The danger of romanticising happily ever afters

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 When I married my husband – a secular wedding in my parents’ garden – we cut the vows to the legal minimum. No soppy poems for us, no public declarations of undying love, no staring soulfully into one another’s eyes. The whole idea made me squirm.

I can’t bear the lovey-dovey bits in films (I know, I sound like an 11-year-old boy) and sex scenes invariably make me roll my eyes. I never read them in books, either. Yeah, I think to myself, I know how it goes, let’s get back to the story.

I always felt sorry for Princess Diana: look where her “fairy-tale romance” got her. With hard-won maturity, she described her 19-year-old self as a “lamb to the slaughter”. My royal heroine is Elizabeth I, who never married, never had sex, never had kids but ruled an empire, turning a bankrupt kingdom rent by religious division into a prosperous and peaceful country. Moreover, she died of old age in her own bed. Now that’s a role model! Nevertheless, the false glamour of romance persists.

A friend gleefully announced at a recent girls’ night out that a mutual friend had met a man on the internet. He was so romantic, she declared. He’d swept our friend off her feet. Two of us instinctively recoiled. Uh-oh, we warned, he sounds like a recipe for disaster. The others looked at us askance. We were ruining their romantic fantasy. Well, better a ruined fantasy than a ruined life.

The defining characteristic of narcissists is their charm. They are often described as chivalrous, charismatic and romantic, at least at first. The women in their sights (or cross-hairs) often claim they have been swept off their feet, too.

Trouble is, when you are off your feet, you are unbalanced, vulnerable and cannot run away! Beware the man who must have you off your feet before he can woo you. He doesn’t want to love you. He wants to rule you.

It is commonplace for the men who use violence to control their partners to plead for forgiveness by claiming their behaviour is a result of the intensity of their love. They court the women they have beaten with flowers, chocolates and promises of undying love and reform. The poor, bruised and bewildered partner wants desperately to believe that jealousy, control and fury are, in fact, symptoms of love. They are not. They are symptoms of patriarchal pathology. Worse, the women who forgive in a flurry of roses, champagne and false promises sometimes end up dead.

As Lord Byron (a Romantic poet, so hell on wheels for women) famously wrote, “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence.” Talk about narcissism! Apparently, a woman’s entire existence is meant to be dedicated to loving some bloke while he gets on with the important stuff.

Of course, that is what romance is; a gigantic con perpetrated on one half of the human race. Think about it. The consequences of romance for women are painful, exhausting, life-threatening (certainly in the past) and full of mucus, shit, blood, wee, vernix and vomit.

Romance is an elaborate trick to get us to reproduce, so the grotty, relentless, sleep-deprived drudgery of it is hidden behind a white, frilly, lacy, flower-filled, veiled froth of romantic twaddle. Forget happily-ever-after, real love is prosaic, complicated and, more often than not, dull. It is also the only kind that lasts.

The myth of romance persuades women to literally give up their identity, allowing themselves to be absorbed into the person of their husband. Come on down, Princess Michael of Kent (her actual name is Marie-Christine). Princess Diana, by the way, should have been called “the Princess Charles”.

Women give up their identity for romance, and often their financial independence. They give up their freedom, their bodies and sometimes their personal safety. Some, about one a week in Australia, give up their lives.

When you meet a bloke, forget the bad-boy-in-need-of-the-love-of-a-good woman nonsense. Beware rakishness, the Byronic hero, good looks, sex, lust, charm and, above all, romantic gestures. Instead, ask yourself this: is he a good, sane man who makes you feel better about yourself rather than worse? Does he pull his weight both around the house and when it comes to paying the bills? Does he support your ambitions, wear an apron with pride and wield an iron with aplomb? Well then, screw romance. Instead, screw him.

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