In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt Happily Ever After.
“And they lived happily ever after.” Think about this line for a few minutes. Are you living happily ever after? If not, what will it take for you to get there?
You know; before I knew enough English to read fairy tales or watch them on TV I never knew that line ‘and they lived happily ever after’. Or rather I didn’t know it in that way. In French it reads “Ils vécurent heureux et eurent beaucoup d’enfants”, which translates into “they lived happily and had many children.”
It is pernicious in many ways because from the moment you are old enough to remember what your parents are reading to you, it’s being imprinted in your brain that being happy means having children. Fairy tales seem to indicate that there’s no happiness without a family. And let’s be honest isn’t it one of the reasons girls are dreaming big wedding and big families from very early on? It’s expected from us that we should seek to build a family. Boys and girls alike. There was a time I was a girly girl: my mom made me a princess gown costume with assorted diadem and I took a year of ballet – although it was already very boring to me and when given the choice I decided to continue karate instead of dancing.
I don’t know if a girl is born a tomboy or if she becomes one. I guess I hovered in the middle for a while. I had a younger brother and two older cousins. I played Cowboys and Indians, with hot wheels cars, Transformers or GI Joe more often than dolls. When I was very young my parents went through a time when they ended the month with little enough that if either my brother and I were sick, they might be in trouble. My mom was on parental leave and my dad was back at school. They finished the month with less than 10$ on their account. So as you can imagine we didn’t have lots of toys. Not that I minded. I didn’t even realize. And they still made sure that we would want for nothing.
But let’s just say that my first set of Barbie dolls, my parents found by the garbage of the building. I think I was 4 or 5 years old. There was a box that held a bus and four Barbie dolls and one Ken, some clothes. Sure they weren’t in mint condition but it was really exciting for me. Because there wasn’t a lot of money, my parents bought toys that both my brother and I could play like Klipos (it’s always seemed to me like Legos for kids because they were a lot bigger) or Playmobils. And books… Again I didn’t know at the time and I really didn’t mind. But these dolls were something that my brother wouldn’t play with. It was mine, if it makes sense.
At school I wasn’t like the other girls who didn’t like PE. I loved PE. Running and playing football (soccer for Americans) or street hockey. I took rollerskating lessons and played hockey then; there were only 3 girls in our group of 25. I loved karate. Yet, I also liked to play princess and I actually loved playing the bad guy. I was the Queen of Hearts in my 3rd grade play. Getting to middle school was a bad experience for me. Until then, nobody ever said anything about my clothes or my looks. When you turn 11 for some reason it becomes important. Not for me. Suddenly boys became stupid and girls became mean. And “happily ever after” became a lot less interesting. I started reading fantasy books where not all the good guys made it alive till the end of the story. Some books when good guys became bad and even the heroes didn’t really get their happily ever after. It seemed more in line with reality to me.
Besides some things made it so that I decided I didn’t want the happily ever after of fairy tales. I wouldn’t define my life around a Prince Charming who probably would never arrive. I wasn’t the kind of girls who got a “happily ever after” anyways. After all Disney princesses were more beautiful than me and let’s not even talk about movies. When did one ever see an average girl get the boy? Never. The heroine was always beautiful and I never related. No wonder I didn’t really go to the movies. I think the only one I could relate to was Jo March in Little Women, the movie released in the 1990s with Winona Ryder as Josephine March and Christian Bale as Lawrie. She didn’t want to marry, she just wanted to write. Sure love came along the way but that wasn’t what she set out to make of her life.
The movie, more so than the book, which I read (in French) when I was 9 or 10 was a revelation. I didn’t want fairy tales’ happily ever after. I didn’t want kids. I didn’t want a man. And I organized my life differently. I wanted a career. I wanted to work in the international relation domain; by the time I was 30 I would be a French ambassador somewhere, travelling the world, changing it. Yep, I dreamed big. And that didn’t happen.
For a number of reasons, I guess. Some of my own making, some because France remained at the time very old school in its approach to diplomacy. When I applied for an internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of my 5th year, I heard two things from the person I spoke with about my application: I had too many diplomas for my age and diplomacy remained the realm of men. A girl like me would never make it. A joke was also that it took some blue blood (nobility) to get into foreign affairs. Since I couldn’t get a long term internship, despite some experience within the UN, I took a job in Canada in a call centre as a manager.
And there I found love. Or rather love found me. I met the man who is now my husband. And it seemed that my views shifted again. It’s been too long since my last foray into Foreign affairs – although I did write the entry exam in November 2008 and failed because I flunked my German exam the rest was good – to think I might go back. Although, one should never say never. And it remains one of my areas of interest. I keep an eye on what’s going on with international law and diplomacy.
So really what is happily ever after? Don’t we get to decide? Don’t we get to change our mind? And can it be planned?
I guess to a point maybe. I don’t know if what I have is happily ever after. But I am happy. And for now that is enough. I have a husband who loves me and supports me. He puts up with me and my idiosyncrasies too. Am I where I thought I would be at my age? Nope definitely not. I’m elsewhere.
It’s like that movie with Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. Can’t remember the name. It was called “pile ou face” in French. It’s another reality. In one, I would have gone back to France after my Master’s degree and pursued a career in international law, come hell or high water, despite the obstacles. I never would have met my husband. I would have had a different life for sure. In the reality I know, I decided to take a management job fresh out of school – something that would never have happened in France – and took a completely different path.
The pursuit of happiness isn’t something that we can truly grasp. And can we really achieve happiness by pursuing it? I don’t know. I think we’re only human and we don’t necessarily know what’s good for us. I think happiness finds us more than we find it. We need to let it happen. It’s like being ready for something. Are we ever?
I’m not searching for happily ever after. If it happens, it happens. Until then, I only thrive to live my life and cherish what I have, who is part of it. And I’m happy. It’s not perfect but it’s my life.