When I was a kid, my Mom’s favorite Disney musical soundtrack was Cinderella. Back in the day when music came on dinner platter-sized discs prone to scratching and warping, she had a vinyl album set of the music from the movie, which also had a picture book. I remember playing the music and turning the pages of the book. Bluebirds tying dress sashes, a Fairy Godmother, “Bibbity Bobbibty Boo.”
The story books I read featured beautiful young ladies who had nearly always suffered domestic trauma, generally under the hand of a jealous female, often an “evil Stepmother.” (Really, is there any other kind? There must be some global training program for that.)
There was Snow White. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. In the end, youth and beauty triumphed and said young lady lived happily ever after in a pristine castle with Prince Charming, who, if he was the same Prince in all stories, appeared to get around. I prefer to think these were all different princes in different kingdoms, and he was not the playboy cad as he is portrayed in the Vertigo Fable Series. Plenty of princes to go around. These tall tales were actually a perfect training ground for the genres of romance novels and soap operas. Which, incidentally, I detest.
The early indoctrination at the hand of the myths starring a handsome man arriving in the nick of time to provide rescue from all one’s troubles was a sharp contrast to what my grandmother practiced (and preached to me) in her own life – that men are a disappointment and no woman actually needs one. She and my grandfather divorced when Mom was six years old, back in a time (the 1940s) when divorce was rare and only Hollywood movie stars (who were not actually human) did it. This set Mom up for a lonely childhood that was not a classic Norman Rockwell image. As an only child, there were no siblings to play with. Worse, other kids at school were told not to play with her (by their parents) because “her parents are divorced” (whispered). Like it was a communicable disease and contact would bring divorce upon their own households. Or something.
The messages delivered by my female elders was that, “All men will disappoint, it is just a matter of time.” (Um, hello …? Is this not true of most fellow humans?) When my mom went through her Women's Lib phase, the mantra was that women can do anything, we don't need men to take care of us. We can work and raise families and do it all. And the expectation was that I would go to college and have a career and do it all. It felt like a mandate, not a choice. I don't remember being asked. Some standardized test in high school set me on the college path, and off I went to continue my training in how to not need anyone.
As for real-life beautiful ladies and princes … they exist. I even know some of them – people who are living happily ever after (as least as it appears from outside the decorative snow globe). Couples who have been together for as many as 30 years. High school sweethearts who are still in love decades later.
I, on the other hand, cannot reach a decade with the same person before I write an ending. Sadly, it seems like this has been imprinted on my DNA. Or maybe I subconsciously construct a reality that fulfills the prophecy because even if I know what I believe is a load of bull, I get to be right. I do, however, have a job. And ex-boyfriends who complained that they felt unnecessary, like I didn't need them. And it's true, I didn't need them. Not in the clingy, "take care of me I am a dainty flower" way. But I wanted them, and that is the part that must have gotten lost in translation.
This is not to say I don’t have my fairy tale moments. I have lots of pretty dresses and sparkly jewelry that make me feel like a princess. Or I think they would, if I ever actually wore them. I feel like Cinderella frequently – like when cleaning dog pee from the rug, or digging through the mess of a closet on a mad search for my missing shoe. Or those times when my ride seems to transform into a pumpkin, or worse, a lemon. Fortunately, there is no evil stepmother or wicked stepsisters, but I have been blessed on a couple occasions with a fairy godmother or two. Just need a Prince Charming.