I can’t bear the thought of taking off my wedding rings. It will mean my divorce is final and it will also mean that hope and longing for a turnaround, and believing that love can conquer all are not enough. Not even anywhere in the vicinity of close! More than anything, wearing them means that I fit in, that I am a real woman with a fulfilled life who can say “My husband this and my husband that…” and be embraced by the general population as one of their own.
It wasn’t until I was 46 that I married for the first time. “Just one year shy of coming down the aisle with a walker!” I would joke, as if waiting half a lifetime to finally say “I do!” hadn’t been the invisible hair shirt I longed to shed. To be different is to question one’s validity and place in society and let me tell you, spending half your life on bad dates and in dead-end relationships makes marriage look like the world where the streets are paved with gold and everyone lives happily ever after.
When I was seven years old, I had a mad crush on an older boy who lived up the street. He was in high school and seemed very grown up, although from my vantage point, everyone over 12 looked like an adult to me. Anyway, he was always really nice to me in a charming Arian, big toothed-smile kind of way and I took this as a sign of his love for me. I think this was the first step on a long and jagged road of misreading men’s intentions, but let’s not go there.
Somehow I got it into my Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel drenched brain that he was my Prince Charming, come a little early, but saving me years of shoe shopping, waiting to be awakened from a long sleep or throwing my rapturous hair down the tower for my true love to climb.
For some reason, it must have been close to Halloween, I was in possession of a bridal gown and veil, made to fit a little girl. And to my horror, I have a vivid memory of blithely waltzing up the street in my gown and veil (I think I even had some kind of bouquet) feeling very hopeful and sure of myself, as I marched towards this unsuspecting prince’s castle. I knocked on the door and he answered, looking taken aback but amused. I mean, really, if you were captain-of-the-football-team gorgeous and you opened your door to a waiting seven year old in a bridal outfit, complete with bouquet, sporting an eager expression on her naïve and hopeful face, what could you do but be amused.
I think he let me down gently that morning. “You’re a little bit young for me” he kindly intoned “and besides, I’m leaving for college next year so that might be a problem.” All of this made perfect sense as I sat in his kitchen eating a chocolate chip cookie and trying not to show my disappointment. I don’t have any recollection of feeling humiliated as I was sent on my way with a kindly chuckle and a pat on the head and I think I felt a little silly but I guess I was a leap-before-you-look kind of girl even then. Nothing much has changed.
I have come to the realization that I was brainwashed from birth with tales of White Knights risking life, limb and reputation to rescue his grateful princess, all in the name of love. My dreams were spun of golden thread, perfect contentment and gender modeling that was a constant no matter what bedtime story lulled me to sleep. The problem with fairy tales is not only that we were immersed in them all through childhood, but every book, movie or TV show that was about love shared the same basic tenant: Me Tarzan, You Jane. One-dimensional characterizations of how marriage should look was pumped into my brain from the first rendition of Snow White, and reinforced over decades with movies like “An Affair To Remember” and “Pretty Woman”, producing me, a woman who has fallen off the fairytale cart, and is afraid of taking off her rings.