As a generation, we women of the Boomer persuasion (and by definition ergo reared on Disneyesque fairy tale “happily ever after” endings– see Part I) are fucked. Too harsh? Too vulgar? How about this: We are screwed because our perception of what “should be” is skewed. Better? It shouldn’t be. ‘Cause the message is the same . . . And it’s even worse (and yet easier, so read on) for so-called Gen Xers and Millennials—and please, DON’T even get me started on Millennials—it won’t be a pretty picture, I promise you. But yes, for the self-absorbed, selfie-filtered, for whom every minutia of mundane daily life is social media-worthy ‘cause they are sooooo special—as their helicopter parents indulged them to believe since everyone gets a trophy—generation, it is much much worse (and yet better, easier . . . keep reading, I’ll get to it). After all, they’re the generation nurtured in the land of “No,” an Oz-like, safe space world with no challenge, no failure, no responsibility, no disappointment, no work ethic . . . Oops—See! I TOLD you not to get me started!
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Since the 1950s romantic fantasy and romantic love have been inextricably linked, ala the fairy tale/someday my prince will come/happily ever after scenario which still exists and still endures in popular culture, movies and books. My theory as to why is this: Once arranged marriages went by the wayside (circa second half of the 20th century) and at about the same time (coincidence? I think not) when women entered the workplace en masse, not as Rosie the Riveter stand-ins for off-at-war men but in their own right, seeking their own place, earning their own money and independence and escaping the preordained path of their mothers and grandmothers, they were finally free to choose their future mate.
Not surprisingly, they envisioned story-book, fairy tale, ideal love stories for themselves. (After all, who is going to dream of bad or so-so shit happening?) And so the fantasy was born (and put on celluloid by Disney): True love. Love at first sight. Love everlasting. In short, perfection. Not only in their mate. Which meant a heart-thumping, butterflies in the gut feeling initial attraction that endured through adversity (but only a little) to culminate in a white dress and veil (or a ridiculous bird hat—if your name is Carrie Bradshaw and you’re a fictional character on TV). But also perfection as in a “they lived happily ever after” afterlife.
Ironically, however (and to prove my point) up until the 20th century, the greatest love stories in western history and literature were not happy ending stories—they were, in fact, tragic. Furthermore, not only did most of these couples die (Is that what they mean by happily ever after??), more than half of these immortal lovers were married to someone else! Hello? (BTW, several of these couples are circa the Medieval Ages–a possible origin for that whole “knight in shining armor” shtick?) But judge for yourself. And if you don’t know who the hell these pairs were, blame the lack of classical education in modern education ‘cause now we have to teach to the test and the lowest common denominator—‘cause everyone gets a trophy–I mean an A—otherwise Sikorsky Dad and Bell Mom will sue. Uh-oh. I feel another rant . . .
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Rather universally (or at least according to my internet searches) the following are regarded to be history and literature’s greatest love pairs: Romeo and Juliet (a couple synonymous with love), Cleopatra and Marc Antony, Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, Paris and Helena (of the thousand ships launched beauty), Orpheus and Eurydice, Napoleon and Josephine, Odysseus and Penelope (She waited 20 years for his ass to return!), Paola and Francesca (huh?), Abelard and Heloise (Dude sacrificed his man parts for love—how could he NOT be on the list?), Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler (the personification of the love/hate, can’t live with/can’t live without attraction), Jane Eyre and Rochester, Pyramus and Thisbe (half a huh), Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy, Queen Victoria and Albert (Vickie mourned Bertie’s death for 40 years and wore black til the day she died. . . Props for walking the walk, girlfriend! Serious props. A woman who’s going to sacrifice fashion and her wardrobe for love, sure as fuck deserves to be on the list!)
Given the above as role model examples and templates, can it be a surprise that once modern, emancipated women could choose, they kept the love part and 86ed the rest? They disappeared the adversity and separation and other trials and tribulations, idealized the whole relationship into a fateful, meant to be soulmate scenario—and then rewrote the fucked up ending into the fairy tale ending of their childhoods. But besides scripting an ending for a beginning, where’s the harm? Happiness ever after is just an ideal. So again, where’s the harm?
The harm is here: an “ideal” is also a hope, an anticipation, a belief, an expectancy . . . DING DING DING (and there it is). The harm is in the expectation—because the ideal of perfect happiness contains the expectation of perfect happiness. So when expectations fall short—as they will ‘cause life ain’t a fucking fairy tale!—what happens? Unhappiness. Dissatisfaction. The question: Did I make a mistake? For a generation, in particular uninured to challenge and never taught disappointment, hard work, time investment to obtain goals . . . a generation weaned on want and a world of instant availability and innumerable choices all a keystroke or finger swipe to the right away, this can mean disaster, which starts with a D—as in divorce. In short, whether marriage or relationship, they opt out and move on to the next possibility. Easy-peasy. (Told ya I’d get to it.)
But for we women Boomer-born . . . we who were taught the value of hard work and not everyone gets a tropy ’cause you have to work your ass off and sacrifice, we who have known challenge and failure and disappointment and hurt feelings without safe spaces, what do we do? We persevere. Stick with it. Try to make it work. Overlook the flaws. Make excuses and make do. We lie in the bed we made—though it might mean we will toss and turn like the Princess and the Pea fairy tale. And there’s the segue back! As much as we recognize reality, we also understand time and effort and reward. And we also believe. We believe in the fairy tale ending. So we stay when we should go. We put up and shut up. Even when we know we are being foolish, we still hope because we are fools. Fools for fairy tales . . .
To be continued . . .