The Truth About “Happily Ever Afters”

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By Bindu Adai-Mathew

Once Upon a Time…most of the stories I read as a child opened with those famous four words. As a kid, I loved fairy tales. I loved the adventurous stories, like Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, but I’ll admit somewhat sheepishly that I especially had a soft spot for the princess storylines…especially the sweet sappy Disney versions of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. Unlike JMathis, the idea of being treated like a princess was very appealing to me. Very, very appealing.

Once I was in high school, my love of fairy tales transformed into the medieval bodice-ripping romance novels of yore, and in college, my love of the princess-themed fairy tale romance further evolved into the “Romeo and Juliet” storylines of Indian/ Bollywood movies that I became obsessed with.  And most recently, while I no longer believe in fairy tales, romance novels, or Bollywood-like romances, I, along with 2 other billion viewers, woke up in the wee hours of the morning (okay, I admit, it was closer to 6am) to watch a modern-day fairy tale. Middleclass commoner Kate, er I mean, Catherine, Middleton meets and marries a real life Prince William Charming of Windsor, complete with the requisite blond hair and crown.

The carriage. The royal guards in uniform. The medieval church. The hats. All that Pomp and Circumstance.

Sigh. For a few moments, I was once again transformed into the wide-eyed eight year old who watched Princess Diana’s wedding in awe, believing that Cinderella stories really did happen.

But years later, I, along with the whole world, would later learn that Diana’s life was no different from ours. In fact, in comparison to most of ours, it was probably emotionally much worse. Despite all that fame, privilege, and royalty, she experienced pain, loneliness, eating disorders, affairs, suicide attempts, divorce, and sadly, an untimely death. Unlike the fairy tales, she got her “once upon a time,” but she never got to fully experience a “happily ever after” here on earth.

As I watched Catherine and William’s wedding, though, I was struck that while I was absolutely smitten by the grandeur of the occasion, I no longer needed to believe or even hope that they would live some type of fairy tale type of existence. And somehow, for the first time, I felt that while we (all 2 billion of us) were struck very much by this “once upon a time” experience, we all collectively seemed more interested that they truly also have a chance to experience a “happily ever after.”

As I think of my own daughter and what “life lessons” I want to pass on to her, I realize whether she’s a tomboy like JMathis or a Disney princess daydreamer like me, I want her to know that her own love story can be as unique as she is. I want her to know that she won’t turn into a spinster maid with warts on her nose when the clock strikes twelve on her 30th birthday (as I feared).  I want her to know that if she does fall for a frog, accept he’s a frog…and if she falls for a snake, accept he’s a snake and move on rather than wasting her time, hoping to change him into her version of Prince Charming (as many of my friends have learned the hard way). Because in the end, he’ll still be a snake and she’ll just end up with a bunch of snake bites. I also want her to know that happily ever afters are not always blissfully happy. There are good days, bad days, and many in between blah days. And it’s okay.

But most of all, I want her to know that unlike the fairy tales or Bollywood movies that end with a wedding, the real story is in the happily ever after.  Unlike those fairy tales, the happily ever after is not the end of the story…on the contrary, it is only the beginning.

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