You came and stood outside my window and proposed that night in 1997. It was just like the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, except I was in my pajamas and you were dressed to the nines.
You didn’t tell me you were coming, that ring burning a hole in your pocket. When I heard the knocking at my window in the midnight darkness, I was too scared to see what was outside my window. When I finally got brave enough to open it, you stood there waiting to sing a love song and ask for my hand in marriage in the frozen winter night.
That’s how the story begins, with me in my pajamas and a midnight song.
The next day I had to get up before the sun and drive down country roads to teach eleventh graders. The girls in my class stared at me dreamily when I told them the how you proposed. They were all thinking of the day when it would be their turn to live the fairy tale.
I wish I had known what to tell those girls about real love:
There are a million ways to get down on one knee and ask a woman to marry you, but the hard task is learning to live that marriage day in and day out when the fairy tale gets kicked to the curb by the real world.
When there’s throw up on the floor.
When the dishes are stacked mile-high on the counter.
When the medical bills fill up the mailbox.
When you stand at your son’s casket.
Because maybe what we need to show our children is real marriage isn’t a reality dating game. We need to show couples how to love through the hardships, the piles of stained clothes, and the baby crying, instead of rose ceremonies and private jets that fly perfect couples around the world for their dates.
What we forget about Disney’s view of dating is that every fairy tale is fiction; every romance written by a romantic whose life didn’t resemble a fairy tale at all.
Someday My Prince Will Come has been the single girls’ mantra for years, but what happens when our prince turns out to be a regular guy who snores in the middle of the night?
Back in the 1990’s, our small town school band marched in a parade at Disney World. We stood behind the closed gates of the Disney grounds waiting for our big entrance into the crowded streets. While waiting in the backstage area, we had been given one strict instruction: absolutely no photography allowed—including taking pictures of the characters, the workers, the props, or any of the “Disney magic.”
Disney prided themselves on creating a magical world, and everything from the cleanliness of the park, to the carefully crafted landscaping and sets, to the lights and views around the park helped shape this storybook image. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of anything behind the scenes that ruined the “Disney spell.” We couldn’t show what the characters really looked like without their costumes or how they behaved backstage.
Though I love Disney’s magic, I’ve realized that this fairy tale culture sometimes taints our real lives. We confuse their fairy tale image with real love: the princess never ages; the prince always has the right thing to say. It is a life of ball gowns and castles, not budgets and bills.
Though our lives look nothing like a fairy tale, I’ve learned that real love can be just as good.
This daily give-and-take becomes more about who can outgive the other. Because real love isn’t just about getting the ring, it’s about giving every part of you in order that you can live more fully as one.
It’s about serving when you’re tired.
It’s about letting go and forgiving.
In the end, it’s about remembering that day you said yes and then saying yes again everyday.
Disney can show off their romance with big splashy love songs and fireworks, but at the end of the day, their actors take off their wigs and costumes and go home alone.
But you and I, we meet in the middle of our hectic, chaotic lives and your hand touches my arm and we live this thing called marriage.
That night you proposed at the window feels like a thousand years ago. Your tux is long gone, but you still sing me love songs in the beauty of hard days and broken dreams.
The mistakes of yesterday covered over by mercy and grace. Our hands holding on to one another in morning darkness.