The other night, I stumbled upon a bad reality dating show. Not far in, an attractive girl sobbed, "I wanna be with someone that I know is my Prince Charming."
The following day, Carrie Underwood's "Good Girl" came blasting through my car speakers. "Hey, good girl... You want a white wedding and a hand you can hold... Want a fairy tale ending, somebody to love."
That night, The Bachelorette was on. I tuned in for the eye candy, which quickly turned to eye roll as Emily lamented, "At the end of the day, I'm still a girl who wants that fairy tale ending."
Frustrated, I moved on to Oprah's Next Chapter. Surely she would have something more enlightening. Nope. The Kardashians were her guests. And, you guessed it, as Kim was discussing the implosion that was her 72-day marriage, she whined, "I wanted a life that I've always pictured my fairy tale life to be."
Within a 48-hour period, I was inundated with several -- like it or not -- influential women with a platform perpetuating this notion of fairy tale love. Granted, the caliber of programming I was watching was debatable, so consider the source and feel free to judge. But I'm clearly not alone. Millions support this kind of entertainment and I'm one of them.
I'm not free of blame when it comes to spreading these ideas, either. Last month, I wrote a blog about choosing to have my dream wedding over a house down payment and, boy, did I get skewered. I understand why it was controversial. But I'm the biggest dreamer there is. I think it's perfectly natural, healthy even, to dream. How would we ever achieve anything big or small if the initial spark wasn't there? How can we teach our children that they can be anything without also telling them to believe in something bigger than themselves?
But there's a difference between dreaming and striving for a goal and hopefully obtaining said goal and waiting and acting on fantasy. Fantasy is great for role-play for children and, ahem, adults, but it should remain in the bedroom. When the belief of the unattainable holds us back from living in reality -- growing, maturing and remaining grounded -- we have issues. When these falsehoods are bolstered by the entertainment industry, misguided and lost souls are convinced that fairy tales exist, further propelling them into a life of delusion.
I love a romantic comedy as much as the next softie, and even though I leave the theater waxing poetic about how intense, brooding, passionate and sexy (I could go on!) Ryan Gosling is, I know it's an act. He is, after all, an actor. He may be fantastic in real life but, like every other person on this planet, he, too, comes with baggage. And having a healthy relationship with him that lasts also takes work.
Yes, I wanted a dream (wedding) day but when it came to my marriage, to the person I was choosing to spend my life with, I was extremely serious. Practical, even. I thought long and hard about the kind of partner and life I wanted and did a great deal of work on myself to get there. When I was finally healthy and happy, he came (back) into my life. And, after years of friendship and dating and many long discussions, we made the mutual decision to marry.
That's not to say we didn't fall passionately in love. We did. We had an amazing courtship and honeymoon phase that was better than I could have dreamed. But when it came time to talk forever, we sobered up and sorted things out as rational adults. No damsels in distress or princes present.
There are amazing guys out there. Guys that will impress and awe you. Guys that could, gasp, rival Ryan Gosling. I'm fortunate to be married to one of them. He's made my life easier, more peaceful and more fun. He sacrifices and compromises for me daily and my happiness is his number one priority. But is he a prince? Hell no! And I'm no princess. (I can hear him scoffing now.) I'm a piece of work. So is he. He's flawed, makes mistakes, we argue and he, like me, falls short sometimes.
He may not have 12-pack abs, a movie star's salary or red carpet style (Sorry, babe!) but he's a good man. Ladies with their mile-long, superficial lists, the ones who dress themselves up and dumb themselves down for the VIP crowd, hoping for, perhaps getting the coveted man who will make their fairy tale dreams come true, where does that lead? For most, unlucky and unhappy in love when he trades them for a younger model. Literally.
Look, there are no guarantees. People grow and change, life happens and we don't know how others, let alone ourselves, will react to the struggles or the successes. My husband could leave, too. Do I think that will happen? No. I'm confident because I know who I married. I know his character and his values and they match up with mine. We put in the time pre and now post-marriage to work on the relationship and ourselves, we take our vows very seriously and neither pretends or expects to live in Fantasy Land.
And while he's made my life better, he didn't make it complete. The notion that you need a mate to complete you is foolish and, ultimately, dangerous. If we place the responsibility of our happiness, purpose or completion on anyone or anything other than us, we're cheating ourselves out of our full potential. Frankly, I hope my life is never complete. The yearning to better myself, learn more and reach that next level is what keeps me going.
I don't have it all figured out. Far from it, but I do know that marriage, or any relationship, is a deal, a pact, a negotiation, and I'm sorry for those who think that's unromantic. Marriage and relationships aren't romantic, they're realistic. There can be romantic moments and, to me, there's nothing more romantic than promising and committing your life to someone, building a home and a family, facing the world and growing old together, but it's not all roses, champagne and helicopter rides. And it's my belief that those that view it any other way will have a harder time than those of us that don't.
There's no recipe, no secret. If there was, we'd all be living happily ever after. But sadly, there's no such thing. We have to forget what the books have told us. There is no fairy tale ending, no Prince Charming. There is hard work, compromise, sacrifice, heartbreaking and trying times, soul-searching, faith-leaping and, yes, dream-fulfilling, pinch yourself moments, too. But life can't be all about the latter. Any solid foundation to a healthy relationship is built on the former; it's only then that the latter can happen and be fully appreciated.
So let's rework the stories. Or, better yet, write our own. One with regular people doing everyday and extraordinary things, reaching for their dreams, picking themselves up when they fall and learning along the way. No tiaras, castles or princes needed.
As I finished writing this, Jennifer Lopez was on GMA talking about whether she's open to marrying again. Her answer? "Yes. For me, the biggest dream is the fairy tale and I'll never give up on that." Keep fantasizing, Jen.