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FAIRY TALES & ROMANCE
Have fairy tales - from children's storybooks to Disney movies - ruined women's ability to distinguish genuine romance from sheer fantasy?
Last night on TV's Criminal Minds, the serial killer turned out to be an ethereal young woman who had been so damaged in her youth that her mind had become fixed on the concept of finding "the one." If a man she met, even casually, did not live up to her ideal of instant Happily Ever After, she killed him. Does this fictional character, I wonder, have numerous not-so-fictional sister sufferers - not to such an extreme, of course - who think only "love at first sight" will do? Women who never find the right man because they reject a man if sparks don't fly on the first date?
Are romance authors guilty of continuing these myths? Very likely, and yet where would we be without romance? Though a widow of long standing, I embrace the concept every day. Writing about romance adds immensely to my pleasure in life, as I hope my work does to the lives of my readers. But . . .
In last night's episode of Criminal Minds, the young woman could not accept men as they are, even the charming ones. If they made a pass, strayed the least little bit off the prim fairy tale path, she freaked and killed them. In actuality, of course, we see every variety of aberration as women seek romance and the ever-illusive love. From those who vow to wait for Mr. Right to those who leap into bed with every man they meet, thinking that's the only way they find "the one."
Nonsense, of course. Yet when I checked my "blog file" this morning, I found I had saved a newspaper article on this topic (by Jessica Reynolds for Tribune newspapers). It lists seven concepts experts feel should be debunked. They are:
1. You'll meet "the one."
2. Love at first sight.
3. Opposites attract.
4. "Happily ever after" lasts forever.
5. Fighting means you have passion.
6. You can change someone if you try hard enough.
7. Love can conquer all.
In a nutshell, here's what they said:
1. Believing you'll meet Mr. or Miss Right is passive. You're letting a perhaps mythical destiny control your life. Love requires participation. You have to engage in it, work at it. It doesn't just happen.
2. People may fall in lust at first sight, the experts concede, and be fooled, as their relationship develops, into thinking it was love at first sight. This concept should definitely be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
3. Opposites attract? Believe it or not, sociologists state that social class is a greater divider than even gender or race. The simple truth is that the more dissimilar the day-to-day rituals and preferences of two people, the less likely their relationship will last.
4. The validity of HEA. Let's face it, that's why we go to romance movies, read romance novels. We know life just doesn't work that way. (At least most of us do - I'm still worried about the really young and naive who haven't yet made that horrid discovery.)
5. Fights & passion. For all the tales to the contrary, explosive fights rarely end in a passionate love scene. Fighting can even make a couple question whether they've made a good match. Some couples fight, many don't. Just don't make the mistake of thinking it adds to the romance of their lives.
6. The hope of change. Experts suggest that in real life Belle of Beauty and the Beast would likely have resigned in frustration or been mauled! Occasionally unrelenting good nature may change a grumpy partner, but more likely it can lead to abuse. Basically, if you enter a relationship with the idea you can change your partner, you're likely headed for a fall.
7. Love conquers all. The greatest fallacy of all. There are some issues which cannot be fixed, from death and disaster to different attitudes toward money. Some relationships, no matter how right they might seem at the beginning, are not destined to last.
Discouraged? Disillusioned? Or are you nodding your head and saying, "Wow, I don't feel so guilty about . . ."?
The most important thing, I believe, is to acknowledge that some people - frequently young women - have been brainwashed by the unrelenting, and decidedly unrealistic, bombardment of the Disney version of fairy-tale romance. (The tales, as originally written, were frequently more realistic. Modern-day versions have been sanitized in a manner similar to what Thomas Bowdler did to Shakespeare in the early 19th c.)
So we need to be wary of these "prettified" stories. We need to raise our young ones with the ability to differentiate between romance in fiction and romance in the real world. And yes, our young men need to face this too. For they cannot be totally unaffected by the fantasy romances that constantly bombard us from every side. Can anyone be blamed if we have difficulty distinguishing fiction from reality?
As for myself, I will continue to write romance with a clear conscience, for I try to include the bad with the good. In Holly, Book 3 in the Aphrodite Academy series, Happily Ever After is anything but. And in my Regency Gothic, The Mists of Moorhead Manor, the hero and heroine are confronted by a heart-wrenching, nearly insoluble dilemma. And even after they make that decision, the battle of Waterloo interferes with what we can only hope will be a much less stressful future.
In all fairness I should add that the TV program Once Upon a Time, which presents twist upon twist on the old fairy tales, never falls into the trap of nothing- but-sweetness-and-light and happily-ever-after. It does, in fact, present some good life lessons, such as the value of friendship that is front and center in this fall's "Frozen" episodes. I should also add that even fairy tale movies are showing signs of growing up, as seen in Snow White and the Huntsman and Maleficent.
To conclude, here is the final paragraph from Ms. Reynolds' article.
"Romantic storylines may very well amplify our expectations of love beyond what will ever be feasible, but they do add some benefit," Ozair* said. "They remind us to be optimistic about love and open to adventure . . . and hit at our deep-seated hope that love will find a way."
* Mia Adler Ozair, a clinical psychotherapist from Los Angeles and mother of nine.
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