Tell Cinderella to Get Real

In my former life, I once tried on wedding dresses.

I recall not feeling that beautiful in them, nor was there a magical “yes to the dress” moment. My oldest sister and I went in secrecy, because I knew my step-mother would want to go and I would have to listen to her constant criticisms over what she liked or didn’t like, and I just wanted to have fun. 

We went to Alfred Angelo’s in Manchester. A friend of mine had gotten her dress from A.A. and I loved the styles.

Why didn’t it feel like a defining, life-changing moment for me? That day, I should have read the blatant sign screaming at me that I didn’t want to get married to this man, but I blindly ignored it and blamed my absent excitement on the notion that none of the dresses “did it” for me.

The day a girl tries on wedding dresses for the first time has been built up in our minds from everything we read in books, see on television, or gaze at in magazines. My assumption after that day at Alfred Angelo’s was that it just wasn’t as glamorous as media and Disney movies make it out to be.

It is true that I ultimately did not want to marry that man, but it is also true that we tend to these rituals and fantasies until they grow to unparalleled and impossible ideals that cannot be matched.

I found a bunch of photos that my sister snapped the day I tried on dresses. Standing there, in my very small frame of a body, I felt like I was swimming in those gowns. What I didn’t realize was the reflection in the mirror staring back at me was actually drowning.

wedding dress mirror

She was told as a young girl that she would someday fall in love, get married, and make beautiful babies of her own. She believed it whole-heartedly. Never was there a doubt in her pretty little head that a man would bend down on his knee and present his eternal dedication to her just liked she had played over and over in her head since she was about twenty years old.

What she wasn’t told is how much work it takes to keep love alive if you want to dress in white and flash your sparkly diamond.

Wedding gown side

No one taught her in school that healthy relationships require the most work and effort you will ever put forth towards practically anything in your life. No one gave her the necessary tools. Only time, experience, and many, many broken relationships provided some scattered bricks from which she could begin to build, after brushing away the dirt and debris, a steady path towards a symbiotic romance. So far, it has taken almost thirty-three years.

Why do we continue to beat into the pliable minds of children that there is always a prince charming who will be beyond romantic and make us swoon? That we will have to do little to entrap his interest, because if we dress and act a certain way, men will just fall head over heels staring at us from across the room the second we enter.

This is dangerous. This is quite possibly one of the biggest lies we can ever tell our youth.

Yes, trying on dresses is (supposedly) fun, an adrenaline rush, and bound to make women feel like a princess for a day–but that’s just one day. What about all the days leading up to that day? How about all of those days that will follow?

We are so focused on having our Cinderella moment of transforming from dull to enchanting that not enough energy is being transferred to where it belongs most: our actual every day romances and relationships.

We have been irrevocably irresponsible in promising our children that they will be loved and it will be seemingly easy. Only focusing on the Cinderella moments in our stories allows ill-prepared humans to sloppily throw themselves into relationships with reckless abandon.

dress with false smile

The false smile on my face is telling the camera to hurry up and take the photograph. Nothing else.

Up until that point, I had tried to no avail to create the perfect relationship, unaware of how volatile other humans were no matter how careful I tried to be with my actions and their emotions.

I regard myself as a hopeless romantic even knowing the truth about relationships now. I am wiser and know the incredible heap of man-hours it takes to maintain a balance and grow love that can sustain.

The complete dearth of realistic advice dispensed in my youth has not totally addled my heart and hopes for love, but I am jaded. I am worn, pained, and covered in battle scars. I am continually fighting my childhood-born urges to be a princess swept off her feet. In an attempt to remain pragmatic and sensible, I have come to terms with the fact that not every man I fall for or even every man who may love me back wants the “black suit standing at the altar” moment with me, because maybe he realized too early and without real warning that Cinderella and Prince Charming’s fantasies were a bit whack.

