My eight year old daughter just finished second grade. Throughout the year I heard her tell stories of the boy she had a crush on. She liked him all year and documented this by drawing little hearts around his picture in her yearbook. She and her friends would spend their time at recess chasing the boys they liked and planning their weddings. My daughter would often say, “I wonder if we will get married? Or, maybe we will go to prom! Then I will know how he feels about me”.
Isn’t that the way? Isn’t that how the majority of us women and girls in this American culture have been brought up? I remember in fourth grade I too had weddings. I spent a good majority of my day daydreaming about PJ or Jeff, the two boys I liked. Anytime I had a relationship, I was the girl who would write my first name with their last name, just to see what it looked like. Why? Because I was taught that finding a man and getting married and having children was my role. This was the expectation that was set up for me. Find something you like to do, be happy, but find a good man. Women are subtly told throughout their existence that their worth is found in the man they are with. It breaks my heart to know that my daughter has already fallen into this trap even though I have spent a lot of time telling her that what is important is her heart, soul, and mind and that no boy makes up her worth. But stories are persuasive; especially when told in the popular culture through movies, books, clothing, and toys.
Look at every Disney Princess movie apart from the recent, Moana. The princess finds herself in some sort of distress or trouble where she is the victim and it is a man who rescues her. He is the hero and her life is once again happy, but silent. As much as I do love Ariel, she literally loses her voice and transforms her body to be with a man she admires from afar. Yes, she did rescue him and saves his life, but she also gives up a whole heck of a lot of herself to be with him. How often do women do that? Look at old cartoons where the villain ties the woman to the railroad tracks and she cries out because a train is coming, and then right before danger strikes a hero on a horse comes to save her. The motif here is that of a persecutor, a victim, and then a rescuer. All of these stories affect how we enter into relationship. They have been a part of the collective story for a long time in our culture. It’s clear to me that when the girl becomes a woman, she has this need for a man to like her, then love her, then rescue her. It is also clear that in our culture there is an underlying connotation that if a woman is not married, then there is something wrong with her.
However, my question is, if there was no wedding, no huge party, would people get married as often or as quickly? The wedding is primarily focused on the bride. She gets to be the princess for the day. All eyes are on her, quite like Cinderella at the ball. But that day - one of great bliss where we act like royalty - is just a day. Yes a magical day, but in the great scheme of marriage, it’s just one day. Marriage involves all the days after that; marriage involves the mundane, the hard, the sticky, the life transitions, the sick, the annoyances, the beauty, you know…. the good, the bad, and the ugly. The truth is, is that sometimes we are all victims in relationships and we all need another to rescue us from time to time. But another person cannot fully save us or provide us with the fantasy we thought, as children, we would one day get. The truth is, is that in order to have a fairytale of some sort, we need to find our own worth and a way of rescuing ourselves. So much of marriage and love are set up on these false expectations we develop as children. They become our template of how relationships should be. The problemis that it’s rarely like that and we find ourselves hoodwinked.
As young women in college sit around the television watching wedding shows like, Say Yes to The Dress, they dream about what that day will be like. I would even go so far asto say that it becomes the primary focus of many. I remember my friends and I would ask, “What colors would you have? What setting would it be? What kind of dress do you want? How will you wear your hair?” We never ask questions like, “What do you think marriage would be like? How do you handle conflict in your relationship? How are you going to feel when you find another person attractive? How will the two families get along? How will you figure out whose family to visit for which holiday? What if sex isn’t good? What do you think it will be like managing finances?” These are the questions we should be asking and these are the sorts of conversations we need to have in pre-marital counseling. If I may say, I do think that the purity culture within the Christian community has made this emphasis on weddings even worse. There is such a strong focus on staying a virgin until you are married that so many people I knew, and later heard stories of, entered into a marriage very quickly in part so that they could have sex without the guilt and shame. But as they dreamt of the wedding, they weren’t prepared for the marriage or their sexual relationship beyond the wedding night.
I know that this doesn’t hold true for everyone, but I have seen it in so many relationships and have found so many of my fellow mom friends saying that maybe we had the wool pulled over our eyes. I want everyone to have a healthy and loving relationship experience of some kind whether it be marriage or not. To do so, we need to step out of the fairy tale a bit and into a more realistic story.
My daughter loves a great fairytale story and anything involving fantasy, so I know I need to be careful and loving in my conversations with her, but this is what I hope I can teach her:
“No matter what the world is telling you, your worth does not revolve around whether or not you are in a relationship or not. That you are worthy because you exist and because you are trying every day in this journey we are on together. What is important is to find your voice and to make it strong. Work hard to learn your own heart. What makes your heart hurt? What makes it love? What makes it jump for joy? What makes it crumble into your stomach? Where do you feel whole as a person? Where do you feel the most like yourself? How do you like to serve and love others, because it’s important to be kind and good to our fellow humans?”
If she gets in a relationship, I would say:
“Learn how to communicate even if it makes you ache. Find someone who makes you want to create and makes you want to try harder to be better than you already are. Make sure you can laugh with this person. The world is full of muck; laughter makes the muck bearable. Be kind to your person and pay attention to how they are kind to you. Remember the word grace. Be equal in your give and take. Don’t give more than the other and don’t take more. Find something outside of your relationship that you do just for you, that the other person is not a part of, but hears about. Think about your identity and how you can nurture it as you share a life with another person and become a couple”.
There is so much more I could say, but mainly I want her to know that the Once Upon a Time and the Happily Ever After comes when she lives her life followingthe rules of what feels right for her; not the expectations the world has created for her, because she is a woman. I want her to know that she can break the glass slipper, pretend to keep sleeping after the kiss from a prince (which is a whole other conversation about what consent looks like), and that she can climb down the damn tower herself.