One of my most vivid childhood memories is that of a staging of Sleeping Beauty we did back in kindergarten. Or not so much the play itself as our teacher handing out the parts. I remember how before she could utter the word “princess,” all the girls en masse started clamoring for the role. Their reaction was so instantaneous, it almost seemed conditioned, based however on conditioning that i myself had not gone through. For the life of me I just couldn’t understand what was so appealing about playing dead for the vast majority of the story — which was for the best, because I couldn’t get the part if I wanted to: my reaction time was just nowhere near fast enough.
With my loud, resonant voice, I was the obvious choice for the narrator, and i thought that that would be it. Instead, i ended up playing two parts in that performance. The second one was something I volunteered for, not without amusement, when no other girl would: Maleficent. Far from the beauty that is Angelina Jolie, in our rendition of the fairy tale she was going to be a warty old hag — a fact I was fully conscious of as I found myself raising my hand in baffled excitement.
I don’t think it’s overstating the significance of that decision (which was one that happened to me more than one I made for myself) when I say it was a sign of some underlying truth about me, and completely consistent with my thoughts on the whole business of being a princess. It wouldn’t have felt right; especially when so many other girls felt they deserved to be the pretty one. When indeed they were the pretty ones.
The most confusing thing about this memory is that at the time, I found the choice so natural — an identity I stumbled upon that seemed custom-made just for me. Not once did I question whether I should take up the challenge — probably because it wasn’t one — i just went with my gut.
I don’t know what happened after that to make me believe that a sort of Maleficent (or narrator, for that matter) wasn’t a valid thing to be. But I do know that I’ve experienced a mismatch between what I thought I should be, and what deep down I knew I really was.
Why would a person who so desperately craves intimacy reject everyone who ever attempted to pursue her? Why would she take pleasure in knowing, but keeping to herself, that she didn’t feel anything towards the boys who adored her for her (formerly) pretty face? And why, rather than elation, would she feel a certain kind of contempt for those of her crushes that decided to give her the time of day?
“The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves,” he [Semrad] would say, urging us to be honest with ourselves about every facet of our experience.Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Why would I harbor platonic/romantic feelings towards pretty but totally unavailable strangers, and refuse to let go of my unrealistic idea of love gleaned from crappy popular culture — even though my own 6 y.o. self had known better than that? There was a wisdom in my actions then that it’s hard to replicate unless you believe in yourself.
This whole story may seem trivial, banal even. But i’d venture that love and the various ways we go about finding it are actually pretty important aspects of being alive. But because my awkward, self-conscious nature didn’t align with the princess narrative, I decided to forgo romance altogether.
I could have found alternative scripts if i really wanted to. I think the only reason I clung to the princess archetype was because it was so incompatible with my needs or capacities: I’ve always been good at coming up with new ways of hating previously unexplored dimensions of my self.
People tend to exclude themselves from every statistic, every generalization, every principle. But the truth is, i’m no exception…to any rule. I used to excuse my singleness with my appearance and personality: I claimed to simply be “unlovable.” Problem is, i don’t believe this particular label applies to anyone else, and I mean anyone. Every princess will find her prince (or princess, or some gender neutral blue blood or another) … if she wants to. If I wanted to, I would have found mine by now — even if it meant settling for less than my idealized notion of romantic love.
In point of fact, for all my whining about not being feminine …. I’m deeply uncomfortable with the very idea of being the object of somebody’s passionate love , a n y w a y . Always have been. Guess I’m just not a princess, after all. (Not that I wanna speak in absolutes; i’m open to what the future holds. I just have a hunch.)
Against my better judgment, I followed the pattern some two years back, and developed a crush on somebody I didn’t know. And then, a couple of days ago, I… broke the pattern by reaching out to him. To my astonishment, a friend commented that at least he isn’t afraid of assertive women, as I must have come across as pretty confident.
My motives weren’t clear to me at the time; the last thing I wanted was to pursue a relationship of any kind … but I reached out regardless. I think I mostly did it out of curiosity and boredom.
There’s this cute little song by jeremy messersmith called A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard (linked at the top of this post). The lyrics are simple enough, but I’ve always found them tragically romantic. Until today that is. When Lucy went all
I’m like a princess in a castle high
Waiting for a kiss to bring me back to life
I was like wHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU DUMB BITCH!? Damn right you shouldn’t “spend your time waiting for just another guy,” what are you gonna just sit there on your arse until he arrives and saves you from yourself??
And then I was like … but I’ve been playing a Lucy for most of my life … playing.
And suddenly that comment about secure women made a lot more sense to me. Not just in the context of romantic relationships; funnily enough, feelings that seemed overwhelming for so long suddenly lost all their power as soon as I acted on them. It’s not about that. It’s about everything else.
If I feel guilty about being lazy and entitled, I believe it’s because I know I could be spending my time in more productive ways; I just can’t figure out what’s preventing me from doing that. I simultaneously force myself to act like a child who needs to be taken care of, and get angry at myself for being so passive. But real life is not kindergarten, and you are not limited to reenacting one behavior pattern for all eternity.
One thing I can tell you is that it feels amazing to take charge, even when it’s for reasons you yourself don’t understand.