The biggest favor we can do for the younger generation is to be a bit more practical about what we tell them. I’m not touting that we should debase their idea of love completely, but for god’s sake, give them some useful knowledge about how hard it will be and how devastating it will feel to be broken-hearted. We need to refuse to lie to them, telling them they will without a doubt have these things some day.

I wish someone had helped me along the way instead of letting me stand there in my white gown wondering why it didn’t feel enthralling to finally be the princess.

I still want to wear a white dress; I want a man to devote himself to me in perpetuity. But I’m not a fool, and I know it’s not what every man wants from a woman, no matter how charming and romantic he can be.

I know that the responsibility that comes with adorning myself like a princess for one day means that I will work my entire life to be a loving person who negotiates, forgives, sacrifices, compromises, and listens.

You know why Disney movies always end with the perfect moment? Because if we saw what followed, then we would disillusion our youth and they would see what a real relationship consists of. Why this is such a horrible thing to display to our youth I don’t understand, except that maybe once people realized how hard commitment actually was, they wouldn’t want it.

I know how hard commitment actually is, and I still want it. Real romantics always do, because we don’t see love as a fairy tale; we know it to be a veritable force, because we dragged ourselves endlessly across hot coals to find it, and when we work that hard for something, white dresses are just one day out of the countless we spend making the ones we love feel adored, all while dealing with the messes we both make when we’re outside the ballroom and in our simple rags of every day existence.

dress facing forward

Sweet 16

I remember being sixteen years old, tightly stuffed into a friend’s basement in Worcester, MA, feeling higher and happier than a child chasing a trail of pearlescent bubbles.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1999.

I was there with my sister, mutual friends, and the boy with whom I was completely infatuated from the first moment I saw him that summer. I wore black vinyl pants and remember my crush saying to me on the ride to Worcester, “I can see myself in your pants. No, really. It’s not a pickup line. I can see myself in your pants.”

He braided me an aluminum foil bracelet as we stood by ourselves in the kitchen, tucked away in a corner, where we rubbed noses and giggled about how Eskimos and gnomes kiss.

I remember hanging out in one of my friend’s van outside listening to DMX and Dr Dre. I vaguely recall our friends’ band playing that evening in the tiny basement. I also remember eating peanuts while chewing gum, and realizing as my gum dissolved and slid down my throat, that that’s why people use peanut butter to get gum out of girls’ hair. Epiphany. I was hopped up on illegal substances and the world was my oyster.

As the ball was on its descent into the year Y-2-K, we all joked about how the internet would shut down, chaos would ensue, and the beginning of the end would follow thereafter.

None of that happened, of course, but when the countdown reached zero, I grabbed the boy and kissed him so sweetly. It was my first New Year’s kiss and I was on ecstasy.

Very early on the morning of New Year’s Day, I went back to the boy’s house and he laboriously peeled the black vinyl pants off my sweaty body. I lay in the boy’s bed, while he tried to do sexy things to me and I was coming down. I was tired, and it just wasn’t working. Frustrated and selfish, he broke up with me; I was mostly naked in his bed and trapped at his home without a ride.

Later that morning, forgetting what he had done only hours earlier, he in naive slumber, curled his arm tightly around my waist and pulled me in to snuggle. I just lay there and cried silently.

Happy New Year.

That boy became the man with whom I reunited seven years later and almost married.

Now, sixteen years after that emotional bumper car ride, I am sitting here in my favorite, thread-bare bathrobe in my cozy apartment. I am thinking about how many dull years have passed. How many of them I spent being a normal, young adult with a relatively stable existence. How many of them I spent with that same boy, and how many I have spent without him since we split. How so many of those years since we broke up were anything but stable or dull. How grateful I am to be where I am sitting today.

One thing that has always been consistent in all of my teen and adult years is my struggle with love. Oh, I find love, I just can’t keep love. The last three New Year’s Eves have been spent with friends, doling out hugs and cheek pecks at the ball drop.

