For many years now I have known that Disney lied to me.
It promised me thick, plaited hair, talking animal sidekicks, perfect pitch, soundtracks for my most memorable moments, and, of course, the dashing prince.
Even if he was late (Sleeping Beauty) or a bit thick (Cinderella) or a little naive (Little Mermaid), the prince was always there, he was always handsome, and there were always butterflies—both literally and metaphorically—in that moment when he finally kissed the girl.
I now know that not all men are princes. And honestly, not all women are princesses either. I’ve also learned that those butterflies, while beautiful to look at and fun to feel, are very rarely indicative of much more than heightened blood pressure, some pretty potent pheromones, or a poorly chosen lunch.
As much as my heart innately longs for that storybook romance, I’m seeing more and more what a farce that fairytale is.
Love as a Fairy Tale?
I just went on my first date in several years. It was with a guy I met online. We had been talking for a few weeks, and he seemed so genuinely nice. Already we had little inside jokes, he was affirming at all of the right moments, and I was eager to meet him, but skeptical. Skeptical enough that I spent $10 to get my eyebrows waxed and two hours to perfect my look.
After an awkward hello and a few exchanged pleasantries, unfortunately my date was suddenly feeling very under the weather—what horrible timing. What was truly unfortunate for him was that he wasn’t smart enough to feign sick before we ordered. Fifty-two minutes later, we were sliding out of our booths after stilted conversation, half-finished meals, and splitting the check (50/50, though his meal and two drinks cost far more than my portion). Needless to say, I did not get, nor want, a second date.
In moments like this, I am reminded why so many singles who long to be married are content (enough) to live their lives as singles. There is a comfort in Friday night Netflix binges and grabbing sushi and wine with the girlfriends. The risk is so low, and the reward is so high. My friendships produce much fruit, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
But still there’s a niggling. A nagging. A knowledge that there is more waiting. But if the fairy tale is a lie, what is it that I’m missing out on?
Love as a Fortress
After reading through Mandy Len Catron’s article in The New York Times, I have come to label this missing piece as that shared intimacy that comes about by truly, deeply knowing someone, still loving them, and receiving that love in return. Catron’s article discusses a study that was done where a “heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of  increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: six months later, two participants were married.”
By the end of her article, we discover that Catron attempted a version of this social experiment with an acquaintance while the two were on a date. Several hours and many drinks later, the couple had answered every single question and found themselves in the middle of a bridge in the middle of the night, staring into each other’s eyes. And yes, they began dating and are now very much in love.
I can neither claim (much less prove) causation or even correlation between asking a series of increasingly intimate questions and falling in love, but I think there is an indisputable takeaway: shared intimacy begets some form of love.
And this is where our definitions of love come into play. Love as a fairy tale is very rarely anything more intimate than a peck on the lips and a fade to black. In Disney’s tales, the largest burden ever shared between the couples was a duo of ugly stepsisters. Any emotional vulnerability, especially from the man to the woman, is absent.
However, I am coming to view love much less as a fairy tale and much more as a fortress. Every brick is comprised of moments stolen together: intimate whispers exchanged, vulnerable confessions, risky questions, and shared experiences. Brick by brick, this fortress is built—the more that is shared, the thicker the fortress walls grow, the taller the fortress stands, the more rooms the fortress holds. And if you were to build such a grand fortress and then leave it for many years without renovation, ruin and decay inevitably occur.
The biblical account of love is one of love as a choice. Patience, kindness, gentleness—these are all intentional responses, not subconscious reactions. commands us to actually “put on” love, as if it were a choice one could make, an action one could take. reminds us that we know what love is because Christ laid down his life for us. Again, that intrinsic link between love and action is highlighted by Christ sacrificing his own fortress that we may gain entrance one day.
I take comfort in this view of love—though not a mason by day (I am much better with typing than I am with bricklaying, and my lack of home-improvement skills will attest to this), I believe that it is a trade I can learn.
Falling in love is messy, and those women who are waiting for the fairy tale romance will find themselves searching for the rest of their lives.I cannot magically conjure fireworks or call butterflies to my aid. I cannot seek out the poison apples or the talking willow trees. I cannot force love-as-a-fairy-tale into existence, and I cannot Google-stalk until I find my prince charming (though, believe me, I’ve tried).
But I can learn to lay bricks. When I find myself in the beginning stages of a relationship but my heart’s not racing like I think it should and I’ve yet to feel that thing, I can remember the fortress. I can remember how much wind the fortress shields you from, I can see how much protection the fortress gives to all who are inside, I can see how much strength those who build the fortress will gain, and I can be willing to just give it a try. Real love is not as straightfoward as Disney makes it seem, and sometimes the foundation must come before the fireworks.
Fortresses are not built in a day, and, unfortunately, apart from better acoustics, they offer very little in the form of Disney-style romance, but the fortress is worth fighting for, or at the very least it’s a better alternative to singing mice.
As I begin to build up the callouses on my hands and enjoy my wine and sushi, I will be adjusting my online profiles to reflect that I am currently seeking another committed bricklayer, not a dragon slayer, with whom I’d like to travel the world.
So . . . you ladies have any brothers?