This is why we never really grow out of our childhood fairy tale fantasies

This is why we never really grow out of our childhood fairy tale fantasies

So Here's The Thing

Text: Teresa Hee

As each year passes, we wish for wisdom to come with age. But my friends and a recent episode with Jeff*, reminded me that “happily ever after” never gets old — for better or for worse

Of all the old school Disney heroines, Snow White is most unloved. At least, that's the consensus I sense whenever the topic arises among friends. What is it about the OG princess that is so repelling? I could blame our shallow disdain for her rosy, cherubic cheeks. "Oh how unmodel-esque!" she says with a scowl on her face, holding a flat white on one hand and the thinnest slice of overpriced avocado toast on another. I'm kidding, of course. Then there's the very real factor of Snow White's questionable taste in clothes — I will rue the day the Peter Pan collar makes a revival — and her lacklustre pitchy voice. But since I hold my peers in high regard, I like to think our disapproval has more to do with her character than her non-existent bone structure.

A common thread among the reimaginations of the Grimm brothers' stories: The protagonists, through varying degrees of (and I use this word loosely) hardship, earn her true happiness with her man. This is not a variable. While its interpretation has changed over the decades, happily ever after is a concept long mastered, a formula Disney will take to its grave. Yet somehow, Snow White's plight seems most vacuous. Blushing, she tells the dwarfs, "He was so romantic, I could not resist," before belting out the following immortal words: "Someday my prince will come. Someday we'll meet again, and away to his castle we'll go. To be happy forever I know."

The 7-year-old in me didn't lose sleep over this, but the 27-year-old in me has pressing questions. Before you liken me to Angry the dwarf, standing in the corner, scoffing "Mush!" at the chorus, consider this. What does Snow White actually know about The Prince? She met the guy for all of 90 seconds — 90 seconds! — and other than the fact that he has a similarly poreless complexion, excellent control of falsetto, and (since he was dressed rather fancily) that he's possibly rolling deep in dough, Snow White was as Clueless as Alicia Silverstone's Cher. Sure, few of us might suggest that the bottom line of his bank account provides sufficient information about his marriage potential. But materialism aside, accusing Snow White of having wedding fantasies with a prince is inaccurate too.

"She met The Prince for all of 90 seconds. Other than the fact that he has a similarly poreless complexion, excellent control of falsetto, and that he's possibly rolling deep in dough, Snow White was as Clueless as Alicia Silverstone's Cher."

There is one little fact that often goes unnoticed in this classic. The Prince never introduced himself as such to Snow White. He didn't say his name, nor did he have fine men make an announcement of his title. He simply sang her One Song (really enjoying the double entendre here) to seal the deal. It's unclear where and how Snow White made a deduction of his royalty, but the point is that she did without much evidence — or really, any evidence at all. He could have been an axe murderer, a sheep in wool's clothing. But a prince he was to Snow White and thus they were meant for matrimony.

So here's the thing: We're all Snow White.

It's a stretch, I know. Allow me to explain. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the feature film, came to be in 1937. What's different 80 years later? Marriage was a matter of household economy and the passing of family name. Now, it is widely considered a social construct in first-world countries, an optional timeline not everyone follows. Dating was a taboo topic. Today, apps like Grindr are barely holding on to their supposed bad reputation. And speaking of Grindr, despite the recent setbacks at PinkDot, there's no denying that love, at large, is not discriminatory. We don't love differently. We love more.

And just as how love isn't discriminatory, loneliness isn't either. It spares no one — not even the people who have the happiest pictures on social media; the people whose life you think you want. In fact, some of the smartest, funniest people I know also happen to be among the loneliest. It's not sad. In most forms, a hint of loneliness is healthy, but add social media in the mix and it's a different ballgame altogether. Scroll through your feed. The algorithm helps paint the best picture of everyone's lives, leaving you to ponder on the validity of your own. That's when the healthy alone time erodes, when social media simultaneously spotlights your friend's happily ever after — the Valentine's Day flowers, the documented proposal, the seaside ceremony — and your bare ring finger.

