The Sinister Side of Love Stories
I blame Ariel. She was always my favorite Disney princess, and now that I'm starting to search for a potential spouse, the standard they need to measure up against is Prince Eric.
It's hard enough to find a guy with luscious, raven-black hair, to say nothing of a muscular build, sparkling laugh, nautical sensibilities and pipe-playing skills.
From a young age, women in our American culture are advertised into believing that we are princesses, that we deserve perfection when it comes to our prince, and that we will eventually settle down in a little romantic cottage or a glorious castle with little singing animals to help us tend to our chores.
But it gets better—after the princess stage we get corralled into reading preteen magazines and drooling over the heart-throb celebs whose life-size posters hung in our (okay, maybe just my) closet. For some reason a teenage girl has the power to hold out hope against all the odds that the movie star of her dreams would choose her over anyone else. I’ll admit I had my fair share of Zac Efron dreams (insert Luke Perry, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, or Justin Timberlake depending on your age).
Oh, but the saga continues. We get swept from preteen to “Seventeen,” and then on to romantic comedies and chick-lit in our high school and college days. So where does this leave grown women? For some, the obvious progression is shows like Desperate Housewives and its ilk, trashy romance novels and the new pornographic, best-selling “50 Shades of Gray” book series.
Why does pop-culture steer us in this direction and what effect does it have on women? The simple truth is that women will always eat up a good love story because we feel we are made to be in one. The only problem is we were made to be in one with our Creator and King of the universe, not to expect our flawed brothers in Christ to be our prince charming.
But—let's say you're special, and that you made it through the tumultuous teen years unscathed. You think so, at least. Hey, you would never be caught with “50 Shades of Gray” on your nightstand, or even watching some modern day sitcoms. You are classier than that.
“I prefer the refined love stories of Jane Austen, my only 'guilty pleasure' is Downton Abbey, and I listen to Michael Bublé instead of any bass-thumping, women-hating 'music,'” you protest. “Surely, you must be talking to someone else.”
I hate to break it to you, but you might not be any better off than the rest of us. Remember that lovely man you saw in the check-out line at Whole Foods not too long ago, the one with the pasta sauce and flowers, definitely getting ready for a date? Didn’t you imagine him preparing that date for you? Perhaps you saw him greet you at the door, brush your hair from eyes, and kiss you gently as he asked about your day? Maybe you entertained these thoughts, just for a second? I mean, seriously, he had Prince Eric's hair! (And maybe he owns a boat!)
Ladies, which one of you has not at one point lusted after a man, maybe not only in a physical way, but in an emotional way? When an attractive—even better, holy—man demonstrates interest, do we immediately jump to possible scenarios, plan dates, a relationship, and perhaps even fantasize about married life with this person?
I'm definitely guilty. And, let’s be serious—not every woman on Pinterest can be engaged, despite wedding planning being easily one of the most-posted about topics.
The sad truth is that you and I are guilty of using men. All the time.
But it seems so natural! We are raised to expect our prince to come for us in the perfect love story, so we expect him, our relationship, and our marriage to be perfect. But the problem with this is that we forget to appreciate our man for who he is and view him as merely the fulfillment of our love story.
The high divorce rate starts to make sense now. I didn’t bargain for three hours of sleep, difficult kids, and scraping gummy bears off the floor. Aren’t the singing mice supposed to handle that?
This emotional use of men is not too different from the physical type. While men are normally seduced through their eyes, a woman is primarily seduced through her ears and therefore can’t resist a good love story. And the media knows it.
Because of original sin, we are typically tempted to use men for the emotional pleasure they can give us, though this is not the only way. Emotional use may seem more innocent than physical lust, but we can’t be so smug.
While we may be scandalized that increasing amounts of men and women use pornography, lust after women (or men) they see as objects to be used, and even use their partner to carry out fantasies in their mind, don’t we do the same?
Let’s get back to the check-out line guy.
So you saw him, his dreamy eyes and gorgeous hair and knew that he was preparing a date for his girl. How did you feel? Bitter that some woman out there had her prince while you are still waiting? Or did you dream that you would come home and he would prepare the date for you, the first of many in your happily ever after?
Wait, did you even know his name? Realize that he has a story all his own? Take a second to think that he is infinitely loved by his Creator? Well … no. Instead the fantasy revolved around you. How he could please you, make you feel loved and wanted.
Is this any different from the way pornography works?
A woman can lust after a man, maybe not only for the physical pleasure that he can give her, but for the emotional gratification she is desperate for. She may not use him physically, but she definitely loves him for the attention he gives her and not who he is as a person. Perhaps he is just a physical manifestation to accompany her fantasy of the perfect love story.
A woman’s fantasies can perpetuate the lie that her emotional needs come first, instead of embracing the truth that love desires the good of the beloved. Through all our exposure to these lies, we run the risk of finding our worth in romantic relationships instead of in God’s love story.
Women love a good love story because we were made for one. We desire to be told we are necessary, desired and irreplaceable. Because we are. We are part of the King’s love story and God desires to tell us every day that we are wonderful to him. But if we don’t open ourselves up to hear God say this to us first, we long for a man to tell us, and we get swept up in the million-dollar princess industry.
To be clear: am I saying that Disney princesses are inherently bad or that watching Downton Abbey is somehow equitable to viewing pornography? Absolutely not. What I am attempting to say – with as much kindness and humility as my flawed person can muster—is that we need to be aware of anything we fill our minds and hearts with that can lead us into fantasy, and into the temptation of using others.
This is the sinister side of drenching ourselves with too many love stories or fairy tales.
So where do we go from here? We need to hear every day that we are loved by God and are an indispensable part of his love story. From there, we need to learn that the man in our life is not and will never be Prince Eric. Thanks be to God! He is a real man with faults but also with talents, quirks and traits that you love.
Let's beg God for the grace to love him first as our Prince, and for the grace to let go of unrealistic expectations of men and our tendency to use them for emotional pleasure. He longs to give you all of these. Let's beg Him for the ability to practice the habit of gently handing our thoughts, emotions and desires over to Him.
And finally, let's pray for the grace to keep in our minds the image of love that Christ gave us: the crucifix. Love will not always come with emotions because it is not an emotion. Love is a decision to do what is best for the beloved. If only Disney taught us that.
Written by Makena Clawson