Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fairytales and sitcoms as much as the next girl. At any given spare moment during the week, you’ll probably find me either enthralled by Once Upon a Time or The Office. My beef isn’t with the existence of these forms of entertainment.
It lies in how we let them – both of them – color our view of how marriage, and really any type of relationship between the sexes, is supposed to work.
The fairytale thing probably doesn’t surprise you. I think we can all agree that movies like CInderella and Beauty & the Beast, while entertaining, send less than stellar messages:
Marry the first man that shows interest in you.
A man doesn’t need to hear you voice your opinion – he just needs to appreciate your body.
It is totally healthy to develop an attraction to the man who is holding you captive.
All that a marriage needs to be successful is mutual attraction.
And so forth. I think that a lot of unhappy marriages stem from the expectations built from year after year of, for lack of a better word, indoctrination from tales of princesses. Sure, we all know they are purely fun and fantasy, but isn’t there at least a tiny little bit of disappointment we face when we realize that our very own Prince Charming belches and snores just like every other man?
I say that in jest somewhat – and yet I cannot help but think that the disturbing upward trends of women expecting flamboyant marriage proposals, the pompous contempt so many of my peers hold towards the men in their lives, and even my own occasional feelings of superiority indicate that most of us, deep down somewhere, believe that we are a princess and should be treated as such.
Which doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that most women’s definition of being treated like a princess boils down to being able to act like a spoiled brat, expressing petty rudeness towards their boyfriends, fiances, and husbands at the slightest sign of an imagined infraction. I’ve heard friends and acquaintances say things like “I told him I’d marry him, but only if he bought me a better rock,” or “I really wish that he would bring me flowers at work sometime to surprise me, but I don’t want to tell him because I shouldn’t have to.” Instead of treating men like equal partners, we expect them to be psychics who have nothing else to do but spend time at our feet in obedient adoration.
We need to remember that if we want to be treated as equals, we need to leave our notions of a fairytale romance behind.
SItcoms, on the other hand, couldn’t be more different in the messages they send. They are everything that a fairytale is not – stories of imperfect people trying to live in an imperfect world. You’d really think that they would be closer to reality, and in some ways they are. Although I’m not sure if that is art imitating life or life imitating art.
There are some pretty dangerous ideas about marriage that leak out of seemingly harmless shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and According to Jim. Sure, they’re good for a chuckle, but the messages they send are pretty abysmal.
Men are lazy.
Men don’t care about their families – heck, they barely even remember their kids’ names!
Men would rather golf or go drink beer with their pals than spend time with their families, and they will come up with a pathetic lie to try to cover that up.
Women are smarter than men, always. They are entitled to be condescending towards them.
It is okay to constantly tell your spouse what a failure they are, and wonder how your life would be different if you’d married your ex instead.
Sex is not an intimate act to be given and enjoyed in love. It is a weapon for women and a commodity for men. Women will never want to do it, men always wil, and it will always be a bone of contention between you and your spouse.
If your spouse does something that upsets or hurts you, never confront them about it. Instead, bad-mouth them to your friends and plot revenge.
Obviously, some of these are only used as plot devices, and granted if sitcoms didn’t have these elements, there probably wouldn’t be anything even remotely entertaining about them. But I, who had recognized most of these messages as lies for years, was surprised to find that these stereotypes were pretty deeply ingrained when I entered into my first (and current) relationship. When my husband and I were dating, I would pout when I didn’t get my way. I constantly wanted him to prove what he would give up to keep me. If he wanted to do something that didn’t necessarily involve me, I’d get offended. I’d worry about him thinking of old girlfriends.
Until one day, when I woke up and realized how stupid all of that was. (I may have needed some help from him to truly understand.)
If there is anything that you get from this rambling post inspired by some recent observations and a touch of insomnia, it is this: don’t let anything as silly as unrealistic expectations destroy the joy in your relationship. Don’t use a faux cultural standard of worth to determine your partner’s value. After all, it isn’t society that he or she is trying to please – it is you.