Recently I was asked to speak at an event that dealt with marriage and its related challenges. To highlight these in a light-hearted way I told a story. The tale went something like this…Once upon a time there was a far away land called South Africa. It was beautiful and full of nature’s wonders. People from far and wide heard of this land and felt the pull of a promise of a better life. They jumped on ships, planes or whatever means of transport was available at the time and came over in the hope of the glitter of gold to build a better life for themselves and their children.
Their struggle was hard and long. The streets were not lined by gold but instead they were treated badly due to the colour of their skin. Through many years however these brave people far away from their homeland learnt to live as equals. But even in this time they were not at peace for crime was high and everyone was in competition with everyone else. Children needed to be smarter, houses more lavish, car bigger and spouses thinner. Pressure was on from all sides to excel.
However even between all these struggles some lucky ones found ‘happy endings’. These happy ending began when a prince met a princess. Usually she would be slim, long haired, light eyed and smart but not too smart for that might get to her head. From her side the prince must be tall, handsome, well-educated and wealthy with a big castle and expensive cars to take her around. They have disagreements and doubts start creeping in but they quickly brush it aside thinking things will get better after marriage. Celebrations start and so does the bickering about the perfect day. The dress, hall, meals, flower arrangements, music, etc. are all planned down to the tiniest detail but what is forgotten is that these two young people who are usually sheltered from life must now run their own kingdom together.
The day is done with vast amounts of money spent to cater for this one meal and then the fun begins… She prides herself on being a people’s pleaser and allows herself to be used as people deem fit. The princess thinks back to the stories her mother told her of the happily ever after and how the princesses in the tales served selflessly but were always happy. The prince finds it stifling to be responsible all the time and doesn’t know how to deal with the princess’s misery. The prince and princess struggle to adjust to married life but are afraid to speak up for the family would misunderstand, what would people think!!! Adjustment to living together all the time, having new responsibilities and feeling pressure to conform to societies expectations of the perfect couple is hard. Love is there but reality and responsibilities overshadow it and without the right kind of guidance and support they suffer in silence.
The princess makes sense of these feelings by blaming others, her mother in law who she sees as a villain, her husband who she thinks resembles more an ogre now than a prince, her friends who are not interested in listening to her stories etc. The smallest of things upset her now and she is offended easily. However, she doesn’t speak up and lets it fester. The prince too is unhappy but distracts himself by focusing on work, his friends and whatever else he can find to avoid thinking about the reality of what is going on. He too uses blame to make himself feel less responsible. Its her family, they are too interfering, and she is too easily swayed. If nothing else he blames her hormones…it must be that time of the month!
They think of the world as good and bad, hero and villain but fail to realise that we each have potential to be both. The true villain in this story are not any monster in laws but the prince and princess’s feelings of inadequacies, their desire to seek the perfect marriage without realising the work that goes into it, their fear of true communication and inability to understand each other. They lose their sense of meaning, purpose and even identity at times. This is the untold part of the story. To the world they are happy. They live in the big house, drive smart cars, go for overseas holidays and wear brand name clothes. Superficially, it is all perfect and they appear to be living the elusive ‘happily ever after’.