HE WALKS up to her, sweeps her into his arms and they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. Hand in hand, they walk into the sunset.
The ethereal nature of this scene has crept up many times during the twilight years of my adolescence and later in my twenties.
I searched for the ever after, the beautiful union with a soulmate who would complete and protect me. I looked for the magic that only some of us are lucky to find, while others may never, no matter how long they live.
Throughout this search, and explorations that could be best described as meanderings, I encountered those stars-in-our-eyes moments, variations of “walks into the sunset” and “butterflies fluttering in the stomach.”
Perhaps a result of my parents’ realist nurture, at the end of the day after all the candlelit dinners, serenading and romantic holidays have faded, all that mattered to me was whether the person before me would have my back if ever my world fell apart.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in romantic love, it’s just not in the way that we have been led to believe.
Now that I am married and with a child, I appear to be living in the “ever after,” the part that Disney cartoons often end with but have rarely explained.
Far from living in a palace and wearing expensive ballgowns, my palace is strewn with early learning toys and baby books, and my outfit of the day is often a comfy pair of cotton pyjamas. And as I wash pureed soup off my baby’s bowl one night, I see the reflection of the woman standing before me. Her hair is coiled up in a bun and eye bags testified nine months of sleep deprivation.
Even without children, couples that have been together for a long time rarely love each other like they used to. Love changes over time because our lives change, and if you had the luxury of being with the same person your whole life, you get to grow up together and witness the mental, emotional and spiritual growth that takes place at intervening time and space.
Although I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my husband at 18, I’ve certainly experienced spiritual growth while — and perhaps, because — he is in my life. Where once I would swoon over a bouquet of red roses and dinner in a fancy restaurant, I’m now stoked if he rises at 6am to take our daughter out to the living room for her breakfast so I can have a lie-in.
Anyone can give you flowers but who will, before they leave for work in the morning, clean the house and put a meal in the slow-cooker so you will be able to spend quality time with your baby?
Who will volunteer to come straight back from a long day at work only to go straight to rocking our baby to sleep all night so you can go out with your friends in the evening? Much more meaningful than any serenade or fancy poetry, my hubby listens to every word of my dreams and worries and seeks to transform these situations in the ways that he knows how.
In return for his hard work, he rarely gets more than a “thank you” for it. The same goes for me, I look after our daughter all day, in sickness and in health, without so much of a “thank you.”
Here’s the thing, it’s expected of us to care and provide for our family in the roles that we have conformed to. We maintain a rigorous operation of child rearing and home keeping, day in day out, potentially until our daughter leaves home for university.
My wise friend Julian once told me that the hallmark of a successful relationship is in how well you both withstand pressure together. And life is full of pressure, from work, dealing with a messy house, commute in busy traffic, making deadlines, keeping up with finances and looking after a baby who’s grouchy from a stubborn cold.
Studies show that new parents experience 40% increase in arguments, about trivial things from whose turn it is to do the washing up to who needs to wake up for the baby when they’re both sleep deprived. These situations are far from distinct; it’s just that no one ever talks about them.
The secret to surviving marital or new-parents pressure is to learn to shift the blame from “you” to “we.” Perhaps we are both at fault, and while you are at it, you can try changing accusing statements into the ones that can resolve a situation.
When you are both feeling stretched by the stressful routine, remember to come up for air.
If you have to fight, walk and fight. Many arguments stem more from being cooped up together in confined spaces than from the issue at hand.
Arrange a weekend away to unplug, do something fun. Just because you live in the ever-after, you don’t have to stop searching for magic in your life.
As Roald Dahl, the most celebrated children’s book author, wrote, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
May you live in a happy and real ever-after.
Samantha Hiew has been in the UK for the past decade.