What really surprised me the most was how much she thought about whether or not she wanted to marry Neil, and if so, how to do it. She didn't assume that the happily-ever-after had to look like a wedding, or that it had to involve a marriage license. I like to think that I'm independent and strong and a feminist, but I look back at all of the Disney fairy tales I watched and know that I'm still discovering ways in which they shaped me. Don't those stories always end with a wedding? Usually a princess wedding in a castle with carriages and things.
My husband and I skipped the gigantic blow-out bash for our wedding--we announced it and planned it in three weeks after two years of engagement--but we never really stopped to consider the institution of marriage itself, or what other possible forms our happily ever-after could take. Could we have been happy without the marriage? Yes. Most of the perks of marriage are the same as the perks of having a great long-term relationship. I think the differences from before and after the wedding have been subtle for us. There's the feeling of permanence, of knowing that we made a life-long commitment to each other. There's the swell of pride I get when I introduce him as my husband. There's the mind-boggling warmth of having someone who knows me inside and out and still wanted to spend his whole life with me.
Wow, this post is getting more gushy than I thought it would. Anyway, the point is, in spite of my current marital bliss, I wish there were more alternate happily-ever-after stories out there. Most of the ones that I know of exist in small indie films--not the movies that shape our children's perception of an ideal world. What if we taught children that it's OK for them to wait to get married, or to choose never to get married at all? What if we taught young girls that the epitome of happily-ever-after is not a fairy-tale wedding, but a strong sense of self and a stable relationship? What if we taught children that stable relationships take work, and actually taught them the skills to be kind partners? I wish there were fewer stories out there about guy-gets-girl and more stories that show what happens next--the part with jobs and dirty dishes and in-laws. Maybe that's why I love movies like Date Night and Undercover Blues--there's something about seeing marriage as a living thing rather than a destination.