Is There Such a Thing as Happily Ever After? Making Sense of Romance

A bit of a warning. This post is a tad bit sappy—for one reason and one reason only—I too joined the millions of hopeless romantics and watched the royal wedding last weekend. And then, I confess, I rewatched the highlights later that night. I not only recognized my own fascination with the royal nuptials, but as I watched how hundreds of thousands of people lined the street to catch a glimpse of the royal couple, I noticed how so many of us were captivated.  It made me wonder…Why?

One theory is that we are fascinated with the idea of royalty, princesses and queens.  I think that’s part of it. But I think it’s more about what this fairy tale represents; a story of two people finding love and living “happily ever after.”  

Many of us can start to look at love with cynicism and skepticism.  We can go through heartbreaks and tough relationships and conclude romantic love is just a fairy tale…maybe it doesn’t really exist.  And if it does, it surely doesn’t last.

I think when we watch Harry and Meghan share their first kiss outside of St. George’s Chapel and get a tear in our eye (don’t be ashamed for a second if you got a bit choked up) we are reminded that maybe a fairy tale ending of love does exist. And that’s why couples can fight so hard, through so much pain and hurt at times, for the chance at this love.

As a marriage counselor, you would think I have become hardened and cynical over the years. In my office, I see the hard side of marriage, the tears, pain and betrayals. I probably should walk away from these experiences going, “Gosh, marriage looks terrible! Why would anyone want to get or stay married?!” But it’s actually the exact opposite. I’m privy to the persistent, desperate (in a good way) and passionate fight for the experience of romantic love. I see how far couples are willing to go and how much pain they are willing to endure for the chance of getting their “happy ever after.” There is no other reason that people would fight like this for something that doesn’t exist.

During the royal sermon, Reverend Michael Curry spoke about love (it’s worth going back to watch this if you missed it).  One of his many quotes that will likely be requoted for years to come was:

“There’s power, power in love. If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.”  

There is no question that I experience the power of love in working with couples. There is a reason we tear up at weddings.  There is a reason we feel sadness when we don’t have a partner or are at odds with someone we love. We have such a strong emotional response to romantic love.  We yearn for it, on a deep level, because it exists.

One of my favorite authors is CS Lewis. I just love how he explains things.  In Mere Christianity, he states his case for the existence of God or a higher power.  He explains:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  

I think his words can be directly applied to romantic love, too.  We long for a deep, powerful, passionate and lasting connection to another human…because it exists.  If it didn’t, we wouldn’t long for it.

I see so many marriage articles and Instagram posts about how marriage is such hard work. It always makes me cringe because I feel like it’s only half the story. Yes, marriage is hard work.  Anything that is really, really good in life takes hard work. Parenting my 3- and 6-year-old girls….hard!!! So hard! But the reward for all of my hard work, tears, and frustrations is a beautiful relationship with my little girls. The hugs and giggles are worth every bit of my moments of feeling temporarily insane.

The same goes for marriage. You have to work hard to get the rewards: intimacy, friendship, an endless supply of comfort, romance, laughter, partnership, passion, vulnerability, acceptance and the list goes on and on. These rewards aren’t just bestowed upon you because you said “I do” and put a ring on your finger.  They come because you nurture, prioritize and value your marriage. And when necessary, you fight like hell for it.

Let’s take one more look at Meghan Markle, or now known as Duchess of Sussex.  I don’t know a ton about her, but the story that we read in the media is that she was raised by a strong, hard-working single mother, Doria Ragland, who endlessly encouraged her to make a mark in the world.  The story continues that Meghan started making efforts at change when she was a little girl, writing letters to companies like Procter and Gamble to demand change for women—and it worked. I watched Doria closely during the royal wedding.  I wondered if she was recalling all of her hard work, how much blood, sweat and tears she endured to raise her daughter. I wondered if she thought that, perhaps it’s all of her hard work that her daughter is now becoming a princess. I know it’s not all that simple, but I love this idea that all of this hard work may have created a happily ever after, afterall.  

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