We all grew up watching Disney movies. While they are fun to watch, have you ever thought about what kinds of messages they give us?
I am a communication professor, and one of the classes I teach is about gender. This doesn’t just include how men and women communicate differently, but also the cultural expectations that we get from our society.
But let’s talk about the Disney movies. First, you have Cinderella. She was the “underdog.” She was poor, unwanted, and bullied by her Wicked Stepmother and her stepsisters. Her life is going nowhere, and she’s sad and miserable. Until one day, her fairy godmother appears and says that she gets to go to a ball. She meets her Prince Charming, and loses her glass slipper. Since Prince Charming has already fallen in love with her, he searches high and low for the girl who fits into the glass slipper. And of course, he finds her and they live happily ever after.
Then we have Snow White. The Wicked Queen was jealous of Snow White’s beauty, and so she orders her innocent stepdaughter to be murdered. Later, she discovers that Snow White is still alive and hiding in a cottage with seven friendly little miners – the dwarves. So she disguises herself as a hag and brings a poisoned apple to Snow White, who falls into a death-like sleep that can only be broken only by a kiss from the prince.
Do you see a theme here? The demure, beautiful, submissive female is hated by an older, uglier woman who tries to either punish or kill her. Then, the only way that she is saved is by having a handsome prince rescue her.
And then they live happily ever after.
When you break it down like that and make it a bit more literal, it doesn’t sound so romantic – or realistic – does it? Of course we know that Disney movies aren’t realistic.
Or do we?
Do we secretly hope that our lives will turn out like Cinderella or Snow White? Most of us would just chuckle at the thought and think “that’s ridiculous!”
But the subconscious mind is powerful. Many times, our beliefs and desires aren’t even part of our conscious awareness.
For example, how many women reading this played “bride” or “getting married” when they were young girls? It’s not that uncommon. Even if you didn’t do that, you probably dreamed of your perfect husband and fantasized about your wedding day. So you might not have verbalized your expectations and desires, but they were definitely there.
And how about the perfect proposal? I have a cousin who had her proposal planned out to the tiniest detail. She even told me, “When I meet the man I’m going to marry, you have to tell him this is the kind of proposal that I want, okay?” It consisted of a trail of clues and love notes…and a fancy dress in a hotel waiting for her…and then a limo taking her to some secret romantic location. And it all left her wondering what was happening. But all the while she really knew that it was her prince who was creating this elaborate proposal. And of course, they would live happily ever after.
The funny thing is that this cousin just recently got engaged. And did it happen like she wanted?
Of course not.
Maybe that’s my fault for not cluing the guy in. Whoops. Sorry, Michelle. But I’m still going to get you an extra special wedding gift.
But you get my point.
Our cultures talks about the prince and the proposal. It talks about riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after.
But it never talks about how to make that happen.
Once the honeymoon period wears off, then what? By then, you might be highly irritated that he never does the laundry. Or that he always watches sports. Or any other list of complaints that eventually emerge in a marriage.
Our schools don’t teach us how to deal with relationship problems. They teach us science, math, English, and even physical education, but not how to have a good relationship. Or how to repair one that needs it.
Sometimes our culture just sets us up for disappointment. I know what you’re thinking, “Gosh, she’s really bitter and unhappy!” Actually nothing could be further from the truth.
Did I have unrealistic expectations of romance and marriage? Absolutely. Did I know that I did? No. Well, maybe a little, but not enough. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I am divorced. But I did really try to make it work.
But actually, I’m quite happy being single.
The point I’m trying to make in this article is that the expectations that our culture gives us about “happily ever after” are not accurate. Sure, the lucky few end up like Noah and Allie in The Notebook. But I don’t know a whole lot of them. I hope you do. But I don’t.
So instead of focusing so much on a fantasy, or the perfect wedding day, I think it’s more important that we focus on how to have a happy marriage. How to get along. How to love each other unconditionally regardless of our differences – and our expectations.
Real life is not a Disney movie. Even though we all know that, I think at some level, we all hope that we will be one of the lucky few who ends up being the exception to that rule.
If you got nothing else from this article, I hope that you will teach your children (or grandchildren) how to have healthy relationships. And realistic expectations.
Believe it or not, I think that we all can have our own version of happily ever after. But in order to do that, we need the knowledge, tools, and desire to keep putting effort into our relationship for the rest of our lives.
It can be done. I have faith that it can.
What about you?