Monday, February 25, 2013

Prince Charming

Children's programming has all kinds of weird and unfortunate messages embedded in it.  For example, count the number of gay characters in children's movies and tv shows... not exactly a big list.  Obviously most characters in little kid's entertainment are safely asexual but anyone that has a sex drive is hetero.  Feminists have long decried the Prince Charming story where the helpless heroine sits around and waits for her perfect match to show up and save her and these days that is actually a lot less of a thing but there is still a long way to go.  While it is common now for females to take a large role and to save the day the end result is still almost uniformly presented as eternal love with a perfect partner.

That assumption that finding just the right person is the secret to a perfect life is something that really bothers me.  I love Wendy deeply but there is no such thing as a mystical soul mate nor a perfect partner; we are simply two people who work rather well together and are fantastic partners in life and love.  That doesn't mean that we will always fulfill every need the other has and it doesn't mean that we are fated to be each other's one and only forever.  Real life tends to interfere with that plan and there is no reason to think that partnerships need to follow the path of

Fall in Love
Tragic Misunderstanding
Dangerous Circumstance
Selfless Act
Perfect Love FOREVER

I think that these sorts of standards really hammer it into children's heads that once you meet someone who you love they are obviously supposed to become perfect and be with you forever and that just isn't reasonable or realistic.  People fall out of love, they grow in different directions, and sometimes love just ain't enough.  Ending a relationship is not failure and should not be viewed as such.  Certainly sometimes relationships are torpedoed by somebody doing something singularly selfish or dumb but an awful lot of them just end because it is time (or long past time...) for them to be over.

I have been reading Open:  Love Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage and it really brought home how damaging this idea of perfect love FOREVER is.  The author was in a marriage that regularly made her miserable for years because she simply couldn't figure out how to get around society's insistence that her marriage work a particular way.  Of course most marriages don't work like the Prince Charming story because much more than half of them have infidelity and the great majority have some amount of conflict and misery but we as a society insist on pretending otherwise to our children.

One man, one woman is a marriage 'norm' that is on its way out.  I suspect and I hope that other damaging and silly standards will follow the same path.  Standards like marriage must have precisely two people, marriage is FOREVER, and 'my partner must be all things to me'.  We will be far better off when the message we send to our children is that they should surround themselves with people who make them feel good and love them rather than that they should expect anyone to be their Prince Charming.  We can and should search for people who are awesome but expecting perfection leads to nothing but disappointment.


  1. Strangely, I think the idea that your spouse is supposed to be your everything is actually extremely new. Sure, it's in fairy tales, but those necessarily have simplistic messages (besides which, we all read the sanitized versions; the Little Mermaid is supposed to die and the moral is "obey your father").

    Just like people used to raise their children with other people, not in the nuclear family, people used to live their lives with the community or with their extended family. In that model your spouse is still the only one you are supposed to have sex with, but there are plenty of other people to share your life with to the same depth that you share it with your spouse.

    As for it lasting forever, I know we've talked before about how short forever could be when you look back past the last century and a bit.

    I think both of those are pretty much flashes in the pan, not the bedrock of marriage. As for precisely two people being involved... all I know is that the government is going to have to have some strong words with the prosecutors who decided to after the Bountiful community in BC for polygamy. The BC Supreme Court ruling on that was transparently nonsensical and the Court of Appeals would have to have their heads up their asses to uphold it.

  2. Yes, you are correct that historically the idea of your marriage partner being your one and everything is fairly new. Unfortunately our cultural norms are based far too heavily on a rose tinted glasses misremembering of the 1950s. When I talk about prevailing attitudes and history in this post I really refer to the attitudes of those who are still alive and shaping our society actively - clearly as you go further back marriage looks very different from what I want it to be and also nothing like our collective Prince Charming fantasy.