So when it's our turn, when a member of the opposite sex shows interest (or when the members of the same sex shows interest), it's understandably hard to keep our wits about us. Like Snow White, we get excited! As we should. We get hopeful! It's only natural. Unlike Snow White, the desire to be guarded is present. However, the little voice telling us to remember those hard earned, hard learned lessons of past heartbreak falter when the butterflies in our stomach flap away any cause for emotional restraint. What follows is familiar. Snow White circa 1937 sings about her prince to her seven friends; Snow White circa 2017 texts her best friends about the amazing guy she just met.

And just like that, the fair maiden in us gets carried away, subscribing to a fantasy that sounds good on paper, but in reality is a tale awaiting its cautionary plot twist. Snow White was certain her prince would come through though she has no business wishing upon her wishing well on someone she barely knows. We are not so different. The hopeless romantic calls this "following your heart" but as a cardiac patient will tell you, sometimes our hearts fail us.

"The fair maiden in us gets carried away, subscribing to a fantasy that sounds good on paper, but in reality is a tale awaiting its cautionary plot twist."

I'll get to my own laugh-a-little-cry-a-little story in a bit. Today, it's men first.

Nathan* and I go way back. I could tell you how I had a minor crush on him in college. I could, but I won't. I could also go on about why I went out with not one, but two of his friends instead. Not today. To explain Nathan in one paragraph would be doing him an injustice, but for now, it will have to suffice. In short, Nathan is pretty brilliant. He's smart and well spoken, with one hell of a vocal range (I sniggered internally at the thought of Nathan playing The Prince in a modern remake) and that's not even my favourite thing about the guy. This is: Nathan is one of the rare men out there who isn't afraid of love — unlike your f*ckboy next door. Come to think of it, he's the very opposite of a f*ckboy, regardless of what he'll tell you.

"What did I do wrong?" Nathan asked me last week. We were four whiskey sodas down on a Saturday afternoon, with another round coming our way. To give you some context, Nathan's exzilla, as we call her, broke up with him recently. The classy lady was Instagram Story-ing (yes, it's a verb) her road trips with Mr. New just a week after telling my friend that she misses him. <Insert multiple expletives here> "I gave her everything but it seemed like that was never enough," Nathan continued between sips. "For a second, I even thought this was it for me." He took another sip. "What did I do wrong?" Sip, sip.

"The hopeless romantic calls this 'following your heart' but as a cardiac patient will tell you, sometimes our hearts fail us."

My phone conversation with Ava* didn't stray far from that tangent either. Ava was the friend you never thought you'd have because you didn't think you're cool enough. When I got over my silliness, I discovered she's more human, more my kind of human than I thought. Ava has a huge heart and with it, a mountainous capacity for love. To put it bluntly, Ava has a mountainous capacity for the bull crap men throw at her, in the name of love. She was seeing Daniel* on and off (more off than on at this point) and while he constantly mistreated her, she always had faith that he would come back to her, a man renewed. In fairy tale terms, she was Snow White biting into that poison apple even when she knew it was bad for her. She was Cinderella and Daniel, the prince who never bothered chasing after the girl who dropped her shoe for him to find.

And me? My Snow White moment would not be without Jeff*.

Jeff and I had been texting — a lot. My phone would buzz and buzz and I would see his name on my screen in the morning when I was at work, during my lunch break, and after work, before dinner. But there would not be texts after dinner. No. After dinner, he would call. The first time we talked, we logged two hours. I can't recall the topic of our conversation, mostly because I was dozing in and out of sleep past midnight. The next night, we talked for six hours. I wish I was joking, especially when Chloe questioned me about it. "Six hours?! What did you talk about for six hours?" Again, I didn't have an answer. What I did have was a screenshot of the conversation that came prior. I showed Chloe, just as I'm showing you now.