Four years ago, I experienced something akin to my sixteenth year. I told the new guy I was dating since J and I broke up that I loved him for the first time. On New Year’s Day. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t trying to be romantic by choosing a special day; it had just been six months together and fifteen years total since I had known him, and it came out of my mouth as we lay in my bed after drinking several mimosas and fondling each other. He reacted poorly. Understatement. His reaction was the worst reaction anyone could possibly have to being told they are loved by their girlfriend.

First, he laughed nervously. Really hard. Then, he pulled me in for a hug and swayed us back and forth for an extremely uncomfortable amount of time. It felt like three decades. We both silently shared a cigarette on my porch, and then, abruptly, he told me he had to go.

My New Year’s track record is excellent.

This year I feel good, though. I’ve been taking a lot of time to focus on organizing my life and my home. I have been writing a lot. I don’t really go out or drink very often at all and am in bed by 10 or 11 each night. I cherish my girl cat and lavish in all this extra time I have to be near her because I am not out getting messed up. I am yet again reconnecting with me, my favorite person to hang out with.

I cannot predict how the year will progress nor do I really want to. There are a couple of projects in the works that will keep me focused on my hobby and love for writing and editing, and I am finally loving my body and taking care of her needs.

Coming from the girl who always has put others before her, I am no longer content to be that person who lies there, quietly stifling her tears, while men abandon her right as a human to have her own fears, feelings, and thoughts.

And while I may be romancing someone currently who makes me swoon, blush, or feel dizzy, he is not the center of my world–he is just a very lovely and enticing piece of it. I like my life and I damn well should. It is mine after all. No one else’s. I live it for me and those who come into it, like my friends, family, or this romance, are all just enhancements and embellishments to the steadily polished bowl I’ve been working on for nearly thirty-three years.

I used to repeat the mantra, “I am happy; I am healthy; I am wealthy; I am wise.”

I think as I move into this new year of 2016, I am going to focus on the simple sweetness.

There’s a calm radiating throughout my being, because I’ve been chasing the metaphorical dragon for years and am finally ready to be me. To be the girl renewed from years of bad relationships and abuse; to be the girl strengthened against giving herself to men just to feel wanted; to be the woman who is comfortable in her new shape but still yearns to feel healthy in body, mind, and spirit. But mostly, to be Amanda, the person I know most intimately.

Amanda loves to read. She loves cleaning. Her home is an homage to the things she cherishes most: her cats, her friends, and music. She is nostalgic and loves to read her old journals (and then immediately shred them upon completion). She is sappy and enjoys eating popcorn by herself while watching comedy romances. She puts herself to sleep each night by petting her cat and listening to science documentaries. She writes in a gratitude journal. She requires time to herself every day to feel whole. She loves writing and making music more than she loves most things, and she gives her heart freely and generously to the people who mean the most to her. She does this not because she has to, not out of guilt, fear, or obligation, but because when Amanda feels like Amanda, she is a resonating channel of love.

From what I know of Amanda, she is sweet. She is kind, caring, and sweet. She’s snarky, sarcastic, whiny, and selfish, too, but no one likes a perfectly polished bowl, now, do they?

May I only hope that 2016 simply holds that presence of free love, if nothing else. It might just be the sweetest sixteen I’ve had yet.

It Is Ours

The thing that makes love so great is not that it’s beautiful. It’s not that it makes us a better person. It isn’t even that feeling love makes us seem less alone in this world.

It is that it is ours.

Of course, we all know that sharing a moment with another human, complete with passion and adoration is beautiful. It more often than not inspires us to achieve greater things within ourselves. Having the companionship of another soul that complements ours helps alleviate the mundanity and hardship of everything we encounter every day: tough and trying days at work, hours running errands or scrubbing our toilet bowls. Paying bills. Choosing 401ks. Moving into a new home. Grieving a loss. Giving birth. Long car rides. Sitting at home with a television show or playing a board game.

