Over the weekend my boyfriend and his son took me to Disney World and then to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie. It’s been 19 years since I’ve been to Magic Kingdom, and the little girl in me came to life. I reminisced about playing Little Mermaid in the pool and crafting yarn tails with my best friend to pretend we were the mice helping Cinderella.
Disney princesses get a bad rep, and I can see why. At first glance Beauty and the Beast teaches a cultural bias that bit me in the butt over the years: that a woman can change a man if she loves him enough. It’s taken a lot of awareness and self love to recognize the rescuing tendencies in myself. I’ve learned the hard way that seeing potential in a man doesn’t mean my love will magically transform his shortcomings.
To be clear, love alone will not fix fear of commitment, workaholism, a messy house, emotional unavailability, poor financial choices, bad health habits, alcoholism, sex addiction, drug addiction, mental illness, or any other “if only” thing that’s preventing your man from being the prince charming you think you see in him.
When I got home from the movie, I remembered a passage I read from the Beauty and the Beast chapter of Women Who Love Too Much—one of the books that played a role in my initial stages of healing. Author Robin Norwood suggests that the key to setting yourself free is not over indulgence in love and service. It’s acceptance.
Can you see the man in front of you exactly as he is? And can you accept that?
In the words of Robin Norwood, here’s how that works:
When a woman who loves too much gives up her crusade to change the man in her life, he is then left to ponder the consequences of his own behavior. Since she is no longer frustrated and unhappy, but rather is becoming more and more excited about life, the contrast to his own existence intensifies. He may choose to struggle with disengaging from his obsession and becoming more physically and emotionally available. Or he may not. But no matter what he chooses to do, by accepting the man in her life exactly as he is, a woman becomes free, one way or another, to live her own life—happily ever after.
When we accept a man exactly as he is, we become free from resentment of his shortcomings, free of responsibility for a burden that is not our own, and free of the frustration that comes with trying to change something we cannot change.
We become free to do our own self work and engage in the activities that bring us joy. With that simple but powerful shift, we feel and live better already. Then it’s up to us to decide if we’re happy enough with what our prince is putting out there for us or if it’s time to move on from an unrewarding relationship. Either way, we get our happily ever after on our own two feet with or without prince charming by our side.
Do you see what happened there? Instead of putting your life on hold until your partner becomes the person you want and need, you make up your mind to do your own work and live free.
If you need a little more help driving this home, check out the Unitarian Universalist twist on the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know that it is me.