Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happily Ever After?

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“Do you believe in Happily Ever After?” I asked Naomi. In between laughs, she yelled an emphatic, “No!” Then she added, “Well, I mean, it’s just not that simple.”

Naomi is the sex and relationship columnist for Men’s Health magazine, where I work. She’s also been in a relationship with a great guy for about six years now. So, she’s basically a dating expert—and, by this point, a pretty pragmatic one. Still, part of me wished that she would gush about dreams of Happily Ever After that she developed while watching Disney movies growing up—that she would admit that, deep down, she had once hoped for her own Happily Ever After, then found it.

Hope. That’s really what Happily Ever After is all about, isn’t it? It’s the faith that we were meant to end up happy, united with our one true love. It’s a glittering generality that dominates romance novels and Hollywood films—and sometimes both (Nicholas Sparks, I’m lookin’ at you!).

But I wondered: is it realistic?

I got to thinking about the best first date I ever had. After a few weeks of chatting online, a guy invited me over for drinks on his roof. With amazing views of Manhattan as our backdrop, we sipped wine and watched the sunset. It was simple. It was romantic. It was captivating. As dusk turned into twilight, the conversation flowed with the cocktails, and before I knew it, we fell asleep in each other’s arms while watching a movie.

That experience ran its course, but I can’t help but recall my feelings of energetic optimism and blind infatuation when I arrived home the next day. We’ve all been there, of course—in the throes of a consuming crush, unable to detain our desires and let the proverbial chips fall as they may. But it’s that type of passion that reminds me of why I hope for my own Happily Ever After.

As a child, it’s difficult to comprehend those types of feelings. I never understood enough about trust and commitment—or anything about “until death do us part.” It’s too detailed for a developing mind to fully grasp. But Happily Ever After is not; it’s basic and believable instead of complex and confusing. Again, it’s a glittering generality—and necessarily so.

As an adult, I now see the whole picture. I can imagine the first kiss, the first uttering of “I love you”, the first moving truck, the ring. It’s not a glittering generality, it’s a joyous journey marked by ups and downs, twists and turns. We seem to outgrow the simplicity of the idea of Happily Ever After.

Or do we?

In an extremely unscientific Twitter poll, I asked my followers if they believed in Happily Ever After—and the reasoning for their proclamations. Here are the three responses I received:


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That’s right. All of them believe in Happily Ever After, even though one of them blatantly admits to being a sarcastic cynic.

After reading their responses and pondering Happily Ever After some more, I inevitably ended up thinking about passion versus dedication in relationships. To me, it seemed like the Disney movies were imparting the importance of passion in romance through their elaborate and exaggerated storylines, but were somehow de-emphasizing the significance of dedication by simply ending the story with “And they lived Happily Ever After.” All of the grittiness of real relationships is removed from the plot, thus leaving the audience—mostly children, mind you—with half of the picture of what real romance requires.

In another thoroughly unscientific Twitter poll, I asked my followers which option they thought made for a better relationship: an intense connection from the very beginning or a passion that builds over time. Here’s what they said:

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As you can see, the responses are overwhelmingly in favor of both an intense passion and one that builds over time—or what I’ll refer to as “the whole picture.” Disney films, on the other hand, only focus on the first half of “the whole picture”—on the intense initial passion that the characters experience. Aladdin’s on a mission to woo Jasmine, Ariel’s got to become human so she can be with Eric; it makes for great cinema, but once the theater lights come on—POOF!—there it goes. The only classic Disney film that comes remotely close to portraying the tension and trust of a real relationship is Beauty and the Beast. And, well, the leading male is a beast.

Regardless of the cast of the caricatures, the fact remains that even though people admit that both initial passion and sustained dedication are required for a real relationship, most people still pray, wish and hope for their own Happily Ever After to come to fruition. It’s that seed of hope that helps us get back on our feet after an unexpected rejection, unrequited love or unsuccessful relationship. And hope is an extremely powerful force. It can help us excel. It can even save us from death. Hope propels us forward regardless of what is rational or what reality dictates.

And so Happily Ever After, despite its incomplete depiction of love and long-term commitment, lives on. I guess Naomi was right. We can’t simply disqualify Happily Ever After—it’s just not that simple.

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