It’s no secret that the world of Disney is strife with issues when it comes to the idea of finding and maintaining realistic relationships. In fact, a quick Google search on the subject reveals meme, after video, after blog post lamenting over the unrealistic expectations that have been set for a generation of young women and men by the classic romance.
We can talk about the obvious problems:
- The lack of consent (Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, anyone?)
- The expectation that Prince Charming will always show up, chiseled jaw and trusty sidekick, to save the day
- The idea that very irrational behavior will lead to the fulfilling, fireworks and butterflies kind of love (Go home, Cinderella. You’re drunk)
- Perpetuating the belief that the good guy always wins, the bad guy always gets what’s coming, and no one ends up alone or unhappy
But the truth is, there are deeper, less obvious, and more problematic messages in the Disney romance– messages I see time and time again in my coaching business. So let me save you the trouble of sorting these out on your own.
Message 1: Love Just Happens
The truth is, love and a fulfilling relationship isn’t a guaranteed part of your human experience. Most of us take for granted that we’ll end up meeting some person who is meant for us, our soulmate, if you will. On some deep level, we assume that if we go about the rest of our life doing the things we’re supposed to do, love will happen. Even more, we assume it’ll happen with the right person, at the right time, and magically fall into place as if it had been orchestrated by Cupid himself.
The women and men portrayed in Disney movies, on the other hand, live the story of spontaneous, perfectly timed love over and over again. Cinderella magicks her way to a ball, falls in love at first sight, runs away leaving behind only a glass slipper, and is spontaneously rescued by the man of her dreams when, by chance, no one else in the entire kingdom wears the same shoe size as she does. Snow White falls into a deep, unwakeable sleep after spending what is presumably months only interacting with a group of dwarves in an isolated wood. Her Prince Charming quite literally stumbles upon her, decides to kiss the unconscious girl he found, and they both live happily ever after together. Ariel bargains away her voice for a pair of legs, and is found, naked, by a Prince who happens to fall in love with her at that very moment.
All of these characters are passively granted true love without any conscious participation. It *just happens.* And the message becomes, because it just happened, it’s right. So many women, myself included, have fallen into this trap at one time or another. There are certainly people in the world who have stumbled upon the love of their life, seemingly by fate alone, and have been able to create healthy, fulfilling relationships. But they are the exception, not the rule.
For the rest of us, finding love is a conscious process of creation. It requires us to show up, put ourselves out there, and go looking. It will require us to go on dates, some good and some bad. It will require us to be vulnerable, put ourselves out there, and likely experience our own share of heartbreak. We’ll learn from our experiences, refine our likes and dislikes, and eventually come to a place where we are ready for something more. And, don’t forget, engaging in the process is beautiful and rewarding on its own.
Message 2: Love Will Accommodate All of Your Flaws
I cannot count the number of men and women that I have encountered who hold the belief that love requires unmitigated acceptance- forgiveness of all sins and a blind eye for all shortcomings. And why not? They’ve been taught that love conquers all (even their most unbecoming flaws and damaging bad habits).
If Ariel can find true love, with a prince nonetheless, after lying about who she is and where she came from, and hiding her clearly deep issues with authority and her family of origin, why wouldn’t my partner overlook my bad habits? Aladdin put on a full-spectrum show of deception to convince Jasmine that he was a prince, while she continued to take out her anger at her father on him at every interaction. Yet, they still got married and lived happily ever after in the end, neither one ever having dealt with the issues they brought to the relationship.
The Disney romance happens regardless of the issues each person brings to the table. And perhaps here the shortcoming is that we never get to see how Aladdin’s low self-worth and deep-seated feelings of inadequacy affect his marriage. We’re never privy to the long-term effects of Jasmine’s anger at her father or her generalization of all men as controlling and selfish. We don’t see the trust issues manifest in Ariel’s relationship with Prince Eric after she nearly got them killed trying to hide who she was and where she came from.
The truth is, love, by nature, is going to show you more of yourself. There is no better container for learning and growth in this life than an interaction with another person.
Love isn’t meant to grant you rose-colored glasses to avoid dealing with your imbalances, bad habits, trauma, and issues– love is going to offer you the ultimate opportunity to heal them as you become whole in your experience with another person.
Learning to lean into these opportunities and see the opportunities for growth and healing not only help you, but add a depth and a level of intimacy to your relationship that is unmatched.
Message 3: Love Makes Everything Better
If anything is true in the classic Disney story line, it’s that love = happily ever after.
When the main characters find love, against all odds, their lives are suddenly complete. Happy. Carefree. There are songs and fireworks and beautiful weddings in beautiful castles, and we’re never meant to question that whatever happens next is equally as perfect.
The truth is, and what the classic narrative leaves out while opting instead for rides into the sunsets, is that committing to a long-term relationship means that all parties involved come to the same table… with all of their baggage, with all of their unresolved traumas, fears, and insecurities. With their flawed patterns, obsessive tendencies, and did I mention in-laws?
How often do you catch yourself fantasizing about your future love life as if it’s the ultimate problem-solver, and everything would be better if you could just find the right match?
Despite everything that Disney may have taught you along the way, love isn’t just beautiful, intimate, comfortable, and happy. Love is also challenging, vulnerable af, and sometimes, downright hard.
It definitely won’t solve all of your problems.
Learning to navigate your and your partner’s collective waters with grace, ease, and confidence is a process that will reveal your own ineffective patterns and not-so-great tendencies.
Love is a commitment to learning to honor each other more, help each other grow, and move through the difficult times as well as the good times. And finding love makes no guarantee that everything will be peachy-keen from that point on– but, it’s worth every bit of the learning, the evolving, the growing, the changing, and the navigating.
In fact, I highly recommend it– just don’t expect it to come from a magic pumpkin.