I’ve been brainwashed. Perhaps I started to notice a few years ago when I first read, “The Meaning of Wife: A Provocative Look at Women and Marriage in the Twenty-First Century” by Anne Kingston. However, at that time, it made me realize I had a lot of issues to work out with being a “wife” before I could or would venture on that particular journey again. Consequently, I’ve been with my husband for eight years but only married for one of those. I had to work out those difficulties within my mind with how I thought about being a “wife”.
But this is different. A new, yet not-new, discovery within myself. I’ve been working on it for years as well, but have never thought it through to this conclusion.
From before I could read, I have loved fairy tales. “And they lived happily ever after.” It’s a Disney statement, if I ever heard of one. From fairy tales, I moved to Sweet Valley High and Janette Oake books. Then I graduated to snitching my dad’s romance novels when no one was home. As an adult, I read the occasional historic romance but I admit to a delicious delight in paranormal romance – particularly Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan and J.R. Ward. All my most enjoyable fantasy books have happy endings and most have some sort of relationship that happens within the book.
They all have the same type of happy ending. They lived “happily ever after”, madly “in love”, forever unable to live apart, each can’t live without the other.
Teen magazines. Women’s magazines. Advertisements. Popular movies. Popular music. Disney. We all want our happily ever after. We all want the “perfect” man. Cosmo is always selling ways to find and keep the perfect man, to convince him to marry you, to blow his socks off with amazing new sex tricks. Most involve deception on the woman’s part: learning to love his favourite sports and movies, how to manipulate him in to doing what she wants him to do, how to “change” him into what she wants him to be, hiding the parts of herself that might be offensive to him and therefore, turn him off and make him not want to marry her.
Sound a little like the 1950s? We want strong, smart, independent women yet we tell our little girls that their big dream should be to grow up and have a huge wedding so they can live happily ever after with the “man of their dreams”. The illusive “One”. The “Perfect Man”. Their “Prince Charming”. Our “True Love”. Our “Soul Mate”.
There is no such thing. It’s an illusion, much like the cult of thin and eternal youth that tells us we should have the body of a porn star (anorexicly thin with big boobs and no hips) and the skin of a twelve year old.
Anyways, this is only part of the ongoing fight for me. I no longer expect those things and haven’t for a long time. My husband is “perfect” (no one is perfect so why should we expect him to be?) just the way he is. He has his faults, just as I have mine. But here’s what I had for an Aha moment just around our first anniversary (of marriage, that is): what is different about this relationship I have with him compared to my first two marriages and every romantic relationship I ever had? Why did I move on to fall madly “in love” with someone else? Why haven’t I done that here with my now husband? Why is this relationship so much better?
As I stood in the shower with the hot water beating down on me, it hit me. I’ve been brainwashed into believing that love is just a feeling, especially “True Love”. “Happily ever after” means we should be madly in-love, can’t live without him, co-dependant, helpless to feeling. I’ve married for feelings, which change at a whim. I’ve left because feelings have changed at a whim. I “lost that lovin’ feeling” so went out to chase it back down with someone else. I held that helpless, co-dependant leech close to my heart since my teens.
My big dream wasn’t to get married as a child. It was to play pretend – not Cinderella, but Cinderella’s fairy godmother, the wicked witch, Princess Leia. I didn’t want to play “mommy” or “daddy” while playing house, I wanted to be the pet bunny. Although, I admit to playing romantic stereotype heroes rescuing damsels with buttons and my beloved stuffed animals. But back then, Barbie didn’t have umpteen vacuous movies, and TV wasn’t inundated with back-biting, squabbling, fatuous girls obsessed with boyfriends – either getting them, wanting them or fighting other girls for them. It horrifies me that my daughter loves this Barbie movie her friend gave her. It scares me that McDonalds came out with a little girl’s Happy Meal toy that is a singing necklace. It sings, “My best friend’s brother is the one for me.” For under 12’s? Egads.
Disney hasn’t changed a bit though. If anything, they’ve gotten worse instead of better.
So as I was coming up to my one year yet into my eighth year of this relationship with my husband, I realized I have finally got it. Love – the REAL true love – doesn’t have anything at all to do with feelings. Feelings change all the time. There are times when I adore my husband and times when I want to smack him upside the head. (I’m sure he has moments like that too!) There are times when I adore my children and times I want to smack them upside the head too. I love them in spite of it and that never changes. So why would it be any different for this man that I’ve given marriage a second chance (sorry, third chance) with? I choose to love my children whether or not they are being difficult. There are no feelings involved – they are my children and, as such, I love them, no matter what. That is what my marriage is about. I love my husband because I CHOOSE to love him. I CHOOSE to stay with him whether or not I’m feeling “in love” with him. I CHOSE him because we have chemistry, yes, but also much, much, more. We don’t always collapse with lust at the sight of each other. We don’t always get along. We don’t always see eye to eye. But even in the midst of one of those cranky days, I CHOOSE to continue loving him. Love is a choice, not a feeling.
This is the first relationship where I’ve been able to “see” the future; that is to say, plan for the future involving him. Making goals has never been easy for me. More and more it comes with less difficulty. I can “see” what I want to happen in five years. I can plan what I’d like to be doing in ten years. Before, the future was nebulous, a foggy happening I had no choice or control over. Thoughts of the future were too scary for I had those co-dependant relationships where I “couldn’t live without him” and I would “die without him”. I was constantly terrified of “what if he died or left me, I couldn’t make it alone”. I would sob uncontrollably if someone brought it up. I would pine away if my boyfriend/husband was away for more than a day. How pathetic I was! Makes me wonder how I could say and believe such drivel. The Twilight series would have been something I would have been all over. Such passive, hopeless and helpless love was what I believed in deep down. Now, I pull away with a little fear I might get sucked into that kind of brainwashing again and a little disgust at myself for believing such shallow foolishness for so long. Don’t get me wrong… I would be heartbroken if something happened to my cherished husband. But I won’t be destroyed. I will go on. I will survive. I will recover. I will be sad but not devastatingly lost; sad but not completely hopeless; sad but not broken beyond repair.
I’m so happy I’m making (and have made) better choices in the last eight years. I almost didn’t! Sometimes it can feel like a real fight and I want to be swept away in the helplessness of feelings again. But I know better. I’m smarter and more aware now. I am cognizant of when those persuasive thoughts invade my mind. I’ve put myself through deprogramming and graduated from the course. I’m just taking the occasional refresher these days.
So now, the new question is… how do I prevent my daughter from being coercively manipulated into adopting these very same self destructive attitudes and beliefs?
*By the way, the original fairy tales and folk tales didn’t end with “happily ever after”. Occasionally they stated that the prince and princess lived and ruled happily together but more often the endings were gruesome warnings to those who tended towards living the life of the “evil” characters. Many people have never read anything but the sanitized versions and most haven’t read more than the most popular ones (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, etc.). It is nie impossible to find a children’s book of fairytales that hasn’t been “disney-ized”.*