“Happily ever after “is the perfect ending for a fairy tale. Anyone who has been married longer than the honeymoon knows this is utter nonsense. The work is just beginning. Many of us put on wedding rings,hearing the vows which include “sickness and health, for better or worse,” but glossing over those truths with false expectations which can undermine, even destroy unions meant to last. Lord knows I’m no expert on marriage, but I know quite a bit about screwing them up.
The chivalric love of the middle ages, that era of glorious unrequited love and a glimpse of a pale ankle which would send a knight into fits of passion has made its way to the twenty-first century; it’s not quite the same now, but the underpinnings are still there. The romantic notions of “love at first sight,” a “damsel in distress,” and “prince charming” won’t die easily. Despite the shift in gender roles and the feminist revolution, these archaic ideas continue to affect both men and women in different ways.
Many young girls are raised to find a man, get married, and have children, subverting her own needs and dreams to his. There is nothing inherently wrong with getting married and having children, obviously, but the subverting part gets dicey. Before women could vote, work, and be successful in their own right, this paradigm worked on its surface, because women had little choice and therefore small expectations; being trapped in a loveless marriage in a subservient role chaffed and burned, yet divorce was generally not an option. It is now, though, and as women have entered the workforce and become CEOs and Senators, we’ve seen divorce rates climb. It’s partly because of absurd expectations, and mixed messages in our culture.
Women are objectified one moment, placed on a pedestal the next, either the whore, the princess, or the mother. In childhood, young girls are barraged by Disney movies where Cinderella is saved by her prince, where Barbi dolls have enormous breasts and wear glitzy clothes to find Ken. In young adulthood and the teen years, music comes into the mix, with songs of maudlin co-dependence, or upbeat songs of empowerment which are generally about promiscuity rather than brains or will. Then there are the “chick flicks,” the same movie made a hundred times with the “meet-cute,” the initial awkwardness, the falling in love, the break-up and then the reunion, often with people clapping around them. Ugh.
Boys are raised playing army and football, where aggression is rewarded and competition is fierce and the key to any sort of success. They hear the same songs, watch the same movies, and the message of strength, even dominance finds its way into their souls. No man or boy wants to be the “Beta.” Everyone wants to be the Alpha male, because that’s what the girls and women like, too. Be stronger, don’t cry, hit harder, run faster. And later, make more money. For in adulthood, this is how males measure their prowess.
It’s a wonder anybody stays married at all.
Women are taught by society to want a man who is strong and fierce, but who is also sensitive and compliant, who will shed a tear during Sense and Sensibility and listen patiently to her problems, but who will also throat-punch the jerk who disrespects her. Men are taught to suppress their feelings, to be stoic and strong, and internalize their stress and problems. Couples enter into marriages with these presets programmed into us, and when things go south, wonder what the hell happened.
Marriage is hard work. The hardest work there is. People change and grow, and hopefully they can do this together; this is usually a choice, whether conscious or not, and when a couple doesn’t grow together, they will inevitably grow apart. When things get close and mean, when the walls are pressing in, it’s easy to look around and decide that there is an easier way, that you’d be better off where the grass is a deeper shade of green. This is the message our culture continually bombards us with, through music, movies, and social media, this facade of pretty lies. People break and lives are destroyed as a result.
The fairy tale was never real. But marriage can be glorious and fulfilling. I’ve been through the crud and the blood and the muck, and I’ve had seasons where I woke up in the morning with an elephant on my chest.For some people, there is no other way, and my heart breaks for them. I’m glad that my wife and I didn’t break, though. That we’ve decided that we’re going to grow together rather than apart. And in making it through the terrible, we’ve learned some important things about ourselves and each other. We look at one another now and say “till the wheels come off.”
We’ve made a conscious effort to make each other better. With God’s help we’re going to make it. Partners, for better or worse, and that’s better than the fairy tale.