Killing The Princess
How rejection made me challenge the kind of love I stood for
My upbringing was a Disney upbringing. I belong to a generation that looked up to the clichéd love affairs of Disney characters.
Perhaps the classic Disney tale of depicting love is no longer convincing, but the fairy love story formula remains common currency for other media outlets. At twenty three years old, everywhere I look I still find a trace of the love story formula that Disney once installed. There is no escape. If Disney was doomed to perish, the consumption of stereotypes was certainly not.
Just like that, stereotypes about love are implanted in us early on by how we’re raised. Family, education, culture and race — we uncover each of them when we deconstruct our identity. With time, these pieces grow into the filters that define the way in which we relate to the world. But, is the world giving us what we want?
Are Ideals Cute Stereotypes?
Stereotypes are oversimplified conceptions of anything. The mixture of our life experiences and our genetic background can either store or remove them. Under this process, we set some stereotypes as standards of perfection. This is how ideals are established.
An ideal is a stereotype held in high-regard: wanting a degree in order to be respected or using big words so others think we’re smart.
Ideals are fixed like any other stereotype because they’re always in constant feedback with factors such as family, education, culture, and race. The most significant difference is that an ideal, despite what it encompasses, is seen positively by society because it’s an “ideal”. There’s no basis for this, it’s a social convention. And don’t get me wrong, having ideals may be good for a person’s growth. But distorted stereotypes disguised as ideals cause long-term damage to our perception of love relationships.
Society makes challenging stereotypes too risky. It’s much easier just to accept and strengthen them. Eventually, ideals become cute stereotypes we’re allowed to have, but forbidden to challenge.
The result is too many people that define success as flawlessly fulfilling stereotypes. Either you master them or you’re a failure. Such behavior explains why appearances are deceiving: people are eager to project that they’ve mastered their stereotypes. The motto for today’s work culture “fake it until you make it” seems to apply to every human endeavor.
And if love works this way too, then anyone can be under a collective bias that hides its bigger threats.
Disney is a great example of how stereotypes kept fashioning my identity. Even after I outgrew the films, what sort of life partner I envisioned, or if I didn’t envision one at all, were decisions guided by media’s conception of love.
I adopted and tailored much of that conception to my needs. And like many, I wanted my love story to be the boy-meets-girl tale in which the two feel the spark and the rest flows effortlessly. I was convinced life would bring me nothing else and I made that Disney stereotype my ideal.
Silence, Life’s Teaching
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment I realized I liked boys. I guess there was no realization — it was what it was.
Also, I never felt closeted. I didn’t feel the necessity to repress anything because I felt no guilt whatsoever. I thought liking boys happened so naturally to me, there was no way it could be wrong. I underwent Catholic high school and managed to maintain this sweet naïveté. In my mind, it was just a matter of time until I went on looking for prince charming.
When I was finally out from that bubble, I dove into the new world with naked emotions.
I can’t say I owned my identity when I entered college; I guess very few people can. I was a rough composite of the many influences I had from the day I was born all the way through high school.
The first year of college wiped that out. The rules I began to follow were finally chosen by me and consequently I began to tear down stereotypes. For me, in a good light, “college life” might as well reflect this journey.
Yet, my ideals of love remained unaffected. I sculpted the guys that I fell for into something they weren’t. I didn’t value passing beyond the ideals to see who they truly were. It would only be necessary that “Rayuela” made their list of top 5 novels, or that they had no objection in exhibiting their untrimmed body hair. One single detail could open the widest window of hope. And too much hope is a terrible thing.
Truth is that not even the sum of all my ideals could have compensated for a cohesive, real human being. And of course, I was oblivious to it. If a guy turned on the “IDEAL FOUND” sign, it was enough for me to invest my emotions in him. I would need a harder impact to untangle myself from this habit.
The Last Fiction
“Is there not in every coup de foudre a certain willful exaggeration of the qualities of the beloved, an exaggeration which distracts us from our habitual pessimism and focuses our energies on someone in whom we can believe in a way we have never believed in ourselves?”
I met L while he was spending a summer in my hometown. As the sophisticated, confident foreigner he is, he quickly captured everybody’s attention. He is that rare combination of warmth and frivolity, the childish joke and the proverbial argument, Pitbull’s “El Taxi” and Ibrahim Ferrer’s “Aquellos Ojos Verdes”. It didn’t get any better than this.
What I saw in L was the perfect layout to impose my ideals, but I told myself that this time it would be different. This time I would be pragmatic and I would expose the very objective reasons of why we were right for each other. This time I wouldn’t go empty handed.
