[This post is part of my series of Faceting Love. You can read the Intro here.]
About 15 years ago, I spent a year doing intensive studies in a course on Christian Counselling. Among the classes I took that year were ‘lab’ or practical courses, where small groups of students and teachers, no more than a dozen, sat around a large square of tables and discussed how the coursework was effecting us. One memorable day, one of the women in my group passionately exclaimed “Cinderella ought to be shot!” I can’t be certain, but I seem to remember a general chuckle in response to this outburst, but the conversation that followed was anything but jovial.
As we began to explore the cultural narratives of “love” and “happily ever after” that had been fed to us (particularly the females present), there was a general feeling of betrayal. What happens when you’re 25 or 28 and “prince charming” still hasn’t come? What if it was all a lie, and we make our own happiness with or without a partner? After all, true love doesn’t spring to life out of an evening of dancing in pretty clothes! It is forged in the fire of life, committed effort and sacrifice.
My fellow student pointed the finger at Cinderella, but any one of the 20th century Disney princesses – and some of the more recent – send a very similar message. If you are good and pretty and nice someone will eventually come and rescue/love you, and of course that love happens in an instant, or, at most, a few hours – perhaps with a kiss, sometimes even given without consent! (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty) Then there is the incipient message that you need to change who you are to find love (Little Mermaid).
Of course these films, and the company’s assiduous marketing of ‘princess’ merchandise, are an easy target, but the narrative of helpless female and rescuing male is not just in films. It is marketed in children’s clothing and cheap paperbacks, sold to young and old alike, and the narrative of ‘quick and easy love’ is even worse!
So many films tell touching love stories where a couple (one or both often already in a long-term relationship) meet in some unusual circumstances and discover that they are with the wrong person and this is the right one. This realisation sometimes happens as quickly as in a single weekend. “Love” is about a feeling, chemistry, this just being “right” s/he is “the one,” cue swelling music and melting kiss.
Just like Cinderella – true love in one night of dancing – at a public ball in borrowed clothes. We think it’s that easy, one “enchanted evening” we’ll see someone, and we’ll know, and everything will be perfect.
Now some people tell stories very like these about how they fell in love, and perhaps, for some, it does start this way, but the story of love begins after the explosive meeting, the goo-goo eyes, the melting first kiss.
Amongst my DVD collection I have an old film, “Yours, Mine and Ours,” about a widower and widow who remarry, bringing their combined number of children to 18. They subsequently have a child of their own. Near the end of the film the father is speaking to his eldest step-daughter as he escorts his wife to the car to take her to hospital for the birth of their child. The stepdaughter’s boyfriend has been pressuring her for sex, and this, in part, is what the father has to say, “Take a good look at your mother. It’s giving life that counts. Until you’re ready for it all the rest is just a big fraud. Love isn’t a love-in – it’s the dishes and the orthodontist and the shoe repairman. It isn’t going to bed with a man that proves you’re in love with him. It’s getting up with him and facing the drab, wonderful, everyday world with him.”
Cinderella and her prince may well have found true love together, but it wasn’t in the romantic ballroom. If they found true love, it was in the compromises over hours of sleep and the temperature of the bedroom, the squabbles over royal duties versus time to themselves, the pressure to produce royal heirs, etc. etc.
Quarrels, explanations, forgiveness, laughter and time, lots of time – this is the soil that grows true love, and without it the rest is a fraud and a sham. Culture puts on a lot of dumb show about ‘true love’ and ‘the one.’ We are sold the line that it won’t be hard with the right one, or we somehow believe that someone who loves you will never cause you pain. The truth is, the ones we love hurt us the most (not purposefully, I hasten to add), and the truest love is the one we work longest and hardest to build, feed, maintain and grow.
It may begin in an instant, but love is the work of a lifetime.