Getting Over the “Princess Fantasy.” Slowly.

On Thursday D, as he frequently does, made dinner for me and a few of his college friends.

One of them has gone on a few dates with a girl that he likes, and all week had planned to call her the following night–Friday–in order to see her over the weekend.

The rest of us, myself in particular, took umbrage at this strategy.

“So if you want to hang out with someone during the weekend, when would you call them?” I asked the group.

“Thursday” was the immediate, obvious consensus. This suggestion provoked a response so aggravated, so extreme that even the guy in question couldn’t help but be amused–at which point the conversation turned comic.

“I don’t just think you should call her,” one guy chimed in. “I think you should marry the girl. Might as well propose.”

“You’re compatible, you’re physically attracted,” he continued, his wife making salad a few feet away. “That’s all you need. The rest you’ve got to work for anyhow. There’s no such thing as ‘the one.'”

This is a theory with which, in the abstract, I completely agree. There are lots of people one could find happy partnership with. With any of them, there would be persistent challenges. Different ones, perhaps, but challenges all the same. Sharing a life is never easy.

In other words, intellectually I know he’s right: the myth of “the one” is just that–a myth.

Emotionally, though, I’m not sure I do.

The other day my friend V sent me an article from the Huffington Post called “Why You’re Not Married.” The author, a woman who has been married three times, offers a list of (rather crude) explanations for why thirty-something women who want husbands and haven’t got them, don’t. These include things like: “you’re selfish,” “you’re a slut” and “you’re not good enough.”

I’m not totally convinced of the merits of this particular language–particularly coming from a woman with three failed marriages. Nevertheless, she’s funny.

One line in particular cracked me up and has stuck with me for days: for men, she writes, “marriage involves sacrificing their most treasured possession–a free-agent penis–and for us, it’s the culmination of a princess fantasy so universal, it built Disneyland.”

I challenge you to dispute that.

The irony, though, is that the whole “princess fantasy” thing might make it harder for some women to commit than some men. It’s so deeply embedded in our popular psyche: as women, no matter how otherwise rational and intelligent we may be, it’s kind of miraculous not to walk around every day feeling like we should lose five pounds and marry Prince Charming.

Last night I talked with a newish colleague in my program: a guy who, I learned, is (quite happily) married to a woman eight years older than him. When they wed, he was twenty-three.

“It’s kind of incredible to me that you were able to commit at that age,” I told him. “You didn’t feel like you needed to ‘sow your wild oats,’ or whatever?”

“Oh, I had enough of that in high school and college,” he replied. In other words: no. He didn’t.

I tried to explain why it is that, as a twenty-seven year old woman, the decision to commit to someone–for life–still feels remote.

“I think for me it’s that I’ve only had one serious relationship, and I feel like I should have more experience,” I said. “You probably had a few relationships before your wife. Right?”

He hesitated. “No, not really. I mean, I had one, it wasn’t great. I went on dates with other people, yeah.”

I looked at him, fascinated.

“I mean, there are always gonna be other people out there,” he went on. “I was just ready.”

I told him about the “free-agent penis” line. He laughed: “Yeah, I didn’t have that at all.

But here’s the thing. Even if he had: if a guy wants to get married, ever, he knows there’s no way around it–he will have to, at some point, surrender his freedom. (Or he’ll get married and cheat, which, as D pointed out, is common enough.)

For women, though, realizing the “princess fantasy” isn’t so simple. On a certain level it’s going to feel like a compromise no matter what–I’m not sure if there exists a human incarnation of Prince Charming, but certainly the image I conjure is always animated. And I’d prefer a husband, ultimately, who isn’t.

Someday, that will be easier for me to accept–not just to say.

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8 Comments

Filed under Love Life, Womanhood

8 responses to “Getting Over the “Princess Fantasy.” Slowly.

  1. Bonnie

    I don’t know. The first time I saw Tom it was like a light was shining down on him. Seriously, I have a very clear memory of him walking into a party holding a thirty-pack of keystones bathed in yellow light. The first conversation, the first dance, the first touch, the first kiss–all magic, the movie kind, the stuff you wait you life to hear and to be honest I don’t know if any of it was that original or groundbreaking but it was magic because it was him. I always knew it would take quite the man to marry me, and I sabotaged plenty of good relationships before we met. But Tom was it. Different. Magic. I say if you know you are destined for Prince Charming and you won’t be happy with anyone else then FIND HIM.

  2. Susie II

    I once dated a man who said, “You marry the person you’re sitting next to at a dinner party when you’re READY to be married.”

  3. ep

    I looked up the article, and read it in its entirety. Aside from the fact that it reinforces just a few sexist norms–like the fact that you’ll end up doing the laundry and the cooking, and that your career is going to take a back seat to your budding family when you take the plunge–I’d have to say a lot of it is spot on.

    It’s too easy to see yourself as just not having met the right guy–it’s a defense mechanism that keeps us from looking at who we really are and what we’re after. The thing is, the idea that you’ll just “be ready” is as fantastic as the idea that you’ll just find Prince Charming. Being ready takes some work, like recognizing the things you’ll have to give, realizing that you’re willing to make sacrifices and compromise and yes, do laundry and cook for another person on a regular basis. It means you have to work through the anger and fight against the fantasy that someone perfect is just going to come along.

    I mean, it’s great if they do, but like I told you in the car today, I found my husband when I least expected it. After I’d been casually dating him for a few weeks or months. After I was pretty sure I was going to be a serial dater for a while. There was no light. There was no magic like Bonnie described. There was just a profound realization–that built up over time–that I didn’t want to date anyone else. That this was a person I could get to know forever. That I really wanted to be better and nicer because of him. That was magical in a totally different way.

    So, I say, ditch the fantasy. You might find Prince Charming, but it’s entirely possible you won’t recognize him as that at first sight.

    • Oh EP how did you get so wise!? I plan on citing this response as evidence in whatever discussion takes place Friday on your general excellence as a person. Thank you for the insightful words, as always!

  4. Susie II

    I totally relate to that third paragraph! Finding your life partner in that way is indeed magical in a different way.

  5. Okay, here’s the thing about commitment from a 41 year old lady who used to feel the same way–as in “I can’t imagine wanting to spend my entire life with one person” and I’m now basically doing that. We’re not married, but it could happen any day. The reason why a woman gets to the point of wanting to spend her life with someone has nothing to do with being tired of dating or wanting security or seeing a golden light shine on someone (apologies to previous responder) or finding “the one.” It is because you somehow get yourself into a relationship that seems promising enough to put some work into. And you do put some work into it. Over time, while you are asking yourself why in hell you ended up with this geek, you teach him how to freaking dress so people don’t laugh at him, you teach him how to stop being so OCD and lighten up, you educate him as to how you like your steak cooked, and you train him to put up with your eccentricities. He learns these things slowly, as you also learn how to deal with him, and then after a while, letting him go seems like such a goddamn WASTE. The key is that he is capable of learning the things you must teach him in order to live with you and you are capable of learning the things you must learn to live with him. Which means that no matter what additional problems come up, learning will take place, and the stockpile of accumulated effort will increase. One simply does not want to see all that education and work go to waste. It’d be like taking your Ph.D. dissertation and putting it down the garbage disposal, or releasing a perfect seeing-eye dog into the wild. waste waste waste. the human mind abhors waste.

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