A colleague recently mentioned in passing that she knew someone whose role model was a Disney princess. (On a side note, does it matter if I mention that the person in question was not a five-year-old girl? If it matters, why does it make a difference?) I couldn’t help but laugh when I overheard this bit of conversation as I have a long-running quibble with my friend Shannon about Disney.
When I was younger, the first of the great modern animated Disney movies was just being released in theaters. As a result of the films, I was inundated with Disney culture throughout my childhood and I loved the movies dearly for the story, the animation, and the music. At the time, I bought whole-heartedly into the Magic that Disney was creating, and for the most part, I still do. However, as I grew up, I couldn’t help but think that in some way the whole Disney Princess culture was feeding into a larger societal problem. I certainly don’t think that Disney is to blame for this phenomenon, but I do think that Princesses serve to engrain a particular thought pattern into the minds of young girls and give them unrealistic expectations for their romantic lives throughout the rest of their lives.
I might have a strong cynical streak in me, but I’m still a sucker for romance when you get right down to it. I love being swept away by things, I love surprises, and I definitely believe in the idea of finding a great love. The problem that I have with the way things are going is that somewhere along the line the whole process became a little less about the person that we love and a little bit more about ourselves.
All of a sudden, it becomes about the grand romantic gesture; all of a sudden, it becomes more about you than the object of your affection. Behind it all there’s a well-intentioned, though misguided, attempt to make the recipient feel special, as though you’ve jumped through so many hoops to make something unforgettable happen, when, in truth, there’s always an element of “Look how hard I worked to make this come about, aren’t I special?” It’s about that kiss that will wake someone up from a hundred years of slumber and change his or her world in an instant, the slaying of a monster, or even dying to prove one’s love for another (and occasionally later being brought back to life because True Love cannot be vanquished, after all). It’s about a plane writing out an invitation to prom in the sky, it’s the creation of a floor plan of a house in candles, and, of course, it’s about opening our window to hear a boom box outside blaring Peter Gabriel. It’s about sending a love interest on a chase through Manhattan to end up in Times her face on a giant screen, searching the world for a used book with a phone number, or making everybody in a stadium pay attention to you while you propose.
I can’t help but think that part of the grandeur of it all is the notion that other people will be amazed at the effort to pull off the stunt. For a second, the world revolves around the two of you and you create a phenomenal story to recount at the rehearsal dinner. Do we confuse the attention and adrenaline with romance? Perhaps I’m out of touch with things, but I’ve always thought that love is something more private and personal—each person feeling the rush is enough. Maybe it’s not always about the furor and the public presentation but a simple act of pausing in the middle of the street while walking your dog at night when the world is quiet and asking someone to hold a ring instead of a bag of poop.