Monday, November 24, 2008

Living the Fairy Tale

This may be my favorite quote of all time. I love it so much and believe in it so completely that I painted it on a wall in my house so that I could see it every day and remember to really feel it.

Just like most little girls, I grew up on Disney's take on fairy tales. And as I got older, I still love all of the versions of the classic stories. I collected them and kept new versions like touchstones. As I matured so did the versions of the stories, from sexy to dark and mysterious. I added the Arthur legends to my mental library as well. The tales that tore at me were tales of tortured souls, struggles, ripping apart and tempestuous comings back together. And my visions of a passionate relationship were influenced and tangled up with the feelings these stories engendered.

And this isn't just me, there have been books and studies on how girls have grown up with these myths and then gone on to adult life with these unrealistic expectations of how a relationship should be, should work. How their perceptions of love and romance are skewed to the point that, when these expectations aren't met, are leading to dissatisfaction and even divorce.

And it's not just the being swept off your feet aspect that's the hardest hit by reality but it can also be the adventures and conflicts that happen before "love's first kiss" even takes place. This is when emotions run high and it has even been said that it is the intense situations themselves that create the illusion of love (but doesn't love need a bit of illusion? hmmmm...) and when that intensity is gone, the relashionship falls apart.

I'm sure you've know people who have those kinds of relationships. They fight and get back together, ad infinitum, just to get that rush.

And when you don't have a stable relationship (does that sound boring to you? think about it. it shouldn't.) then it's the minutia of every day life, like water on stone, that will wear you down. If the relationship isn't between two committed and self-aware people, then these small things are what will wear your caring away.

Now all that may sound a little judgemental and I'll admit I'm coming at this from my perspective. But one of the smartest things I ever learned (and this comes from being the child of and seeing some crappy relationships in my day) was to choose your battles. This is where the "self-aware" kicks in.

This isn't stuff your anger or irritation down. I know that is a recipe for disaster as much as it can be impossible. More it is recognizing the things that bother you and that are, in the grand scheme of things, small. Is it worth an argument about straightening the couch cushions (which doesn't seem to bother anyone but you) or is it just easier to take the 30 seconds to do it yourself.

Recognizing your moods and what causes them is also key. You may feel overwhelmed and get snappish. Then your partner becomes reactionary and defensive. It escalates and you end up in a wicked fight pulling up examples from months or years in the past. How did that happen? Be willing to apologize, break down why you reacted and be open to their response as well. They may be tired and stressed as well and have a good reason for getting cranky too. I do this a lot. If I'm hungry or just beat from work, I'm not always receptive and agreeable. The hubby and I get into "tiffs" but it usually doesn't last long, we explain what got us to that point, acknowledge it, apologize, say "I love you", hug and move on.

This is where letting the other person help comes in too. It's easy (and sometimes satisfying) to try and do it all yourself and be the martyr. But in the end it sucks. You're exhausted. Your partner feels dismissed and unvalued. They may even get angry and then everything goes sour. How they do things may be different but that doesn't mean it's wrong. Of course it helps to pick what's important but that doesn't mean you should make a point of going back and remaking the bed!

Being open-minded is also key. There may be your way, but there rarely is only one definative "right" way of doing something.

Something that seems counter-intuitive but that I think is also critical is to have a barrier. This will vary for everyone and you may have more than one. What is it? Well, for some people it's keeping separate closets or bathroom space. Some couples make sure to have distinct areas in their home or go on "friends' night out." You need to have some buffer time to not over-expose your selves to one another. Even if you live and work together and are perfect, have some things just for you. Some bit of mystery. Something you can bring back and share.

I also think it's important to have a good story. Think about those cute couple vignettes in When Harry Met Sally. It could be how you met or a funny date story. Not only will this bond you but it will remind you both of your love when you feel like you want to strangle one another. And that's going to happen! To quote a bad Alan Alda movie, love comes in waves. Sometimes you are as giddy as when you first met; sometimes you start looking at how much a single bedroom apartment costs.

But if you have a good base, which your story is a part of, you'll be better able to weather the troughs. And they will come, in life and as a couple. You shouldn't go running just because you feel like you are spiraling down. And it's almost inevitable then when you are feeling your lowest about your relationship, some one will ask how you met and you'll fall in love all over again.

And that's really what's important - to recognize what you've got. I've been married a long while. We met and got engaged very fast. We had challenging times and lived on other sides of the country for almost a year after we got engaged. But there was one thing I always kept a hold of - when I told my Dad I was getting married to some guy I had barely spent any time with and that he didn't know at all, who lived thousands of miles away, he asked me "Give me one good reason why this is a good idea".

I responded: "Dad, I could give you a thousand reasons why he's a good guy and I want to be with him, but I'll only give you one... I don't have any doubts about him."

And that was that.

It was true then and over a decade later it's still true.

And yes, I know how lucky I am.

In spite of all of this practical stuff, I still get sappy over a mushy fairy tale song:

This one is my favorite. It pretty much sums up about how my Sweetie makes me feel.

Read on:
- The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
- Sur La Lune Discussion Board: Value of Grimm's Fairy Tales
- Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales
- White Knights, Glass Slippers and other Romantic Myths
- Why True Love isn't a Fairy Tale

- Hans Christian Anderson quote image - here
- "Believe" ad from Disney's Yellow Shoes Creative Group (my former job!)
- We're So Fairytale - modified from here


Amit Avital said...

Great post =]
Keep up the good work.

Check out my new Love blog:

FB @ said...

I love that quote now too!!!

That sounds so sweet....

Sarah Von Bargen said...

Fantastic, fantastic post. It *is* so hard to separate the things that we've been taught to want, and the reality of a long term relationship. Excellent tips, miss!

jane m. said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. I feel like you took the words right out of my mouth. My boyfriend and I often speak of the little fights that we see our friends battle through, the unnecessary bickers and how they weaken a fine relationship.

When I first read this comparison to fairy tales, I giggled because I have been doing studies on Disney and its adaptations on fairy tales recently... and my friends often tell me my relationship is straight out of Disney. And relationships can be, fairy-tale-like and magical, that is. Yours is a great example and I hope mine will be too.

Thanks again for sharing your story and insight. Your blog is truly inspirational.

TheShoeGirl said...

I'm glad there are other people out there as happy and in in love as my hubby and I! :)

Yay love!

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! It's so poignant because my boyf and I are going through our growing pains and trying to see the good in staying together! I definitely needed to read this! Thanks