My face is a swollen mess of tears and snot. After twenty-five hours of a binge-watched Korean drama, the willful poor girl finally got proposed to by the good-looking rich boy who is hopelessly in love with her. As I sit there, texting-blaming my friend for the emotional trauma, the fog of fiction dissipates. I realize: I have just watched a very (very) metrosexual version of Cinderella.
Though it’s not on my Okcupid profile, I’ve always known I’m a one hundred percent certified sap. I sort through some of my favorite stories growing up: Pretty in Pink, Ever After, Ella Enchanted, My Fair Lady, Pretty Woman, She’s All That, Flashdance, Mulan… Shit. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that my idea of romance and heartbreak hasn’t evolved much in twenty years.
To be fair, Cinderellas are really rad. They are resourceful and honorable. And worth loving. I wanted to be like them: win battles like Mulan, melt hearts like Eliza Doolittle, and confound princes like Danielle from Ever After. (“You swim alone, climb rocks, rescue servants, is there anything you don’t do?”) So I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do, volunteered regularly, and tried to embody the “hardworking girl who didn’t back down from a challenge.” There are worse idols. The problem was that I assumed I’d eventually run into a “prince charming”: someone who believed in me, someone whose life I’d change, someone I’d save, someone who would pick me out from a crowd and reward my authenticity with… what exactly? I wanted an intangible fantasy ending, but I didn’t even know what a real happy relationship looked like.
When my parents fought, or adults seemed distressed in relationships, I figured it was because they didn’t marry the right person. They weren’t committed enough to finding true love. I never thought that could be me. When I started dating my high school sweetheart, I assumed our ending was one for the storybooks. We had to overcome juvenile detention, distance, and family disapproval—so once we got together we deserved a happily ever after, right? When that didn’t work out, I chalked it up to youth. I waited.
Then I met L. He was, to be fair, very prince-like: fitted blazers and golden hair, dimples and a diamond stud (with a hint of guyliner). His family was rich… and they adored me. He would hand-make banners to greet me at the arrival gate. He’d bring flowers to the entire first month of dates. He’d write letters to my mom, thanking her for my existence. I was so sure. Fast-forward a year and a half: L has abandoned me in Manhattan at four AM. I’m in a (very) tiny costume with no money, and a dead cell phone. Pro-tip: jumping in a car with your friends for an impromptu cocaine-fueled beach trip while your visiting partner sobs on the sidewalk means you fail at being prince charming. I wish I could say that my quest for the one ended with that breakup. But in fact, to this day, every person I get serious with, there’s a tiny voice that goes, “Maybe this time, maybe this time it’ll be magical.”
But here’s what I also know: I don’t rationally believe in the concept of the one. I’m twenty-seven and single. I regard any relationship lasting more than three years where all parties are still cordial as a miracle. My grandmother (who I’m not out to, yet) tells me I should just find a rich husband already… as though I’m taking too long at a simple task. But along with the typical “Cinderella,” I have a hard time around tons of unexamined privilege AKA much of the one percent. And unsurprisingly, rich babes don’t fall for my sassy, radical self just because I challenge their upper-class views. A glass slipper scenario is about as realistic as an admission to Hogwarts.
Fairytales are beautiful lies: There’s no awkwardly bored relationship sex. Nobody develops a drinking problem or gains weight. Nobody’s queer or polyamorous. There are no yeast infections. Nobody farts. There’s no falling out of love or cheating with someone’s best friend. The girls are always pretty underneath (though they might need a makeover to “show” it). And no matter what happens, what planes need to be stopped, what royal codes must be broken, what lives must be put on the line: the girl always get the guy. And once the love is professed… everyone lives happily ever after.
It’s commonsense to admit that media portrayals of love are unrealistic. But there’s a tiny part of me (which I’m not super proud of) that’s furious about it. I keep thinking of the quote from Fight Club:
You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap.
It’s infuriating, it’s depressing, and it’s definitely not idealistic. “Why can’t we all be snowflakes?” I thought, the first time I read it. But we aren’t characters in a novel. We are not secret princesses, our pumpkins won’t turn to carriages, and there’s no such thing as happily ever after. Giving up on the “I’m special, I will have a love that spans the ages” personal narrative—even though it never existed—feels like failure. There’s a pang of loss when I look out at the landscape of bacne, forgotten birthdays, and morning breath that awaits me. Where’s the glamour in that? How do I get excited about joint taxes, prenups, and budgeting for an engagement ring?
I begrudgingly accept that part of choosing to have a real relationship—offscreen—means adjusting expectations. And I’m sure that the perks of a tangible healthy partnership are beyond my comprehension. It’s possible, though, I’ll never stop crying over Cinderella. Maybe the real solution is to accept it, with the grace of an adult, by sipping a glass of champagne and playing “Is That All There Is” on repeat ’till I’ve got the damn thing out of my system.