Like most women, I prayed like hell when I was a little girl for the perfect husband. I got down on my tiny knees at my bedside every night and started my list of requests with, “God bless mommy and daddy and Gary, Matt, Cap, Rich, Mary, Tara, Peter, Savanna, (I’m from an Irish Catholic family. There are a lot of us.) Grandma and Grandpa Shertenlieb, Grandma and PopPop McCahill, and oh… please let me get a boyfriend soon and let me get married to my Prince Charming. Amen.” Prince Charming. Yup. I definitely didn’t know what I was asking for when I mentioned him. I’m sure I pictured an armor-clad triangle with legs astride a noble steed brandishing weapons and vanquishing my enemies- as if I would EVER be the kind of damsel who needed rescuing from a tower. Without a doubt, this is the man I thought I needed, unaware that as an adult, if I couldn’t talk my way out of captivity, I could probably take the dragon down myself. I didn’t realize that I’m not a princess and even if I were, we wouldn’t all click with the same kind of prince. Instead of using all this self-awareness belonging to a now 27-year-old married woman, I begged God for Prince Charming. The funny part is, I got him.
Little did I know at such a young and idealistic age that while I was hoping for the day my prince would come, I should have been praying for the qualities necessary for being a good wife for him. I should have been saying, “God bless everybody I have ever met and please grant me patience, optimism, balance, serenity…” and a whole list of things of which I’ve never held much stock. Prince Charming was going to ride into my life exactly on his cue whether I was ready for him or not. If I had known to pray for my own improvement rather than my own gain, the capture of Prince Charming might have gone a lot smoother for both of us.
As it was, my prince rode in on a princess in shambles during the most embarrassingly self-centered period of her life. I was an atheist beat poet actress who had just dropped out of college to pursue an impressive career in slam poetry, community theatre and escapist behavior. I was deep, man. So, like, right on. Whoa. I gave it all up for my art because material things…. dude… they were for those other more shallow folks. Yea, really. I towed that line as far as the hunger pains took me and then I was begging for a dollar so I could buy a sandwich. Thank God I was able to scare up a few bucks here or there and had parents who never gave up on me, but that’s a different story for a different day.
So here came my unlikely prince; not a triangle in armor on a steed, but a man in a van wearing khaki cargo shorts, sandals, and a way-too-big shirt featuring the (blindingly ornate) migration patterns of sea bass. He was a bit of a shock. Meanwhile, this man happened upon an artsyfartsy, offbeat, ridiculously arrogant coffee shop girl fresh from a goth fashion stage with whom, he now confesses, he fell in love at first sight. Oh, if he had known what he was getting into, he may not have been so quick with his affections.
I put this man through the proverbial ringer. I built him up and broke him down and up and down and up and down with the effectiveness and flair only a histrionic redhead could muster. My man jumped through hoops that only a true Prince Charming could clear and surmounted obstacles that have pained poor mortals tortured by malicious goddesses of old. Granted, malice was never a motivation of mine. I was merely an upside-down girl in her early twenties who had no idea who she was or what she wanted. However, I enjoyed every minute that I held his poor heart in my hand, never thinking for a moment that he might snatch it back from my grip.
After nearly a year of yo-yo dating with no commitment in sight, the day finally came when Prince Charming had enough. He was pursuing a damsel who he didn’t think wanted to be saved, so he was ready to turn his eyes to a more worthy conquest. He picked me up and took me to dinner at what had become Our Place so we could enjoy what he decided, unbeknownst to me, would be our last evening together. I’m tearing up as I write this just thinking about how close I came to losing him forever.
As the dinner progressed, his attitude became more and more sour. He was preparing himself to drop the axe on us. Though, I noticed that he was being short with me in conversation, the real reason for it never crossed my mind. Thankfully, at that moment, we started to talk about dysfunctional marriages; a conversation that culminated in a fateful comment. I said, “Tell you what. If you promise not to cheat on me, I promise not to go crazy.” To which he replied, “We’d have to be in a relationship in order for me to cheat on you.” Thanks to all that is holy, I was inspired to say, “Well… I guess we are, then… if you wanna be.” It was a golden moment. The very evening that my Prince Charming was about to leave me, I tied my favors to his lance. He now tells me that evening was one of the most emotional roller-coaster nights of his life. One second, he was about to tell me he never wanted to see me again, that he couldn’t take any more of my fickle, unwitting abuse. The next moment we were making out in the booth celebrating the newfound commitment that he had craved all along. This is just one example, one of the many moments that showed us that we were meant to be.
