And they lived happily ever after.
How many times have you found this familiar last line bidding you farewell as you arrive at the end of fairytales read as a child?
Unlike adventure books which allow you to skip the conventional order in which pages were read by granting you the liberty of jumping to whichever page you so desired with each story containing within its pages a myriad of different endings at which you arrived according to the choices you made throughout the journey, fairytales were different. They all begin innocuously enough, once upon a time, taking us through relatable struggles of everyday protagonists, before bringing us to the predictable finish, which we have all come to know as the most beautiful way in which to foretell the unwritten ending.
This notion of a happy ending has become so deeply ingrained in our minds insofar as we have seemed to become conditioned into thinking that this is the one outcome we should all aspire towards in the realm of love. In this day and age, one is perceived to have achieved success in life in its totality if and only if one has, among other accomplishments, found his or her respective modern day princess or prince. If one were happily single at the age of 30 and has made stellar contributions in various other aspects of one’s life, he or she is nonetheless deemed to be lacking something significant in life, thereby precipitating a deluge of questions pertaining to the status quo of one’s personal love life and, inadvertently, imposing the socially constructed (and constrained) definition of success on the “unfortunate” individual.
In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes claimed that we had all been hermaphrodites once before being severed into two by Zeus, and that we have since roamed the earth in search of our other halves from which we were separated. This is an enchantingly romantic notion, one in which I had believed earnestly as a young girl. I was certain of the existence of The One and looked forward to the day I would eventually meet my Prince Charming, with whom I would live – you know it – happily ever after.
Yet, as days passed into weeks into months into years, I began to wonder where my prince was: Had he gotten lost in the woods? Or, has his horse been maimed, in which case, shall I send for another? The unravelling of these questions soon led me to question the validity of the underlying assumptions behind Happily Ever Afters.
Firstly, is there truly one person so perfect in every imaginable aspect for each and every one of us throughout the course of our lives? Given our constantly evolving interests, preferences, and outlooks on life in relation to our external environments and experiences amassed, it certainly appears that the probability of there existing, and us finding, the one person with whom we are perfectly compatible with – whose interests, preferences, and outlook on life evolve seamlessly and continuously in tandem with our own throughout the different phases of our lives – is, while not impossible, seemingly infinitesimal.
Secondly, are we losing sight of other possible alternative endings as we search relentlessly for our happily ever afters? Is this necessarily the only happy ending towards which we could strive, and do we need them to be replete, anyway? Could we not live happily ever after independently with our very own selves, pursuing work that was meaningful and resonated with our beings while spending quality time with family and friends? Or, do options, such as living happily in the moment, lie beyond the locus of our desired choice(s)?
How often have we, in our dogged pursuit of some indefinite and elusive happily ever after, forsaken the plethora of opportunities that might have allowed us to live happily in the moment? We easily dismiss opportunities, which could allow us to be happy in the now, on the fragile basis of our perceived improbability of such opportunities bringing to fruition our desired last chapters. In becoming so fixated on achieving our fairytale endings, we have allowed it to define not only our successes in life, but also the manner in which we approach love and life.
If we could garner the courage and faith to allow ourselves the liberty to live happily in the moment, and to appreciate the beauty in the ambiguity, we might one day come to define for ourselves what happily ever after really means to each and every one of us. Perhaps then, we will live happily ever after in our very own ways.
– Agnes Chew