Here’s the thing–all of that might be a hundred percent true, but that’s not what makes love so great. What makes love so magnificent and shiny, so unparalleled and desirable, is that it belongs to us. We are experiencing it. Ourselves. Together.

There are few factors in our existence that are greater than the driving, motivating force of what love does to us.

Love is way more than romantic words spilled between two people. It exceeds the actions we display and perform for others to show our affection and dedication. Lyrics and melodies of songs might move us to tears, but even they fall short. Commitment to our friends, family, and loved ones shows love. The ability to forgive and see a person for who they truly are without fault shows love.

But love is also so very relative. That’s what makes it so appealing.

Suddenly, a person who is seen as ordinary to others is extraordinary to us. Other people might see them as exceptional or amazing, but never quite in the way that a person who is swayed by love does. Suddenly, everything about them is a novel waiting to be unraveled. It might be the way their hair falls on their face, the pitch of their voice as they say certain words to us and only us, or the events in their life we know have crucified them–those crippling memories that have often kept them fearful and closed off to us–we learn to love those, too. And why? Because that’s love. It’s not rational. Not logical. No true calculations for how it works, when, and why.

It happens in that moment when we realize that the way they touch our collarbone makes our skin crawl with anticipation. It occurs when we only melt when they tell us we are beautiful. We spend minutes physically dizzy, thoughts spinning, trying to make sense of reality again. We smile just because we know they exist, and we smile harder knowing they smile because we exist, too.

Despite the thoughts and opinions of others, no one can take this away from us.

The world is seen through rose-colored glasses because of love, but we notice that it is never the same each time it is experienced. That is what makes love so great. It is never a repeated episode of something we’ve felt before. Each time, we swear it is the greatest, most unique thing we’ve ever felt, and it’s not because we’re idiots, it’s because it’s true.

I have tried forever to understand why humans put themselves in the blinding, gambling “trust” of love, and it’s not because we just continue to have hope that the “right one” for us is out there; it isn’t because we forget what heartache feels like. Most of us are starkly aware of betrayal and pain. Of situations which we thought we couldn’t overcome. But then that person comes along at the perfect time, saying the most perfect thing, touching us in the most incredibly perfect way, and we’re rapt. That’s just the beginning.

Over time, they continue to bare themselves to us. We share things with each other that only two people who are intimate do; we giggle in heated moments of lust when bodies don’t accommodate our wants, and we heave in extreme passion at the pure excitement and enjoyment the other is having, because theirs is ours.

Most of what I’ve ever read about love is how to make it work, how it doesn’t work, or what real love is. I could write about that, because I think I know at least a few things about love, but it has dawned on me that the epitome of what we all want when it comes to love is that personal experience. That “us” feeling. Those moments, those memories, that can never be shared between two others. Only us.

It is the wave we ride on that spawns great poetry, body-shuddering love songs, and most importantly, it is the intoxicating dance that enables us to feel as though we are taking part in something special. There may be millions of people across the globe feeling this love thing, but amazingly, love doesn’t care–it only cares that we feel it.

In that way, love is so rare and beautiful.

I have written for years about what it really means to love, and how I feel love can be achieved unconditionally. None of that matters, because when it comes to actual romantic love, what matters is what two people feel. The true beauty of what we all crave with love is that it transforms us. It makes us softer, sweeter, more optimistic. It adds spice and meaning to the menial. It leaves a sedative melody humming through our body before bed, and it gives us sparks on our heels and thoughts as we move about our day. We feel this not because everyone can have it, but because we, ourselves, in this very moment, have it.

It is ours.

Never Be (4.28.15)

This too good to be true feeling

Usually one no one wants to believe

We’re different

It’s our whole premise

The very definition of our romance,

So sweet, so generous and real,

Is that it can never be

Shouldn’t We

Shouldn’t we always know it won’t last?

That girl, curled under her blanket,

Sleepily murmuring romantic ideals to a man

On the other end of the phone who

Returned each and every one:

 

She didn’t know.

She had forgotten, somehow.