The Fairy Tale Wedding
May is going to be the month of bin Laden. The death of the man who took credit for the 9-11 attacks will undoubtedly dominate headlines, as will whatever related stories result from that announcement on May 1. But April was the month of the wedding. Prince William married his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, accompanied by a global sigh of contentment.
I’ve been thinking about the recent royal wedding in the UK and feminist.com seems the proper place to think out loud.
The wedding of William and Kate was certainly hyped to a fever pitch by the media, but they weren’t shouting into a vacuum. I spoke with many people who intended to get up before dawn to watch the ceremony. And the throngs outside in London weren’t just British. There were plenty of Americans in the crowd, all craning for a glimpse of the happy couple.
I understand there are a lot of angles to this event – the memory many of us have of the wedding of William’s parents, the happy distraction from so many grim news stories around the world and the simple fact that many people, particularly women, love a wedding. And a royal wedding is that familiar ceremony on a giant scale.
I wish the bride and groom well. This isn’t about them.
What I wonder about is everyone who traveled so far and spent so much money to spend a dreary morning in a claustrophobic crowd of happy people. And the millions more who were glued to their televisions around the world.
Does everyone still believe in fairy tales?
The handsome prince arrives and rescues the damsel in distress. The two of them fall instantly in love. The dark clouds part, the sun shines and they walk hand in hand into the pink and gold sunset. Fade to black. Children’s tales, for generations, have ended “happily ever after”.
This is the vision of marriage that we know is simplistic and downright inaccurate, yet it’s a vision so engrained, so familiar, that we actually have to consciously fight it to achieve a truly functional relationship.
I was married for many years. I had the wedding, the dress, the handsome groom and the Hawaiian honeymoon. I was the child of a very traditional couple and I planned for a very traditional marriage. I might work for awhile, we might have children, but my primary job was to be the heart of our home. I would teach our children, protect them and shepherd them into adulthood. My husband had his role, too. He would become the provider once I became a mother. He would be a good role model for his son, a supportive dad to his daughter.
I was occasionally intimidated by the responsibilities marriage implied. It called for someone even more perfect than I’d spent years trying to be. But I did my best.
I cannot imagine the weight which must have settled on my husband’s shoulders when our children were born. There must have been some nights where he laid awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering what his life had become.
We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk about a lot of things that mattered to us.
Did I know how to discuss differences? Not really. My parents’ answer to disagreements was to retreat to neutral corners until they were prepared to forget about it. One of them finally just gave in (usually my mother, though it was done with an air of martyrdom) – there seemed to be no compromises.
Did I know how to argue? No. Did I know how to fight? Not at all. My husband’s experience was the opposite – he came from a home where fights were frequent and bitter. He bottled resentment until it blew in a short burst of rage, then all was well again. I bottled my feelings even better than he did, so it allowed us what appeared to be a very peaceful life.
And yet how much stronger my relationship with my new husband would have been had we had some healthy knock down drag outs during our courtship. We’d have learned who we truly were, what we liked and didn’t like. We’d have been closer. Or perhaps we’d have discovered we shouldn’t marry at all. That would have been healthy, too. So we stumbled through a marriage together, doing the best we could to avoid conflict. Our children, learning from watching us, also learned to avoid conflict. Now young adults, they’re trying to relearn the habits of their childhood as they finally see how dysfunctional they are.
I ended my marriage after nearly twenty years. It was sudden and it was painful. We did it with as much grace as we could. But I blame my fairy tale vision of marriage for its demise. I spent a lifetime believe in happily ever after. But children’s stories are for children. Adults know that few joys come without some pain. I know now that marriage is, indeed, work. It is a constant struggle to connect honestly with another human being. Even when every instinct tells you to keep peace, mask your true self or keep your mouth shut, a good relationship, a good marriage, has space for your truth to be heard, discussed and accepted as your truth without judgement.
Marriage is damned uncomfortable. Life, if it’s going to be interesting at all, is uncomfortable!
But this isn’t the vision of marriage that was celebrated at Westminster Abbey in April. We were celebrating that happily- ever- after, the prince-takes–a-bride story that used to lull us to sleep as children. And what I wonder is how many of the people who ecstatically waved union jacks in the crowd realize the difference. I’m hoping the newlyweds do.
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Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio's national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett's new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.