Do you remember being a child – so small that your tiny little feet looked lost in your mother’s high heels she bought on sale from Macy’s? You teetered around the house, tripping over your mother’s knee length cocktail dress which swam on you like an oversized ball gown. Your parents clapped their hands and told you how pretty you looked, but you could hardly see your reflection in the bathroom mirror, unless you climbed up on the stool mommy put there.
But once you got to see your reflection, if the shoes stayed on long enough, you were just enthralled. This little mini version of part mom, part you, part best Disney princess ever, looked pretty darn beautiful. You clapped your own little hands and spun around in circles until you realized it was a hopeless exercise in Mommy’s heels and that too big dress.
You just knew that one day your prince would come.
When you are young, you think your mother is beautiful and that you want to marry a man JUST LIKE YOUR DADDY. You have not yet realized that the men you will eventually bring home to introduce to your parents will drive that very daddy crazy, by virtue of the fact that they are male (i.e. have a penis) and are going to be taking out his daughter (and the penis will also be present, naturally).
These will be bittersweet moments for the father who can remember the day his daughter clomped around in her mothers heels and put a scratch in the new shoes they had just bought from Macy’s. He remembers this, almost like it was yesterday, and watches as his baby girl confidently strides out of the house in her new platform heels and that young thug from her Calculus class.
You will find that the thug is not your prince nor are countless punks (your Dad’s words, not mine) who come afterwards. Though they do have penises and would ask you more than once for something called a happy ending in some places.
When you are young, you believe in “Happily Ever After.” Like the fairy tales you have been read or have watched in the movies, you imagine one day a man will love you so much to sweep you off your feet. In this place where “Happily Ever After” exists, you dream you will get to be a real life princess one day-your wedding day-when you are allowed to be the prettiest person in the room and everyone is even supposed to tell you so.
You will look at your Prince Charming with love and he will kiss you as onlookers clap and “ooh” and “ahh” over the joy you will have over “Happily Ever After.”
As you get older, your strive for finding that “Happily Ever After” in different places. When you are in High School it might be that you dream of the guy who won’t give you the time of day realizing how amazing you are so he can sweep you off your feet and take you to the Homecoming dance, where you will both be crowed King and Queen. You will be so in love that you will coordinate what colleges to go to. Odds look bad, but you guys will make it through, you think optimistically.
Though you have planned out your “Happily Ever After,” the guy still hasn’t looked in your direction, but he did bump into you in the hall.
You are hoping it was on purpose.
Things change. You don’t think of it as “Happily Ever After” as you get older. At least not out loud. But it’s there. This desire to reach that goal. Married. To a successful investment banker. 4 Kids (at least). Picket fences. Or better yet, a loft in Tribeca. Nicole Kidman will be your neighbor. Get that PhD. Get that new job. Start your own company.
And that’s good. Change is good.
But here’s the thing. And you might not like me very much for saying this.
There is no such thing as “Happily Ever After.”
It does not exist and its a damn shame that we condition our kids to believe in it. Why can’t we finish with a solid “The End” instead?
Unless you and your Prince Charming are automatons, there is no place where you just decide – that’s it. I want nothing more from life. And wanting something else means acknowledging discontent or perhaps disappointment with where things are sometimes. And that’s ok. Happiness means being honest with yourself.
If we settled for “Happily Ever After,” where would we have those moments of pain? Those moments of pain and grief that we need to feel when life gets hard, when Prince Charming is not being so charming, when you want so badly to meet your Prince Charming but haven’t.
Pain when you have lost someone. A parent. A grandparent. A spouse.
Pain when you lost that promotion. Lost your Prince Charming. Lost something so important that you want to go curl up on the sofa and just weep.
If not for weeks, than maybe just hours.
On the flip side, who the hell wants to settle for just happy? I know that I want my moments of “beyond” happy. I want those moments to come where I feel so overwhelmed by a joy so deep that I could weep. Ecstatic. Overwhelmed.
Ecstasy can’t come without pain.
Grief does not come unless you have felt the elation of hope and joy.
A loss can only come when you have had something beautiful.
I wonder sometimes if “Happily Ever After” is a safe way to kind of average out the highs and lows that we will all go through in life with the hopes that somewhere along the way, we will flatline at “Happy.”
Maybe Cinderella did not have such a great time with Prince Charming after all. There is a reason nobody watches the sequel for that one, you know.
If I could tell anything to that little girl clomping around in her high heels and imagining what her life might look like one day, I would want to tell her not to just settle for any Prince. To not assume that happiness comes because someone else swept you off your feet.
That little girl has the power to sweep herself off her own feet. She will sweep others off their feet. She will feel joy and sadness and lots of other things in this lifetime that will make her complete. More complete than any of the illustrated images of Princesses she has grown up to believe is her own dream.
Be prepared for joy. Open your arms to the moments of elation when they come.
And never settle for “Happily Ever After.”
P.S. Your father would also like me to mention never to settle for that guy you went on that date with who he never liked. You know, the one with the penis.