Jamming my foot into Cinderella's slipper
In the original version of Cinderella the “ugly step-sisters” mutilate their feet trying to put on the missing slipper and claim the prince. In the Brothers Grimm version two doves draw attention to this: “Roo coo coo, roo coo coo blood’s in the shoe: the shoe’s too tight, the real bride’s waiting another night.”
To marry the prince the women were willing to cut off pieces of their feet. Marriage is the ultimate prize and so any sacrifice is acceptable. As someone with a fairly traditional upbringing that included Disney films, Harlequin Romances, and modern rom coms, I spent my entire life searching for this relationship holy grail. Not only did I want to be married, I wanted the kind of sweeping romance that made me weak in the knees, and an assurance that I was loved above all others. Entering the later years of my life, I can safely say I was an abysmal failure at this task.
I’ve been engaged (a lot), married, divorced, and a long-term companion – girlfriend sounds weird at my age. Into each relationship I brought my impossible standards for romantic love and dreams of happily ever after. Then I stumbled on a Ted Talk by Bella DePaulo PhD. Unapologetically single and happy, she’s researched the reality behind the myth of marriage. Like others she talked to, I enjoyed a rush of happiness at the beginning of relationships, yet that often faded when real life failed to meet the expectations set by fictional constructs. It had never occurred to me, until I watched her talk, that the confident, competent and free feelings I had when traveling alone (which I’ve done sporadically for about 30 years) might be my natural setting, and that I was trying to force myself into becoming a house frau. I was trying to jam my foot into a splintered glass slipper, when maybe I was meant to be single.
Money! Now that I’ve got your attention…I was not surprised to find that with adequate income, single people are just as happy, or happier, than married couples. Teaching Humanities over the years, I’ve helped many students tease out the fact that the real lure of many a romantic hero was his country estate or bank account. (Elizabeth Bennet cheekily remarks on falling in love after seeing the grounds at Pemberley.) Perhaps it is economic brutality as well as romantic silliness that has sent me, and millions of other women, on an incongruous search for a spouse.
Now that I’ve finally realized I’m not traditional marriage material, I’m looking at other looming stereotypes. Perhaps I’ll throw off the pre-ordained shoulds and should nots of the role of educator, or grandmother. Shoving yourself into packaging that doesn’t fit is painful for you and everyone around you. In a world where we barely blink at in-home computers, artificial intelligence, and lab-grown transplant tissue, maybe it’s time to throw off the social roles and rules held over from the 1600s.