Drunk on Sleeping Beauty

SleepingBeauty1Lips that shame the red rose, hair of sunshine-gold. She’ll offer springtime wherever she goes. Arora is stunning, thin, the victim of Maleficent’s cruelty. Arora dances to ‘Once upon a dream’ deep in the forest with cute, furry animals. The prince sneaks up behind her. She’s hesitant – she can’t talk to strangers. But they’ve met before: once upon a dream. She lets her guard down, he takes her in his arms, and right there, and that precise moment, I want to throw myself into the Disney Classic and never return to reality again. The prince is noble, gallant, a little rebellious. It’s love at first sight. He fights the evil dragon, conquers Maleficent and wakes Arora with true-love’s kiss. It ends happily ever after and the prince and princess dance in the clouds to ‘Once upon a dream’.

Love, take me away…

But I know something’s not right when my three-year old daughter is obsessed with Sleeping Beauty. We fight daily – she wants to play the DVD, put on her dress (no pants because Arora doesn’t wear pants!) and twirl with her imaginary prince.  When she’s not waltzing, she stares at the screen quietly, absorbing every phrase. I wasn’t any different as a child, fixated on fairytales and Sleeping Beauty. But as I observe my daughter’s perception of love being moulded before my very eyes; when I hear of yet another couple breaking up, another ending in divorce; when I listen to single girlfriends whine that there are no decent guys out there; or girlfriends contemplating ending a relationship because they’re boyfriend isn’t romantic enough, should be more impulsive, has an annoying habit, isn’t more…something (they can’t put their finger on it), or they’re convinced they ‘can do so much better’, I have to wonder:

Did we all watch too much Sleeping Beauty?

Fairytales all have happy endings and these are the ideas we are instilling in our children. In the original version of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid the prince actually doesn’t choose Ariel and she turns to sea foam(dies). Disney rewrote the ending. But this craving for happy endings, of the man rescuing the damsel in distress, also extends to adult film and literature.

A few years back I couldn’t stop watching the TV series Sex and the City. I purchased the DVDs and watched it again and again. When I think back to that time I realise I was probably trying to make sense of why Big and Carrie end up together. In reality Big and Carrie never would have worked out. He was a commitment phobic. They had orgasmic sexual chemistry though. In terms of a life partner, Aiden was perfect for her and she blew it when she had a lustful affair with Big. We all want to believe that love=lust and maybe that’s why Sex and the City was so successful. After five years of making Carrie’s life a misery he finally(out of the blue) decided she was ‘the one’. The audience pay-off was huge – we got the happy ending and the hot sex too.

A recent example of this in literature is Toni Jordan’s Addition. It’s had huge success but does it have a realistic ending? Without spoiling the ending I can easily say that it is a Hollywoodisation of both love and mental illness. Are we censoring the reality of relationships by feeding this unrealistic craving for romance, lust, and the easy relationship where everything magically falls into place without complication? Are we feeding this notion that when you meet ‘the one’ you’ll know instantly and you’ll ride off together in the sunset? Are our films and literature showing us lust but calling it love? Love is about companionship, compromise, communication. Relationships are bloody hard but bloody rewarding. Are there any successful books or films out there that portray this(and by success I mean sold well). Should writers give readers what they want and ditch reality? Is that being socially responsible?

I can already hear the objections to this post, the ‘I haven’t waited all my life for Mr Right only to settle for second best’ and the ‘if he was the right guy for me we wouldn’t have so many problems’. To me it seems that relationships these days end at the slightest whiff of complication. Or don’t even start up because there was no ‘sexual chemistry’. But if the reality of relationships doesn’t seem to gel well with you and you’re still holding out for prince charming or the little mermaid, maybe you should shut up shop in reality and move into a Disney Fairytale.        

Koraly Dimitriadis

Koraly is a widely published Cypriot-Australian writer and performer. She is the author of the controversial Love and F**k Poems. Koraly received an Australia Council ArtStart grant. She presents on 3CR radio and has a residency at Brunswick Street Bookstore. Her 2013 La Mama show is Exonerating The Body. She is mentored by Christos Tsiolkas.

