It’s quite astounding how firmly the Prince Charming narrative controls the marriage and relationships storyline for kids — especially because we all want our kids to one day find a companion to love and share their lives with. The relationships our children will have (whether romantic or not) will be central to their future happiness, and consume so much of their lives. And we’re collectively preparing them with one overwhelming storyline: A story that includes “true love,” elaborate princess-style weddings, and Happily Ever Afters. When we meet “the one,” the stars will align and the world will make sense (cue the singing birds).
It’s even more astonishing when we stop and realize how absurd that notion is. Having lived in the real world, having maintained a relationship or 20, we can all agree that Happily Ever Afters are a fluffy fallacy that only tells part of the story.
And that’s why I’m so thankful to have found a different kind of book to read at bedtime. Kate’s First Mate is an antidote of sorts to the Prince Charming narrative.
Kate is a little girl who sails the seas with her grandfather on a ship called “The Happy Marriage” — where she has a lot of fun, learning and exploring, but also fights rough storms and fulfills her daily responsibilities on the ship. When her grandfather gets too old to keep sailing, he tells Kate to find a new First Mate. Rather than sail on alone, he suggests finding someone who can help with the work, stand by her throughout the storms, and make the trip more enjoyable. She goes on her search, interviewing potential First Mates, and learning a lot about who she can and can’t sail with as a partnership. (Spoiler Alert: She finds the right First Mate.)
Why don’t we have more books that teach realistic lessons about relationships and life? So many Prince Charming stories end with the wedding — with her riding off into the sunset, still wearing her wedding dress, as if the happiest day of her life is the peak. But for all of us living real-life marriages, in real-life lives, we understand that the wedding is just the beginning. We have daily grinds, human flaws, and a long-term endurance that needs to last well past the “I dos.” We all weather dark storms with rough, choppy water that threatens to throw the marriage overboard. And certain people better compliment our strengths and weaknesses beyond the vague idea of “true love.”