In my former life, I tried on wedding dresses.
I didn’t feel that beautiful in them, and there was no magical “yes to the dress” moment.
My oldest sister and I went in secret, because I knew my step-mother would want to go and I would have to hear what she liked or didn’t like, and I just wanted to have fun.
We went to Alfred Angelo’s in Manchester. A friend of mine had gotten her dress from the store and I loved the styles.
But why didn’t it feel like a defining, life-changing moment for me?
That day, I should have read the blatant sign screaming at me that I didn’t want to get married to this man, but I blindly ignored it and blamed my absent excitement on the notion that none of the dresses “did it” for me.
The day a girl tries on wedding dresses for the first time has been built up in our minds from everything we read in books, see on television, or gaze at in magazines. My assumption after that day at Alfred Angelo’s was that it just wasn’t as glamorous as media and Disney movies make it out to be.
It is true that I ultimately did not want to marry that man, but it is also true that we tend to these rituals and fantasies until they grow to unparalleled and impossible ideals that cannot be matched.
I found a bunch of photos that my sister snapped the day I tried on dresses. Standing there, in my small frame of a body, I felt like I was swimming in those gowns.
What I didn’t realize was the reflection in the mirror staring back at me was actually drowning.
She was told as a young girl that she would someday fall in love, get married, and make beautiful babies of her own. She believed it wholeheartedly. Never was there a doubt in her pretty little head that a man would bend down on his knee and present his eternal dedication to her just liked she had played over and over in her head since she was about 20 years old.
What she wasn’t told is how much work it takes to keep love alive if you want to dress in white and flash your sparkly diamond.
No one taught her in school that healthy relationships require work and effort—possibly more than you will ever put into anything else in your life.
No one gave her the necessary tools. Only time, experience, and many, many broken relationships provided some scattered bricks from which she could begin to build—after brushing away the dirt and debris—a steady path towards a symbiotic romance. So far, it has taken almost 33 years.
Why do we continue to beat into the pliable minds of children that there is always a Prince Charming who will be beyond romantic and make us swoon? That we will have to do little to entrap his interest, because if we dress and act a certain way, men will just fall head over heels staring at us from across the room the second we enter?
This is dangerous. It is quite possibly one of the biggest lies we can ever tell our youth.
Yes, trying on dresses is (supposedly) fun, an adrenaline rush, and bound to make women feel like a princess for a day–but that’s just one day. What about all the days leading up to that day? How about all of those days that will follow?
We are so focused on having our Cinderella moment of transformation from dull to enchanting that not enough energy is being shifted to where it belongs most: our actual every day romances and relationships.
We have been irrevocably irresponsible in promising our children that it will be easy loving and being loved.
Only focusing on the Cinderella moments in our stories creates ill-prepared humans who sloppily throw themselves into relationships with reckless abandon.
The false smile on my face is telling the camera to hurry up and take the photograph. Nothing else.
Up until that point, I had tried to no avail to create the perfect relationship.
I regard myself as a hopeless romantic even now that I know the truth about relationships. I am wiser to what it takes to maintain a balance and grow love that can sustain.
The hefty dose of realism I’ve received since childhood hasn’t yet totally addled my heart and hopes for love, but I am jaded. I am worn, pained, and covered in battle scars. I am continually fighting my little girl urges to be a princess swept off her feet. In an attempt to remain pragmatic and sensible, I have come to terms with the fact that not every man I fall for or even every man who may love me back wants the “black suit standing at the altar” moment with me, because maybe he realized too early and without real warning that Cinderella and Prince Charming’s fantasies were a bit whack.
The biggest favor we can do for our children is to be a bit more practical about what we tell them. I’m not saying we should debase their idea of love completely, but for God’s sake, give them some useful knowledge about how hard it will be and how devastating it will feel to be broken-hearted. We need to refuse to lie to them, or lull them into believing that they will without a doubt have all these fairytale things some day.
I wish someone had helped me along the way instead of letting me stand there in my white gown wondering why it didn’t feel enthralling to finally be the princess.
I still want to wear a white dress. I still want a man to devote himself to me in perpetuity. But I’m not a fool, and I know it’s not what every man wants from a woman, no matter how charming and romantic he can be.
I know that the responsibility that comes with adorning myself like a princess for one day means that I will work my entire life to be a loving person who negotiates, forgives, sacrifices, compromises, and listens.
You know why Disney movies always end with the perfect moment? Because if we saw what followed, then we might be disillusioned by the reality of it.
I don’t understand why this is such a horrible thing to expose our youth to, except that maybe once we realize how hard commitment actually is, perhaps we wouldn’t want it.
But I know how hard commitment actually is, and I still want it.
Real romantics always do, because we don’t see love as a fairy tale. We know it to be a veritable force.
We dragged ourselves endlessly across hot coals to find it, and when we work that hard for something, white dresses are just one day out of the countless we spend making the ones we love feel adored, all while dealing with the messes we both make when we’re outside the ballroom and in our simple rags of every day existence.
Author: Amanda Volponi
Assistant Editor: Keeley Milne/ Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Photos: Author’s own.