The Fairy-tale: Reality or Disappointment?

“We should just be happy! I don’t understand why things are so difficult between us”.  Sarah was reeling from the years that have transpired in her marriage, and feeling hopeless that she and Tom could ever get back to who they once were together. When they got married he was such a gentleman. She felt cherished in that way that filled her with all the fuzzies. When she walked into a room and he put his hand on her lower back she felt safe, like the most important person in the room, because his affection was on her. The way Sarah looked up at Tom was like that Hollywood moment with a sparkle in her eye. It made him feel like a hero, strong, and confident.

“I know”, Tom said. He felt like he had failed Sarah. No longer the hero, but the villain. He saw her pain and knew he couldn’t rescue her. He couldn’t bear to see her like this, so he went for a drive and left her sobbing on the side of the bed. What had happened? Why were they so…. disconnected?

Sadly, Sarah and Tom’s story is familiar to so many.  They jumped into marriage with so much hope and fondness for each other. Somewhere along the way they felt hurt by each other. And in that moment, their hearts were crushed. He was supposed to love her despite her flaws. She was going to make life better and happier, even easier than being alone.  In that moment when our vulnerability is exposed, the one we love, and perhaps the only one we have ever let into that place crushed us. They didn’t mean to, but they did. And we decided to never feel so naked again. We learned to protect and defend that place that, apparently… no one really cares to see.

Where did we get this idea of the fairytale? Was it Disney? Maybe we should just blame Disney. After all, we all know that’s not how those stories REALLY go. I mean, have you ever read the original versions? YIKES! No thanks. I’ll just live out my days in the tower alone. But these weren’t the original fairytales either. In fact, the original love story dates back to the beginning of time. With a love so great, the Bride (the Church) was loved despite her flaws, and the Prince (Jesus) sacrificed his life for her rescue. Happily Ever After, though? It goes a little differently than we hoped it would. The Prince comes back to life and promises to live out the rest of their days together in a union that in unbreakable. The catch: we are still in the rise and climax of the story. The seemingly un-perilous Enemy (Satan) will come again and again and do his best to tempt the flawed Bride into his arms, tell her lies about the Prince, and make her feel like there’s no way he could love her despite what she’s done.

What does this mean for Sarah and Tom? It helps to know that happily ever after exists, just not the way that Hollywood told it. In fact, it’s even harder, because two flawed people are vowing to live out their days loving each other. Living in the in-between, still in the rise and climax is the hardest part! “Will we make it? Will she love me when I can’t rescue her? Will he love me when he sees that I’m capable of the worst? He/She will be so disappointed when I’m seen for who I truly am.”

Love is risky. We KNOW that our partner will not get it right every time, and it’s in those moments that we have to take an even bigger risk. To tell them how our heart feels.

Tom walked in the door with his eyes glued to the floor, unable to look Sarah in the eyes.  “I feel like such a disappointment. I just want to make you happy, and when you see how I make mistakes and you try to rescue me from myself and try to fix it in me, I feel ugly and undesirable. You deserve better”. Sarah had never told him that before, and it was terrifying. Sarah was sure that Tom would say something like, “Well, if you would quit being so stubborn, I could help you!”.  That would only further confirm to her that she will never be able to live up to his desires.

“What?! I…… I love you. You’re exactly what I want!” Tom had to catch his breath. I’ve been doing this all wrong.  “I would see you shut down, and I would feel so far from you. I hated that. I just wanted to a have a place with you.  I’m so sorry I made you feel that way. “  Sarah and Tom are on their way to having some deeper, heart-level conversations. Sarah took the first risk this time- she let Tom know her longing, and how their negative cycle makes her feel about herself. Right now Tom has a chance to speak to her heart about the things she longs to hear from him!

The fairytale? The fairytale has a chance to happen everyday. And we need it everyday! We both need rescuing. The hard part is feeling like the damsel that better resembles the ugly stepsister. She really needs a hero, too.  For all understandable reasons she’s been defensive, and not soft. When we have a hard time loving ourselves, because we’re all too familiar with our own weakness and ugliness, why in the world would we want to let someone else see that, just to have them reject us or worse… remind us how bad we really are?! But that’s the risk of love… to give someone the chance to love us in that place, and rescue us from our very worst critic and the lies that ensnare. Fear leaves us no choice but to fight and isolate. Isolation is a funny thing. We can feel safer being alone, because then we never have to risk vulnerability, but in isolation we are less likely to thrive, grow, or heal. It’s like a slow death. It’s when we have that safe, no-doubt-about-it, loving bond with someone that we can face our greatest fears and self-doubt with more confidence to triumph over them. This was the happily ever after all along! Vulnerability is worth the risk for the chance to be loved. And we have to risk it every day knowing that the wedding isn’t the end to the trials that lead us to Happily Ever After. Rather, it’s the beginning of the love story with the constant need to be rescued by love.

Written by: Brook Smith