A few weeks ago I was working out and the song, “That’s How You Know” from the movie, “Enchanted” came on. (Yes, I realize my workout playlist needs some help.) I was in a happy frame of mine, both from the wonderful endorphins from working out, the euphoric pregnancy feelings that trail along with the beloved 2nd Trimester and feeling high on life. Grateful for the babies and the man.
And as I listened to the words of this kind of silly, full-on fairy-tale lyrical madness, I became more and more aware of what a lie it all was. The words sing of how you will know if a man loves you. How he’ll “send you yellow flowers when the sky is grey” or how he’ll prepare a “private picnic by the fire’s glow” just for the two of you and on and on and about taking you dancing just so he can be close to you. Oh come on. If that’s how we, as women, are supposed to know that we are “loved”, then I’d say many of our men come up short.
I love fairy tales. I always have. I was ecstatic when Disney brought “Beauty and the Beast” to life and I sat enraptured in the theater, feeling my heart stir and lift at the opening scene of the deep, red roses, the never-ending waterfall,... the castle. And I was equally psyched out of my mind when I found that the heroine, this princess, was a brunette.
And then real life happens. The kind where you end up meeting the man of your dreams and you’re wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt. There’s no fluffy dress. There’s no glass slipper. There’s a quote that I’ve seen that says, “Disney gave me unrealistic expectations about hair.” That’s true. It’s also true that the happily ever afters have given us an unrealistic expectation about life with a flesh and blood man.
ABC has a new series, “Once Upon a Time” (as you can imagine, I was hooked by the title alone.) In the first episode, Snow White and Prince Charming are promising forever. Stars in their eyes, the future bright and bold before them, a castle to dance around and fill with babies. But then, as is always inevitable with a happy ending, in comes the swirling black of evil and as she races through the throng gathered to see the “fairest of them all” and the handsome prince ride off into the sunset, your breath catches. Something is coming and it’s going to be ugly.
The Evil Queen, embittered and jealous, rages succinctly and states how they will have their happiness... today. But their happily ever after? She’s going to take it away. She’s going to send them to a place where those kinds of things don’t happen. A place where fairy tales are on the casualty list. She enacts a curse and forces them into a new world. Our world.
But in our day to day worlds of babies and husbands who work and come home tired... what do we do with that? What do we do when we stop seeing hearts flying around our heads and our handsome prince no longer seems as charming as we thought and we are surely less princess-like by the day. Maybe it’s the yoga pants. I can’t say.
So, we get married. We get the gorgeous dress, the well-wishes, the table full of presents. We get the magical first-dance and he wears a suit and your hair, for once, is very Disney-like and your expectations soar. But what happens when you get home and you’re no longer walking down a rose-petaled aisle or dancing beneath sparkling stars (or is that a disco ball?). Just as the Evil Queen promised Snow White and her love.... you’ll have today. You’ll have the joy of your perfect wedding, the hope of your perfect life. But then tomorrow? Tomorrow you’ll lose your happily ever after.
In a way, this happens. It’s called reality. I adored my wedding dress, but it would be a little impractical to wear around the house. (Not to mention it isn’t going to fit again for quite some time.) My hair is currently air-drying after a hasty shower while my toddler napped. And I may or may not be wearing a t-shirt that belongs in my husband’s dresser.
Expectations kill a marriage. They kill any relationship. It’s amazing to me how patient we are with our girlfriends, but with our husbands, we are so quick to be sharp. To roll our eyes. To be disappointed. Our girlfriends can change their minds, forget to call, send a late birthday card and we roll with it. We understand their crazy lives and we are secure in their love. But our husbands? Eek. I am guilty of sometimes being way more loving and understanding with my best friends than with the man whose name I took. The man I have a family with. The man who works every day to provide and care for us. But if he forgets my birthday or our anniversary or Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day or any other day that I decide has some sentimental importance to me.... watch out. Here come the disappointed tears. Expectations. Bleh.
The main drive behind expectations is self. We want what we want when we want it. And we feel we deserve it. And we have our heads filled with these “truths” that “if he really loves us” he will do x, y and z. And if he doesn’t do those things, well, then we need to work on him, change him, or pout until he figures it all out.
In the book, “Love and Respect”, the premise is that men do unloving things to get respect and women do disrespectful things to get love and the cycle goes on and on. No one is happy. The women feel unloved, their men feel disrespected, and they just keep on being sarcastic and sullen. No happily ever after here.
Aaron told me yesterday how he was listening to a segment on the radio about relationships or whatever and one of the points were made of how when single, women are independent and sure of themselves - but put them in a relationship and suddenly there are expectations and they require frequent “I love you’s!” and cards and flowers and surprises to feel like they have worth. That they have your love. Dating sets the bar for marriage - and while it is important to “date your spouse”, you have to grow up, too.
Dating is for dating. It’s for the purpose of winning.
Marriage is not dating. In fairy tales, you see the kiss that makes the princess come alive and then they ride into the sunset, set up house in an elaborate new home. And you never once think that she’s going to get bitter and sullen when he has to go off to war or work late running the country. You never think about him leaving his armor and chainmail in the middle of the bedroom floor for her to roll her eyes at and pick up every single day.
What happens when you own your ability to choose your perspective? What happens when you look long and hard at your own face in the mirror vs. analyzing all the ways you feel he’s not showing you love. It’s like how it is when you start giving thanks... the more you give thanks, the more you realize you have. And suddenly you’re giving thanks for smaller and smaller things, because it all feels huge. A weight seems to lift and you’re grateful for all you have. Marriage works like that, too. The more you focus on what you don’t have, or how the expectations aren’t being met or how the love languages aren’t being spoken, the more unhappy the days, the more tense the conversations, the more distant your Prince Charming is. But turn it around and start seeing what love looks like from his side. Look at how he is showing you.
When he remembers to fix the garbage disposal after days of it being out, even without you nagging him, that’s how he’s loving you. When he comments on how good it is to be home, that’s how he’s loving you. When he wants to make more and more babies with you, well, hello, that’s love. When he comes home from working all day and still wants to grill pork chops because that’s what he said he would do, that’s because he loves you. They come home every night, faithfully, because of love. When you start paying attention and stop expecting, that’s when you’ll see all he does. How brave and strong and handsome he really is. How much he truly cares.
When you start paying attention that’s how you’ll know he’s your love.
"... so many women struggle to hold
on to some jerk, keep giving an abusive
or philandering man yet another chance...
risk making babies with an opportunist or loser,
all in a pathetic version of a pursuit of love,
but will resent the hell out of treating a decent,
hardworking, caring husband with the
thoughtfulness, attention, respect and
affection he needs to be content."
~ D r . L a u r a S c h l e s s i n g e r