Reading children’s stories and fairy tales, we were all imparted with the same story of how couples start off and live happily ever after. Cinderella met her soul mate the morning after they danced the night away at some club and left her one of her clear heels. Rapunzel met hers while she was in the midst of a long overdue hair trimming and her long mane was no doubt what attracted the handsome prince who saved her from a life of solitude in the tall tower. Sleeping beauty was awoken from a deep slumber with a loving kiss by a handsome prince and not only did Snow White eventually meet a handsome prince but she had seven not so desirable men to keep her company while she waited. Basically the underlying message in all these stories is true love is almost exclusively found through some sort of conflict by two totally unattached individuals. This same idea is peddled long into adulthood by egregiously soapy romance novels. Some rich prince or stock broker with finely chiselled Greek Godlike abs waltzes into the life of some lonely librarian or baroness and they carry on a scintillating love affair. Beautiful. If only it was reality.
The truth is fairy tales are just that, Tales. The reality of the mating situation could not be any further from the ideal diamond encrusted romance novels and childhood stories we all read. Romance and dating is more complex for our generation and is just not as simple as Rapunzel and Snow white had it. One may argue that I’m being extreme and unreasonable by taking obviously fantastic tales and comparing them to our reality. That maybe so but the reality is it is these stories and tales that form the basis for all our relationship expectations and wants. We all want to meet a beautiful princess and be mesmerised by her beauty that we are willing to slay dragons and covens of witches in her name. Ladies want a knight in shining armour and a white horse to ride in, sweep her off her feet, and ride off with her into a life of luxury and multiple orgasms. Unfortunately reality has taught us to greatly compromise on some of our expectations.
Something the stories fundamentally failed to address was the issue of children. Inquisitive, exceedingly sharp children whose intellects have been sharpened by 500 TV channels and Google. The stories we read leave us at the point where the dashing prince and the previously distressed damsel live happily ever after. This leaves the reader to imagine an amazing life they later lead filled with rose petals and milk showers. Not once does the thought of dirty nappies and school fees ever creep into the picture. With children obviously comes questioning minds. Kids always want to know how mommy and daddy met. After consuming school and cartoon network recommended doses of these fairy tales they want to know if their parents fit into the mould. Here, dear reader is when the little white lies and fibs are used in copious amounts. Not all of us have such dreamy stories to tell of our unions with our wives.
I was one such inquisitive child and probed my parents to unravel the story of their union. My father was a shy but cheeky recruit in the army when he was introduced to my mother by his cousin. My mother had just finished high school and was looking into nursing as a career. They engaged in a brief courtship before my father had to be called off to the war. He would write her letters detailing the horrors he was witness to and how his memory of her was his tether to sanity. My mother kept all of them and I read some that were fit for consumption. The man had a way with words. When the war ended my father came back and my mother was right there at the train station to greet him. He settled into civilian life and got an apprenticeship with a news publication and then asked for my mother’s hand in marriage. The details of whether their marriage was as a result of me being the proverbial “bun in the oven” or if I was instead a result of the marriage are still hazy. The dates and numbers just don’t add up. But Anyway I digress. That story is as beautiful as the day I first heard it. Being a sceptic later during my early adulthood, I took it upon myself to investigate the truth behind their exceptionally glistening tale of their beginnings. Everything was corroborated by uncles, aunts, grandparents and the match maker himself. That story gave me a warm feeling and made me believe that courtship fairy tales can be a reality.