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  1. And little Red Riding Hood was actually eaten. I must say that I am one in a minority that prefers the sad ending etc. not for its realism but because it breaks the monotony of ‘just another happily ever after’
    I think your standard generic ‘happily ever after’ is possible in real life, it’s just highly improbable. Almost everything is possible (except of course the slamming of revolving doors), but just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, if you catch my drift.
    In the end I think a lot of people need the ‘happily ever after’ in their stories whether it’s plausible or not because it gives them some hope that they too shall be happy. I’m not saying every reader needs it but hey, everyone’s been hurt at least once and some people have had nothing but hurt (and if you tell me you’ve never been hurt, my response to you is ‘share the luck you bastard!!!’) and a happy ending can be uplifting.
    But either way, as I implied earlier, too many of the same endings eventually becomes dull for people like me. I enjoyed it well enough once upon a time though, in a galaxy far, far away …

  2. But Marc, what is ‘happy’? Is it happiness according to the ‘happily ever after’ in literature and film? Because I don’t think that kind of ‘happily ever after’ exists. And if it doesn’t shouldn’t we as writers be writing what happiness is? Letting in all the bad in with the good? Or should we be feeding this unrealistic expectation of what love is?

  3. Very good questions, and I can’t say I have the answers but I’ll try.
    I personally despcribe ‘happy’ as reward chemicals running through a persons brains sparking good feelings when a certain action is performed and etc. etc.

    Now different things make different people happy, so one persons euphoria may be another persons nausea. Therefore it is my belief that the emotion of happiness is dependant on the person in question, and so if the writer were to take on the role of describing what happiness is they’d have to cover everything from an everlasting love to a psychopaths love of torturing kittens.

    The concept of love is also very much open to debate. I follow the school of thought that ‘love is a chemical reaction rewarding a person for reproducing’ but I do not laud that as an excuse to sleep around as it were. I can not have sex with a person unless I have some emotional connection with them. I think that may be a contradiction but hey, I’ll stick with it anyway.

    I would personally very much love to meet my ‘happily ever after’ and like many people before me and many more people to come, I thought I had it then it got snatched away (on christmas day by text message no less … then she started dating my best mate) sure I thought I was going to die but I got over it and I look back at have a laugh at how naive I was. And will I be that naive again? You betcha! Why? Because I enjoyed it while it lasted.

    I’m not too sure if that even ran along the same lines as your questions, and I feel I haven’t even said half. I’m just not sure how to express myself in regards to this sort of thing.
    Either way, I don’t think ‘happily ever after’ is completely unrealistic, it has some merit to it and seems to work for some people.

  4. Marc, I think the chemical reaction you describe is lust which we all often confuse with love. Love is the hard stuff that keeps a relationship going into forever. I agree love can mean different things to different people but I think there is a major problem in our society where we confused love with lust and literature/film contributes to this.

    Sounds like you’ve had a pretty tough run with love. 🙁

  5. Well the chemical reaction can be triggered by more than just sex. I can’t say that any of my relationships were really big on sex. We did have sex but spent more time just enjoying each others company other coffee or movie or just joking around and acting like tools.
    The happiness from those actions are brought about by the same chemicals … I think. Don’t take my word for it.

    You are right, though, that a lot of literature/film does confuse love with lust. There is a movie called nine songs which shows how short lived a relationship based on lust is. I haven’t seen it but I’d definately like to get hold of it.
    But it seems that superficiality is the widely accepted (or expected maybe) way to go with relationships nowadays. I find it very hard to find women my age attractive for that reason. Sure they start off looking good but then they open their mouths all illusion of beauty is dispelled by their inherent lack of understanding of anything beyond the pants.

