logic at all; how underdeveloped my relationship was with myself, which was the one to which I should have spent those windstrewn years attending. I am eternally grateful that I made no drastic or permanent decisions and was protected in that sense, but I do wish I’d prevented myself and others from unnecessary heartache by doing more soul-searching and discovering what the purpose of dating and relationships really meant to me rather than choosing to keep at least one datable option around at all times as a distraction from the uncertainty of how to go about starting to get to know myself on a deeper level and the fear of not liking everything I discovered once I did.
But you know what they say about hindsight, and about youth being wasted on the young, and about living and learning, and all those other clichés that we adopt to validate our behavior…and such is life. We simply must do the best we can and hopefully learn to one day reflect on the past that it might help us as we play out our futures.
I often think about how various people are put into our lives for a reason; how long after our paths divert, memories of times with them or words they said linger on and impact us in indelible ways. A few years ago, when I was living in Upstate NY and experiencing a late-20s identity crisis and was wildly unhappy rather frequently, someone spoke these words into my life that have stayed with me in a very poignant way (and come out of my own mouth not infrequently in the past year as well, as I’ve begun practicing as a psychotherapist and have wonderful, soul-searching clients into whom I desire above all else to impart hope and confidence and self-love):
“You know, it’s okay if you’re not done being single. Relationships can be wonderful, but if you’re not quite ready to be in one, don’t force it. There’s nothing wrong with that. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to young adults is to listen to your heart and know what’s right for you, and if you’re not done being single, that’s okay. You’re allowed to feel that way for as long as you want.”
And with those words, the squeaky windows of my soul began to pry themselves open bit by bit and allow some sunlight to start to stream through into the darkest of corners. It was not an overnight epiphany, but rather the start of a gradual realization that continued to bloom over the years as I came to terms with the empowering truth that I could, in fact, serve as the defining author of my own life and choose exactly how I wanted my story to unfold. I began to understand that while there still very well might be a prince & a storybook romance – that my life could absolutely contain those magical, whimsical elements that the little girl within me believed she deserved and thought she would still want one day – that I had every right to determine when and how my little heart was prepared to let another in, and that nobody could write that plot twist for me.
Until then, how glorious, how utterly freeing, was the privilege of dictating the status of my own heart & my own unfettered steps, and allowing myself to say that I was simply not done being one; that I had more sky-sailing and universe-discovering and me-shaping to do entirely on my own, for so long as my pair of wings so desired – and that was a splendid thing to finally come to fully comprehend.
And yes, if you’re wondering, I allowed myself the luxury of doing just that, and stayed simply me until I felt the genuine desire to have another trail of foot prints link their steps to mine.
And he was more than worth the prince-believing wait.