I rapidly clinched to clarity because I thought it represented the opposite of what I was doing wrong. It was as if I could make the world owe me something as long as I told the truth. I armed myself with patience and hustle: I would pitch L the great adventure that our relationship was meant to be. There was no way he wouldn’t buy into something so evidently convenient. But it didn’t matter how much “truth” I unloaded or in what way, doing it wouldn’t have made me any more worthy of receiving my ideals.
My truth-telling became self-righteous.
After L showed me he couldn’t give anything in return, I bragged about how I was the one doing the right thing. The “mine is bigger and better” game all over again. Like a ten year old spoiled brat, I lacked the smallest drop of empathy. I had no desire to acknowledge L’s journey if he wasn’t willing to appreciate the one I thought we should have shared.
In a way, I was also trying to project maturity. I wanted L to believe that I wasn’t too attached. I restrained from any emotional gesture, even though emotions were all I wanted to articulate. It’s not surprising that after every encounter with him, the emotions I repressed appeared stronger than ever through nasty outbursts.
In search of relief, I dedicated a couple of nights to chug beer while driving and listening to “Eyes To The Wind” by The War On Drugs. To call it self-destruction would be an understatement. The relief I received from these getaways lingered until, tear-soaked, I hit my bed. My bed was already used to welcome my renewed fiction of “how it all should be”. I already had validated many times that emotion-fueled outbursts are great for muting turmoils.
“‘Eyes To The Wind’ is about letting go. At a certain point, you just have to make a decision to be okay with yourself, and to let the wind take you down that road (…) Acceptance has its own kind of magic.”
But a heavier wave didn’t fail to hit next morning: The moment you see your ideals the most is the moment they begin to fall apart. At this point, I was finally addressing reality and reality was that prince charming didn’t exist. This was no teenage heartbreak, this was my soul being crushed and it was necessary.
Ideals can remain with us long after we taste the pain they can produce. I was used to believe the problem was the world. It wasn’t my ideals that were wrong, but the world’s stubborn refusal to make them true. Fifteen years cultivating this view wouldn’t allow for quick improvements. Still, my experience with L proved to be a solid start.
Killing The Princess
I often meet people with similar stories and all of them seem to share one element: failing to recognize that one is building castles in the sky instead of authentic love relationships. Eventually, the castles that stood for ideals are smashed by reality and heartache settles. Why is this more common than we think?
Reflecting on what I experienced with L, I noticed that I rarely pushed myself to know him better. I didn’t value passing beyond what I believed he was. I was so convinced of it because everything I saw, I linked to my ideals — to my standards of perfection.
And who wouldn’t want perfection? Today’s media persuades us to seek the standards of perfection they themselves establish. Not only in the making of our physical appearance or in the acquisition of material goods, but everywhere. Why are we so eager to accept them?
The thing is that love relationships don’t rely on perfection, they rely on honesty.
As with any kind of relationships, love relationships that achieve reciprocity also achieve honesty — a genuine connection. Reciprocity in this form relies on presenting high-fidelity images of ourselves, not our standards of perfection. Each person needs direct feedback in order to adapt to the dirty, annoying, disenchanting other. The “idealized other” is out of the equation. And as we’re less afraid to fail, more real is our answer to the other’s longing.
In this long-lasting process, emotions are key. Emotions bring clarity by allowing us to be aware of our state of being. This is the formula that best describes it:
“emotional restraint ≠ clarity”
Love relationships are in danger because we’re too comfortable filling the role of the Disney princess. Killing the princess is killing the stereotype that love should be perfect, that our partners should be perfect. Ideals aren’t enough to win true love.
The fact that “we need to fight” for true love (something so natural to humans) reflects the sort of conditions under we allow ourselves to live. Killing the princess is also demanding and introducing better conditions that set honesty over unrealistic ideals.
True love depends in how much we come to embrace our true selves. I used to live under permanent pressure, anxious for finding my ideals and afraid of not being capable of doing so. And I won’t lie: fear remains. I’m less fixated to the ideals, but sometimes I do feel adrift. What changed was my amount of confidence to carry the pursuit. I see my integrity restored now and it’s liberating in a way that I never felt before.
Every story deserves a face and this story has multiple ones. Not the ones you might think (L and the collection of failed princes), but the people that were with me through this learning experience. They’re also the people that today stand beside me in the pursuit of true love. I finish this piece with them because they’re a fair glance of what love relationships are. They’re my friends.