I wasn't aching to talk Jeff, most certainly not for that long, but I wasn't sure of the reason I picked up the phone, much less why I stayed on it until 3am on a Friday night. I still wasn't sure when Jeff and I decided to meet. Or rather, until Chloe and Nathan suggested that Jeff and I meet. Usually, the chaos and the hyper analysis of a man come after the date, but mine came promptly before when Chloe suggested Jeff came to meet us for ice cream. Spontaneity was in the air it seems, because it wasn't long before I began typing out an invitation to the man I've never met to enjoy a cone with my favourite people.

If you're thrown by his messages, you're not the only one. He would later say that I'm the cold one for asking him to hang out with my friends, like "I'm a psycho and you only wanna meet me in public." It was weird at best, rude at worst and so I stopped replying soon after, as advised by my companions. But when I picked up to answer my ringing phone, you'd think the texts never happened.

Jeff: Hey.
Me: Hey you.

Let me interject my own conversation to say that Chloe and Nathan would later school me about the flirting implied in a "hey you". How did I not know this?

Jeff: Are you done with dinner?
Me: No, we're still at the restaurant.
Jeff: Do you still want me to meet you?
Me: Like, tonight?
Chloe: *Waves and mouths "no"*
Me: Umm sure, what time?
Chloe: *Buries her head in her hands*

Nathan came back from his post-meal cigarette to Chloe and I freaking out. I didn't want to meet Jeff, not after his texts, and definitely not after Chloe preluded to his potential clinginess that I only noticed upon it being pointed out. Then again, it's easy to be impassive over text. When faced with a living, breathing human being on the other end of the line, rejection is harder to pull off. Alas, kinder souls prevailed. We concluded that because I had said yes, it would be my turn to be rude if I cancelled on my own invitation. The caveat: Chloe and Nathan would sit outside the café to keep watch while I have my date, and would only leave if I felt safe after the initial hello. (What did I say about Nathan being a good guy?)

The date was painfully forgettable; painful because it had been a long day at work and forgettable because mindless banter usually is. That Jeff looked about 15kg heavier in person than he did in his photos wasn't the only thing that turned me off. (I minded the deceit, not so much the weight) Even if I even could justify the stale exchanges and the deflated sparks, I couldn't escape the reality that I totally Snow White-d myself.

I, like Nathan and like Ava, allowed myself to be sucked in, to buy into my own condensed version of happily ever after. Nathan chose to not see some awful truths about a woman who tore down his self-esteem for whatever little love she awarded him; Ava was willing to wait for a man she knows isn't a prince; and I, I got carried away with the fantasy of someone being so needy for me, to the point of disregard of my personal time, that I forgot that it was supposed to be off-putting. Though I didn't know Jeff, I knew this much: He wasn't the prince... for me. He could have been an axe murderer, a sheep in wool's clothing, but I was willing to ignore the axe and overlook the teeth, because it felt great to be wanted again.

The need for affirmation, the desire to be loved, beyond being a human need, is a hard habit to break. The chase for happily ever after remains ever elusive. Who knows, I might be 37 or 47 and still wonder when my prince will come. My friends constantly remind me, "He will come, he will come," and I just have to wait. But what if he doesn't? What then? Will I see his absence as a sign that I've failed? Or life has failed me?

"Though I didn't know Jeff, I knew this much: He wasn't the prince... for me. He could have been an axe murderer, a sheep in wool's clothing, but I was willing to ignore the axe and overlook the teeth, because it felt great to be wanted again."

The questions plagued my mind with doubts. Maybe he's just one decision, one breath away and so I should consider swiping left less. Maybe Jeff deserves another chance. It dawned on me that I will go crazy thinking I have any control over this. My quest is to live my life as wonderfully as I know how: To be both the Snow White and the prince, to hope but also to make my dreams happen for myself. I may not always be able to steer my ship to full effect, but I sure can recognise the moments I am to opt for the scenic route, take in the sights, pick up a souvenir and make it count. That detour can be something as extravagant as buying a ticket to New York City. Or going on that scuba expedition in the Gili islands. Or treating myself to a date at Taratata Bistrot on my way home from work. So if my prince does come someday, wouldn't it be lovely for me to be the one to invite him to my castle and my kingdom instead?

*Names have been changed.
Tune in to the next entry on 25 May.

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