Now, four years, four months and one day after the first time he confessed his love for me, I sit writing at our dining room table in our dining room in our condo. I married my Prince Charming who, thank God, is strong enough to have me. However, despite what Disney and Frank Capra would have you believe, the story is far from over. In me, the hero still has many demons to slay.
This may make you want to say, “well, duh,” but stick with me on this. Marriage is a huge adjustment. Its bigger than anything for which all the self-help books and pre-marriage counseling in the world could prepare you. I thought I had a grip on the magnitude of the shift before we tied the knot, but I had no idea. See, the prince and I lived together for a short while before we got married. It was not my ideal situation. I was merely between an ended lease and moving back in with my parents before the wedding. We cohabitated for a short while, not entirely like a married couple (I had my own room), but as close as we wanted it to get before we were husband and wife. I thought this would serve as a great preview of how we would function together. Oh boy, was I wrong!
In the cohabitation situation (wow- that sounds like the name of some 1970’s tv show episode), I was living in HIS house. We weren’t creating a home and a life together. I was piggybacking on the life he had already made. When we got married, we had a whole new start, a whole new set of ground rules and boundaries to set. It was and still is exhausting.
On top of all that, marriage causes a bit of identity crisis. As a princess who has always slain her own dragons, I was all-of-a-sudden having to base my every move on someone else. Before I committed myself to the prince, I was the token single girl. I was the woman who didn’t need a man’s approval to go after what she wanted. I was the constant for all my friends when they went through all their relationship drama. I was the lone wolf. I didn’t need anyone. I was accountable to only myself. Even when I became a fiancée, I always had my eyes on the prize. “I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make my life better and no one’s going to get in my way.” Now, the inner monologue has been forced to undergo a rewrite. Now it says, “I’m going to do whatever I have to do to make our lives better as long as my husband is okay with it.” That’s quite a change. You see, I’m a pretty tough woman. I slay my own dragons and I’ve never been truly okay with authority. I play by the rules solely for the purpose of being able to one day be the one making them. I found the hard way to do things and the easy way yet, my own ends are always my goal… or were. A woman like this who finds herself needing and wanting her Prince Charming to approve is never a comfortable lady. Therefore, she clings to pieces of her former self in order to feel normal.
I quit smoking in May of 2007. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn’t pick up another cigarette until September of this year, after I was married for over three months. I remember thinking to myself, “nothing in my life feels normal but this. This motion, this taste, this burn in by lungs reminds me of me. It is me.” Of course, smoking was me in 2007 but it was me no longer. It was a stupid decision to begin again such a filthy habit (and I paid for it with a horrible bout with bronchitis- no more smokey-smokey for me), but I needed to regain some equilibrium. Over the course of four months, I was in a spin cycle of power struggles that raged between me, my spouse, and even his mother who, incidentally, tried to decorate our place on her own. Now I know she was just offering her expertise in an effort to be helpful, but as a newborn wife, I saw everything, even an enthusiastically supportive mother-in-law, as a threat to my identity. My husband wants the coffee cup handles to face the left in the cupboard? Mine have always faced right! Crisis! My mother-in-law bought us curtains I don’t like? She must be challenging my sovereignty in my own home! Crisis! My husband wants to play video games or watch sports dramas all the time? I haven’t seen a Jane Austen film in months! Bloody crisis!! I can’t fold my husband’s tee-shirts the way he likes them or darn his socks! Crisis-ola! (To this, I told my husband that I’d get in the darn car, drive to the darn store, and buy him some darn socks.) The point is, I didn’t know where I stood, who I was as a wife, or anything about where my life was going. I was in an utter state of panic.
The good news is, this all gets much easier as the days pass. Eventually, I was able to let go of which way my mug handles faced in the cupboard. I figured out a way to involve my mother-in-law in the decorating without letting her completely take over. I watched Pride and Prejudice while I learned how to fold my husband’s tee-shirts. I still don’t darn socks, but the point is that I figured out how to compromise and build a life with my husband without losing myself in the process. Because of this, I feel like my heart grows each day I spend with Prince Charming. Every moment makes me more capable of truly loving him than I was the moment before. And yes, occasionally I do need help slaying the dragon, but, you know, he is pretty sexy with a sword in his hand.