The idea of “happily ever after” is an idea that pervades modern culture. It may have begun in the sanitized fairy tales that evolved from rural folk stories that typically had anything but happy endings. If you go back to the original stories that ended up being popularized by Disney movies they are nearly always dark and brutal. Somewhere along the way they turned into trite tales of how the underdog overcomes adversity, triumphs over evil, and from that point forward lives in perpetual happiness. These are stories that have little resemblance to reality. That’s not to say that reality is always dark and brutal as the original folk tales described. But the laughably optimistic things they evolved in to are potentially dangerous misrepresentations of reality.
Romantic comedies are the contemporary example of this type of story. An unlikely couple overcomes a series of trials to finally end up together in the end. The implication is that they are each exactly what the other needs and will live out their lives together “happily ever after.” What does that really mean? It’s a statement of unrealistic stasis. When has a healthy relationship ever been static? No two people ever just drift through life without any struggle or effort. But that’s the lie we’re given as the romantic ideal. It’s stupid and dangerous.
This representation distorts our view of life and especially our view of relationships. The idea we’ve been told since we were very young children is that once the initial conflict is over everything will be good forever because it’s been set up that way. Forever. Permanence is a dangerous lesson to teach anyone. Life is ever changing. One thing flows into another transforming it into something entirely different than it was before. It is not a slab of concrete that permanently sets into a constant monolith. This misconception leads to one of the most damaging ideas in relationships and one I that I think causes a huge number of breakups, the idea that once some initial set of hurdles are cleared there is no more work to be done. That it’s all coasting from then on. Life in any aspect is never like that, especially not in a relationship involving more than one person.
None of this is an argument against happiness, or rather contentment and satisfaction (a more realistic goal I believe). It’s an argument against the false narrative of permanence. The hunger that is always sated, the love that never hurts, the mind that is always full of joy. These aren’t realistic depictions of the world and expecting them or striving for them is going to end in pain. More pain than is necessary from the typical ups and downs of life. Better to take control of the story we tell ourselves about the world by accepting a more realistic one. There is no happily ever after. There is joy and pain, love and indifference, loneliness and connection. We each will likely experience them all at some point. There is no effective bulwark against this. But a predestined “happiness” seems an empty way to live to me. There is no reward without any risk.