My daughter and I have been keeping a journal together. We both like writing. Sometimes it is easier to work out and express what you feel through writing than it is by talking. It’s fun to do it together and I am trying to grasp the moment before her diaries (and internal thoughts?) are off limits.
The journal contains some light-hearted fun lists and questions about life but also leaves space for you to improvise your own topics and ask questions. This makes it easier for us to tackle potentially embarrassing situations. In principle this is good but in reality can lead to quite a lot of stress on my part when I have to answer something difficult. In writing. There will be a record of my answer that I can’t later deny or redraft, which is quite intimidating for someone with perfectionist and people-pleasing tendencies.
It’s a challenge. But then again, I find that most things in life worth doing are, so I am leaning in.
The question currently threatening me from the journal is “What does it feel like to fall in love?”. I have been sitting with this for a couple of weeks now, feeling a bit overwhelmed if I am honest. I feel like I need a whole book to explain falling in, and more importantly – STAYING in love. And the book needs to be written by someone else. I certainly can’t do it justice in an A5 page.
As a compromise I am going to try and figure it out here and see if my daughter will allow me to publish it. If not, this may be my first private post.
The clock has been ticking on my overdue Journal Homework and I was beginning to think inspiration would never strike. Until today, when it did, from quite an unexpected source: Disney’s Cinderella.
Part of my reluctance in writing about falling in love, is feeling a responsibility to balance up the Hollywood ideas of love that dominate our culture. In my experience, these are at best are misleading and potentially quite damaging. How many relationships are lost when they stop feeling like the feelings we get watching ‘love’ on the big screen?
However, my daughter is 10. I need to remember that this is an age where it is nice to believe in magic. My job, at the moment, is to protect her from the harsh realities of life rather than introduce them to her.
You can see the dilemma. Do I write a sweet answer for a 10 year old or one that her future teenage/adult self can read? If I am going to leave a written record of life lessons I need to make it good. This may be used against me in a future dating debate.
Given my feminist leanings, going as a family to watch a traditional tale of a poor girl who is treated badly by other women and needs a prince to save her so she can live happily ever after was not an obvious choice. However, it was the Kids AM showing so with 6 of us to pay for it was the only choice. Economy won over idealism. It happens.
I approached Cinderella with caution.
I am surprised to find myself reporting that I LOVED IT! Cinderella was not saved by the prince. She saved herself by following the rule her dying mum left her: Have courage and be kind. This is a version of our family rule: Be brave and kind. My tears started falling at that line and continued on and off throughout the film.
Let me confess – I cry very easily. I always have but since becoming a mum I cry at the drop of a (tiny bobbled) hat. I especially cry at films involving any kind of child-parent relationship. So parents dying are pretty much a guarantee of a minor life-analysing breakdown for me. Despite Cinderella losing both of her parents, this was super-emotional even by my emotionally-unhinged standards. I think it was the mixture of feeling the romance of the film alongside genuine wisdom about love. The answer to my homework was right there.
The Cinderella Theory of Falling and Staying in Love.
I think falling in love is like going to the ball. It is magical. You find yourself in a new world of 2. Everyone else becomes an extra. They gently move to the side to allow you to spin around together experiencing this new glow from every angle. You are light on your feet. Your tummy flutters. You feel beautiful and special and cherished. The love songs suddenly make sense. You don’t pay much attention to the world around but when you glance at it, it all seems more beautiful too. Everything is shiny and new. At the ball, everyone looks their best. Everything is scrubbed clean and it feels like it will last forever. Falling in love is wonderful.
But then the clock strikes 12. There is a time limit on the magic because the magic isn’t real.
Staying in love is leaving the ball and choosing not to give stop loving. The magic disappears. The perfect ‘you’ – all the beautiful parts of you that Love noticed and helped to grow – is joined by the other parts. Tired parts. Insecure parts. Selfish parts. The glow disappears and the extras come back into focus. The rest of life is still there – work, other relationships, illness, fear, baggage we’ve carried for a long time. This happens to both and love is no longer a magical feeling. Now love is a choice to act as if you feel the magic, even when you don’t.
Love is a decision to put someone else’s needs before your own. The only glow from long-term love is the sweat of hard labour.
I once showed a boy the well known Bible passage about Love:
“Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
(I Corinthians 13: 4-8)
He replied that this was unrealistic and gave me a Patience Strong card about love instead. That was a near-miss.
He was right though. It is too much to live up to but it is also what real love is. It is being and doing all those things to those we love. It is actions and decisions. Actions and decisions that often fly against everything we feel like doing.
So while we will probably fail regularly, this is what I think we should strive to be like to those we love: our partners, children, family, friends.
As Cinderella says, looking towards the future, “We must see the world not as it is but as it could be.”
And as the prince reminds her, he is “still an apprentice, learning [his] trade”. Staying in love is behaving like the magic is there even when it is not, especially when it is not even. It is also acknowledging that we are apprentices at love, as are those trying to love us. We must be patient with ourselves and each other.
I hope that my daughter experiences the magical Disney moments of love that take her breath away. But I hope she does not chase those feelings when they fade, jumping from one magical moment to the next without finding true love. I hope she has courage to keep going when it is difficult. I hope she chooses to be kind to whoever she promises to love – her future husband, her children, her siblings, her parents. For there the real magic is found.