What Happens in the Ever After?
Growing up on a steady diet of rom-com movies and romantic novels, I waited for the magical day I turned sixteen. I was convinced that like Liesl Von Trapp in ‘The Sound of Music’, when I was “16 going on 17” I’d meet the love of my life. I would dance with him in the rain in a gorgeous pink dress that showed off my slender waist and we’d kiss and live happily ever after.
I turned sixteen in the spring of 2003 and unfortunately, not only did I lack the slender waist of Liesl Von Trapp, I lacked the self-confidence to pirouette in the rain. More importantly, my life lacked the leading man.
Not one to give up on a dream, I knew there was hope for me still. After all, this was at the onset of the millennium and if popular high-school movies were to be believed, the quiet, nerdy girl always gets the boy.
Maybe I was a late bloomer but it took me all of eighteen years to meet the perfect boy. And when I did, it was as though I had found my happy ending. I half-expected to hear fireworks and the lyrics to Sixpence None The Richer’s “Kiss Me” play as my feet ‘popped’ when we shared our first kiss.
This was it. The moment I had been waiting for. The rest of my life was starting right now.
We were the perfect couple. With the both of us having an affinity toward drama, there was never a dull moment in our relationship. We didn’t just argue, we fought. Passionately. Making mountains out of molehills. There was rarely a fight that didn’t involve tears of a magnitude, which should in all honesty, be reserved for death.
We broke up more times than any of our friends could keep count but made up with equal intensity. Our lives had the perfect mix of romance and tribulations to be a box-office breaking movie. Until he had to ruin it all.
All of a sudden, it wasn’t going to be all about fun, laughter, tears and passionate romance. There would be bills to pay, families to meet, sickness, bodily functions, babies and their dirty diapers. Presented with such a monotonous future, I did what any self-respecting romantic girl would do.
I broke up with him.
I pinned all the blame on him of course. He was suffocating. I brought up fights from the past and used that as ammunition on why I could not be with him in the present. I was so convincing that when I was done, I had convinced myself that in spite of five years together, no two people were as ill-matched as the two of us.
Not willing to give up my great romance, I began my pattern of destructive dating. I would fall in love and pine for the unattainable men.
With my girlfriends, I’d complain about the lack of dateable men. We’d bond over how difficult it is to meet new people and how the hook-up culture was making everything far more complicated than it should be for nice girls like us.
This was much easier than facing the truth — real life didn’t have only the happily ever after. No one ever told us what would happen after the prince and the princess fell in love. It was supposed to end there. What happens in the ever after?
Falling in love with the wrong men was simpler than finding the answers to this. The commitment-phoebes, the mamma’s boys and serial daters were my favorite choices. With them I had the novelty of being in love — the butterflies in my stomach, the constant daydreams, the waking up with a smile on my face for no reason. I also had the added bonus of heartbreak.
Heartbreak, as everyone knew, was the prelude to great romance.
So I fed my heartbreaks. Sad wasn’t good enough anymore. I had to be devastated. The crushing sorrow of being in love lived up to my expectations of being a romantic heroine.
Knowing that my love was reserved only for the unattainable, I was able to shield my heart from the monotony of real-life relationships.
By then, most of my girlfriends had woken up from their romantic notions of love and were settling down. My Facebook feed, which had once been populated with graduation photos and pictures of holidays abroad, slowly and sneakily began announcing engagements. This was soon followed with wedding pictures and invitations to baby showers.
Everyone was growing up and moving on. A couple of well-wishing friends tried to set me up with other single guys they knew. Nice guys. So I did what I always do. I picked them apart — ugly shirt, weird hair, listens to EDM and hasn’t even heard of Rumi. These were of course, the pre-requisites to my Prince Charming. To be polite, I went out with them. I dutifully sat through coffee, dinner or drinks and listened to their conversation, smiling at the appropriate moments. But when it was over, I would go home, happy not to have to see them again and would ignore their texts.
I knew that I didn’t want a simple kind of love. If I had to love, it would have to be on a grand ‘Romeo and Juliet’ type scale.
So imagine my delight when I met a boy who was not only sweet and attractive but came from a strict religious community that frowned on inter-religious relationships. Uncooperative parents! This was something I hadn’t yet encountered but which held all the promise of a tear-jerking romantic tale.
Unsurprisingly, I latched on to him, proclaiming my undying devotion. What I wasn’t expecting was for him to do the same. This wasn’t a part of my plotline and I consoled myself that despite his feelings, his austere upbringing would not allow us the dreary forever of marriage.
What followed was heartbreak and I played my role of broken-hearted girl to an Oscar worthy hilt. I was enjoying myself so much that I was almost disappointed when his parents accepted our relationship. Again, I was treading the unknown waters toward monotony so I turned my trepidation toward him.
I would wake him up at 4am to have inane conversations questioning his love:
“I don’t think you really love me.”
“Then why didn’t you do something about us earlier? Maybe you couldn’t find anyone else so you’re settling for me.”
“I’m not. You know that. I love you.”
“Yes but not enough.”
No one understood it. Here I was being handed on a silver platter, the one thing I had ached for all this time and suddenly I had cold feet.
But how do you explain that it wasn’t the ever after you wanted but just the happily?
And how do you explain to someone seemingly perfect, that it wasn’t him. That it really was just you. You couldn’t give up your fantasy.
So I waited. Calmly and patiently.
I knew this game and I played it well. I could drive him to his wits end and he would walk out so I could again take my rightful place as the fallen romantic. But he didn’t go. He fought my absurdity with logic. I could feel myself waning, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I fought harder.
That’s the ugly thing about love. You know it so well, you know exactly where to hurt it. But in spite of my best efforts, he stayed.
Somewhere in the battlefield, his persistence won over. Maybe I was growing weary or maybe I was just growing up but I began to wonder if predictability was really such a bad thing.
Sure, there would be bad times but what if the good times outweighed them? And yes, there would be bills to pay but maybe we could get really cool jobs to pay them? As for the babies in dirty diapers, at least I knew genetically they would be cute.
And you had to admit, fighting an entire religious community for my love? Well, that’s pretty darn romantic.
So maybe there isn’t a sappy soundtrack to my story and maybe there weren’t fireworks and my feet won’t ‘pop’ every single time. But I could still keep those butterflies in my stomach alive couldn’t I?
Perhaps companionship could be even better than heartbreak? And maybe all love stories don’t have to end at the ever after. Maybe the ever after could be the start of another once upon a time?
I still yearn for a fairy tale but now I know that sometimes even Prince Charming has his off day. So I’m trying to look for the magical in the everyday — surprise flowers at work, a sweet text message in the morning or simply remembering how I like my coffee.
And maybe, just maybe, my ever after may turn out to be happier than my happily.