“In fairy tales, the princesses kiss the frogs, and the frogs become princes. In real life,the princesses kiss princes, and the princes turn into frogs.” ~ Paul Coehlo, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept
We are not princesses. They are not princes. Therein lies the rub.
By princesses, I don’t mean the lily white dancing nymph who sings to bluebirds and mice like we see in Disney films. But neither do I mean the demanding, spoiled, pejorative type of princess, either. I mean the type of princess that makes up whatever kind of fantasy is conjured in the immature male ideal: she is a combination of the good parts of his mother, a Sports Illustrated super model, and his favorite porn star.
She is a restaurant quality chef; she is immune to body fat, cellulite, bad hair, bad breath, and acne; her breasts are full and high, nipples
alert like rosy sentries at full attention over an impossibly tiny waist; and she could slake the lust of Zeus himself in the bedroom. She is Florence Nightingale when he ails. She doesn’t nag. She doesn’t get headaches. She never says a cross word about his mother or his friends. She does not compete with him on any level, and if she were to do so, she is incapable of beating him. And for the love of God, in the unlikely event that she menstruates, she certainly never gets PMS. Great expectations, or not so great, as the case may be.
To be fair, the Prince Charming ideal trained into the minds of little girls is similarly unrealistic: The heart throb millionaire who charges across the drawbridge on his white horse singing a ballad of love everlasting while his washboard abs ripple beneath his armor like the taut muscles of a Derby colt.
Failed expectations foment unhappiness.
Unrealistic expectations impact reality, and the impact on women is different from the impact on men. Society conditions girls to view themselves differently (a topic for a later blog) as well as the way they view and perceive relationships.
There is a dearth of literature published on the topic of intimate human relationships, ranging from an evolutionary perspective, to light psychology to fluff pieces in Vogue seeking to explain the relational differences that exist between the sexes. At the same time we struggle to reconcile the disparity between the Princess Ideal and the actual self, we compromise in our relationships. We strive to be the Princess Ideal and at the same time to manage a career, to be mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and (dare I wish it?) to find our soul mates.
While it may seem flattering to be admired on a pedestal, it is folly to be held to a standard that remains steadfastly unattainable. Perfection is consuming, and falling from grace has produced catastrophic results since biblical times.
Knowing what you want and wanting what you get are necessary to happiness. By the time you’ve licked the new off your partner, you had better have learned to love what’s beneath the surface or your relationship is doomed. This all seems so tautological, but the trick is knowing what you want in spite of the multiple layers of social conditioning that have taught us that you have to have the Princess Ideal or Prince Charming.
What happens when Prince Charming’s money stops entertaining you and you never really liked his ballad? (Let’s face it, a six-pack stomach is only going to take you so far.) We don’t all want the archetype, even if we don’t know it, and winning the prize is just accumulating more trash if it’s not what you wanted in the first place. As Dolly Parton so eloquently put it in the movie Straight Talk, “It’s like you’re allergic to cornflakes so you start to buy different stuff like a can of peas, but when you open up the can of the peas, inside cornflakes. So you pick a TV dinner and open it up, and, cornflakes. . .The girls you go out with… outside all different packages but inside… cornflakes.” Prince Charming is really . . . Cornflakes.
But it gets a bit worse, because Cornflakes has a preconceived notion about you, too. And maybe all that stuff that looked so good on paper when he first met you is not working out so well for him now. For example, your assertiveness is now controlling. Your intelligence he now views as a challenge. He loved the idea of marrying a career woman, but now he resents that you’re not Suzy Homemaker. The independence he once admired, is now aloofness, coldness, or maybe even selfishness. Cornflakes wants you parked on the sofa next to him while he watches TV (only breaking to fix his mother’s recipe for meatloaf) until he goes to bed where he will want to have four minutes of sex before he is snoring. This is not what Cornflakes bargained for either.
It’s no small wonder that only 25% of women orgasm during sex and 5%-10% of women do not orgasm at all (Lloyd). There is more to life than being a surrogate mother and an occasional semen receptacle. It’s not surprising that approximately 50% of all marriages end in divorce (National Center for Health Statistics).
Failed relationships are influenced by many things, but misconceptions about what your partner should be must be a major factor. Women are conditioned to think that anything less than Prince Charming is “settling,” but the concept of Prince Charming is a trick. He’s really a huge, toxic, warty toad, all dressed up in tasty packaging. We are told from the beginning that we should marry doctors and lawyers. What about men who are honest and trustworthy, who make you laugh, who are empathic, and who accept you for what you are? What about the qualities that really count on a daily basis? Rather than relying an archetypal Prince Charming defined by the same society that made you play with Barbie and Ken (who is gay, by the way), we should all be forming realistic expectations about what we really want and finding that person.
Cornflakes become more like bitter herbs in the long run, and horseradish will make you cry.