Fast forward a couple of years to the time I met my wife. I first met Lynnette when I was 12 and she was 10 back in her home town of Redcliff. Two years later she had grown into herself and with raging adolescent hormones thrown into the mix I asked her to be my girlfriend. We dated in high school for about 2 years until she decided to move on to a better breed of male that was captain of the basketball, rugby and hockey teams and was president of the Debate, Chess and Junior Rotary clubs at his private school. I however engaged in no such activities, save for being the Breast stroke guy in my school’s relay swimming team. But I’m not angry, I got over it. Fast forward to the year 2004 when I was a 24 year old management trainee with a leading hotel in Harare. I had big dreams and aspirations for my future and had made a promise to myself to purchase an Aston Martin before I turned 30. Only one car dealership had it in the city at the time I would take leisurely religious walks through the CBD to visit my dream car during my lunch breaks. One day in July I decided to take a route I did not normally take back to work since I had some time to kill. There ahead of me swung the most well shaped body I had seen in years. Dressed in all black, black skinny jeans, black sleeveless top and black knee high boots. With rhythm in coordinated movement I found it hard to believe that a lady simply walking would be so beautiful. It was poetry in motion. I ran up to the creature of beauty to introduce myself only to realise I didn’t have to. It was Lynnette, my high school sweetheart.
We dated on and off for two years before I realised that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with (that is if no sport playing intellectuals came along to ruin it all). Sounds like a cute story of the rediscovery of a long lost love right? However I left out some minor details. Here is where the story gets unpretty, hairy, and rather rancid from a story telling point of view. When we met as adults I was engaged to my college girlfriend who was out of the country and she was dating some wannabe back up dancer. We had an affair for about a month until we both decided to end it. We shall never know whether it was forces of the universe conspiring against our respective relationships or we somehow cursed them by being together. Two months later we found out my fiancé was not exactly ready to be exclusive to me or the other 2 guys she was with at the time and Lynnette’s boyfriend had been sleeping with her best friend and flatmate for 6 months. She walked in on them just after they had broken her bed base right down the middle. What I would have given to walk in five minutes earlier just to see how they managed that. We then found comfort in each other’s arms and the rest as they say is history.
Many of our friends and peers have had similar stories to tell of how they met their spouses. The process of searching for and selecting a mate has evolved and is not as traditional as what our parents had to go through. Back then there were designated and sanctioned venues for young ones of courtship age to meet. Usually these places were patronised with a chaperone and all activity was carefully observed. With the advent of the internet, MTV and modern liberal thinking, dating and mating has changed to what our parents would have been stoned to death for. Now finding a mate is as easy as joining a website, going to a club or simply taking them away from their current partners. Whether these practices are good or bad they have resulted in many partnerships that I have witnessed.
One may argue that these are isolated cases and are mainly restricted to the more laissez-faire western societies and Africa is still somewhat protected. This view, I’m not afraid to say, is detrimentally naive. We live in a space age where information is readily available on 24 hour TV channels and smart phones. Just as the dissemination of information has become that much easier so will the influence of so called un-African cultures and practices. As much as we may try we cannot put a filter on the things we want society to learn and those we wish to protect it from. I came to this realisation in the middle of trying to preserve the fairy tales and stories of our parent’s courtships. Is it really sustainable and practical to believe that princes and princesses will always meet while unattached and live on in pink and fluffy worlds that are fuelled by nothing but love? And if not what do we tell our kids now when they ask?
Logic tells me that just like the dinosaurs, if we refuse to accept that the dynamics of our society and relationships are evolving and refuse to evolve along with them, techno-sapiens of the future will take their offspring to museums to view our bones that would have been excavated from the ruins of obstinacy. Within that evolution are we not sacrificing the innocence and naivety of our children at the same time? When my parents told me about their story I bought it hook line and sinker, simply because they said so. Kids today are not that susceptible. How can i tell them that Father Christmas and the Easter bunny exist when Google and Wikipedia on their phones tells them otherwise? I’m still of the opinion that children must be spared reality and allowed to live in fantasy fairytale worlds for as long as the gentle fibs can sustain themselves. This techno age is not making that task easy at all.
So looking at how i met my wife, our story falls short of the prescribed story book events. So now begs the question do i do the logical thing and tell my children that mommy and daddy were born for each other and knew that from day one. Or do I save face and credibility with them and gently tell the truth since they will inevitably find it out by the time they read and work a touch screen. This is a conundrum that that perplexed my wife and I for some time now. As much as we would love to protect our children we do not want to breed naive drones that simply acchat the world is what their parents told them it was. With the ever changing relationship dynamics we wouldn’t want them to feel alienated or weird because we told them otherwise. I guess we shall just have to wait and see.