    I also find it annoying that bloody fifteen year old children find it necessary to have sex. Some of the things my cousin spouts at me just makes me angry, and of course she knows more about love than I do, she’s a teenager and I’m an out of touch and bitter old fart in his twenties (sarcasm intended).
    Both men and women of my generation seem to be only in relationships for “bragging rights” each partner only exists for the purposes of arm candy and playing around (of course that is an unfair generalisation but that’s all I’ve ever witnessed. I would very much like to be proven wrong).

    And as an afterthought I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve had a rough time with relationships. Things haven’t ended well a couple times, (like the girl who flirted with both me and my brother and ended up with my brother). But I think in the end I got something more positive out of these experiences than anything. Because the short moment of despair is as nothing compared to the joy that came before it.

  6. I’m in this strange situation where I’m incurably romantic and also a realist. I also loved Sleeping Beauty and the other Disney films as a child, but was fascinated, too, by the Hans Christian Andersen original of The Little Mermaid. As a teenager onwards I’ve always been drawn to darker, sadder (more realistic) texts. Both my long term relationships were completely different experiences. I’ll call it love, because a part of me still loves them – but we grew differently. We changed. And we did try to work at it, but it didn’t work. I completely throw myself into a relationship – I become fascinated by the other person and everything about them. Maybe this is the benefit of having been allowed to hope, and dream as a kid. Sure, the come down is devastating – but if I’d been fed all the ‘reality’ as a young’un, I don’t know if it would be as exciting, as strange and wonderful and new.

    I can see the benefits of long-term love and companionship – my folks have been together 27 years and have been through every kind of crisis together (trust me) – but I think everyone’s experience is still going to be different. Maybe I’ll be happy having a series of intense, rewarding relationships with interesting people, as opposed to one person. Maybe having close friends that I’ve had my whole life will be enough (in terms of ‘someone always being there’), or a close sibling. Maybe I have too much affection to give, to focus it on one person. I don’t know – just thinking out loud.

    With your daughter, perhaps it’s all about balance – let her hope and dream and imagine – but as she’s growing, teach her about all the other stuff too? I don’t know. I’m not a mum so I can’t presume to know what it would be like, going through what you’re going through.

  7. ‘when I listen to single girlfriends whine that there are no decent guys out there’: I’m single and I whine about this all the time. But it’s not because I’m looking for Mr Perfect, it’s because I don’t want to be treated like shit. A passing parade of jerks has me believing that anyone who isn’t going to want me just for sex and sex only, or treat me with disrespect, has already been taken. I’d happily settle for Mr Less Than Perfect, and I’m tired of partnered people suggesting I’m fussy. I’m not; I’m a realist. I’m prepared for the hard work of relationships. But I’m a woman in her late 30s and this is my reality. Most men my age have already found their life partner and it seems that the ones left over are all too willing to be assholes as long as they get laid. The romantic myth is not my problem.

  8. Literary Minded, it’s interesting you bringing up the little mermaid example because i accidentally borrowed the original version from the library as a child thinking it was the Walt Disney version and I was fascinated by it. It was the first story I had encountered with a sad ending. I was drawn to its darkness. I’m a big romantic too and love my happy endings but a lot of the time I find myself thinking ‘that would never happen in reality’.

    Lucy, only you know the kind of guys your dating but yes, you shouldn’t resort to being treated like shit.

  9. Children imitate what they see. It’s how they survive and they’re programmed that way. Also, they can only use their own experience to translate what you show them. Your daughter’s experience of love is mother love and extended family love, which is all-consuming, ever-there and unconditional.

    I’d suggest though that fairytale endings are more complex than being ‘happy’. Like a dead, robbed giant at the bottom of a beanstalk (and a smug little thief who sold his only friend for magic beans)or the little match girl dead in a doorway with frozen blue fingers.

    What about Greek children’s stories Koraly? What are they like? Does your daughter react more positively to them? I know African children’s tales are more problem-solution based. There is also always a central (and universally recognised) moral lesson twisted around the West Indian Brer Anancy stories

  10. I really liked your article. I refered to it on my own blog. It really made me think about my own relationship. I may be expecting a little too much and fairy tales and movies may just have mislead me on what it means to be in a relationship!

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