What Fairytales Never Taught Me About Love
My younger self once believed someone would come and rescue me one day and we would live happily ever after. I was an avid reader and stories taught me to believe in happy endings. Even the most horrific tales I used to read (which happened to be my favourite) spoke of heroines navigating tragedy after tragedy until things got resolved at the end and their saviours' love made the heroines forget the pain they had left behind.
To be fair, not all stories were like this, but back then I needed those stories. I needed hope. How many women can relate to this? The narrative has changed quite a bit since then, but generation after generation of women grew up believing a romantic relationship was the end-all. One only has to read a Jane Austen novel to realise it used to be a matter of life or death (and when I say death I mean a poverty-stricken life with a premature death). These things leave a mark.
This was all happening on a subconscious level but its grip was powerful. You can imagine my disappointment when later on I realised a relationship is not a place you go to in order to have all your emotional needs met. Not only that: A relationship is like a giant mirror that will force you to take a long hard look at yourself and learn a thing or two about your inner demons. It's easy to blame the other person when that happens. It's easy to find fault in them instead of being honest with ourselves and admitting we are faulty humans as well. It's easy to take and take until we can take no more and then we turn our backs on love itself.
I guess this is what people mean when they say relationships are hard. But I don't think they're hard. What's hard is looking in the mirror. What's hard is working on ourselves so we can be more, give more. It takes dedication and a willingness to not give up altogether and find a different person so we can do this dance again until we learn the lesson.
Of course, sometimes the person we choose is completely wrong for us or we evolve in different ways and we need to move on. I'm all for ending relationships that bring more sorrow than joy, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about that insidious creature that slowly poisons perfectly good relationships by throwing in expectation, judgement, selfishness and distrust.
There's a marsh near my home where I often go for walks. It is rich in birdlife and I'm always fascinated by the way each species interacts with the world. Ducks nap on the surface of the water in scattered groups. Cattle egrets stay close to cows during the day and perch atop a bunch of dead trees at sunset. Swans gracefully float about, and when they spot humans nearby, they send their young away.
Swans happen to be monogamous. Pigeons are too. In fact, more than 90% of bird species are monogamous. They even mourn their dead partners. We can find this in some mammals as well: Grey wolves, coyotes, sea otters, Gentoo penguins... I find it fascinating that some species choose one mate for life and others don't. Humans are not so straightforward; it depends entirely on the individual and the society they live in. But the bottom line is... except maybe insects, we all desire love. And we should embrace it, but we must know what to expect.
It's all about balance, after all. A relationship will not heal our past trauma. It will not fill the gaps left by our lack of self-love. It will not save us. But if we let it, it will help us grow like we could never grow on our own. It will teach us what it means to truly love, to give and accept, to get to know ourselves and the other person at the deepest level possible.
Fairytales never taught me what comes after. They never showed how the heroines carried their pain with them wherever they went because pain cannot be simply forgotten. They never showed how that pain and their lover's pain spread and intertwined until the foundations started to crack. They failed to teach me happiness is not an end goal that we achieve once and for all, but a constant dance, a balancing act, something we quietly build day after day.
The relationship is not the prize; it is where we go to grow and give more of ourselves.
And what a beautiful gift that is.