One of my favorite memes is a picture from José Rodolfo Loaiza Ontiveros’s Profanity Pop series that shows several Disney princesses, sitting around a table looking depressed and drunk. In their midst sits painter Frida Kahlo. The caption reads, “That moment when they all realized Disney had been spoon feeding them the toxic love template since they were babies, and they called Frida Kahlo to come fix this %#&.” The truth is, as women, we’ve long been fed the princess narrative that when the going gets tough, some man will come along to save us.
I’ve fallen victim to this myself. I have an MBA in finance and have worked in consulting and investment banking. I’ve also run a not-for-profit organization. I’d always felt secure in my ability to take care of myself financially. But then I left the workforce to become a stay-at-home mom, and five years after I left the workforce, my husband left me. In spite of good support payments from my ex, I felt I was on financially shaky ground.
I signed up for a program, helping women reintegrate into the workforce after time off with their kids. Instead of making me feel better, I was told that my years spent as a freelance writer and mommy blogger were effectively worthless in the corporate world. Instead of listening to my inner wise woman–who tells me the world is abundant and I am resourceful and smart–I listened to my inner princess who tells me I’m not enough on my own and need a Prince Charming to keep me in shoes.
So, I dated a number of Prince Charming types. I learned that, at best, “I’ll save you” is doublespeak for “you can take care of all of my children while I lounge by the pool,” or “you can come along as an unpaid adviser to all of my hedge fund meetings.” At its worst, “I’ll save you” means, “I can see you’re having a hard time and that makes it easier for me to control and abuse you.”
No wonder those cartoon princesses hit the bourbon hard.
During this period, I stumbled upon a beautiful quote from Anna Quindlen’s book, Living Out Loud: “I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that person could be me.”
Like Quindlen, I finally realized the only person who could save me, was me. I hired a therapist, did some freelance work for a friend, and wrote my book. I learned that with a good therapist, and a great publicist, there is nothing you can’t do. In the end, I even met the ideal guy. And no, he did not save me. Instead he helps me be my best self, which is infinitely better.