Happily Ever After: Can we still do it?

By Europe and Me‘s Julia Zalewska

Childhood dreams

I remember when I was a little girl, I frequently stayed longer at the kindergarten. It was inevitable as both of my parents worked and I waited for my dad to pick me up on the way home. When I was sitting in the deserted room, because all the other children had already left, I started to draw to pass the time. There was an enormous (as I thought at that time) calendar hanging on the wall beside the teacher’s desk. And I used the back pages to plan my life with the help of my coloured pencils. Even now I can recall the many white dresses I drew on these empty  pages. The flowers, the smiling faces, the black tuxedos. Frankly, it seems like I was obsessed with weddings – but was I really? 

The destiny of every Disney princess, as I knew, was her wedding day. All of the Disney fairytales ended with the princesses kissing wealthy, good looking princes in front of a cheering crowd. Little Mermaid is inherently etched into my memory, wearing glamorous pearl earrings and a beautiful veil that complements her vividly ginger hair. The moment was filled with pure happiness, with some sort of satisfaction – because everything went well, the “right” character had won. What I happened to acknowledge many years after watching the Disney movie for the first time is that Ariel had actually lost her playful temper and became less expressive once she had found her prince. Why? Was that supposed to mean that young women should lose their personality in order to become good wives? 

“The flowers, the smiling faces, the black tuxedos. Frankly, it seems like I was obsessed with the wedding day – but was I really?”

I also remember the Disney movies’ endings, which were presented a resolution of the conflict, a relief. The heroine was finally safe. But Sleeping BeautySnow WhiteCinderella, all of them needed a man to be rescued. As if they were utterly helpless on their own.

Obviously, not only pop-culture brainwashed me (or should I say us). When I was little, every adult in my small world was married or striving to get married (accompanied by the wish to have children). I do think that Polish traditions at that time had a lot to do with it, there’s a kind of conservatism which still reigns supreme in Polish politics, and it must have been even more prominent back in the past. 

What has changed?

The importance of the Catholic church among Polish nationals strongly impacts relationships. A couple I am friends with and who have been in a relationship for a while now and moved in with each other are constantly being asked why they’re not getting married. ”Is there something wrong?” “Are you breaking up?” And I wonder about the absurdity of it all, do people consider living together without marriage trespassing? 

No wonder, my image of my future life was such an illusion. All I yearned for back then was the stunning dress for the most important day in my life. I’ve been imagining the happy family life with my great husband, our three kids, a cat and a dog. We would live in a great house, in a friendly neighbourhood. And in my mind, the fence had to be as immaculately white as my wedding dress (just like in American movies).

My values and aims have considerably changed (fortunately) since then. It finally feels like my world is really mine. I don’t do things because I’m expected or forced to do them. This freedom comes at a price, however. I frankly feel lost and, undoubtedly, it’s not only me.

The reality we live in is not as it used to be in the past, especially compared to my parents’ life, not to mention my grandparents. Of course, over the last twenty years, the world has changed on various levels. This transformation has impacted the emotions and feelings we experience in our lives, including our social relations.

“It feels like the values and obligations expected of adults are blurred. We don’t have to be married, raise kids, follow any kind of path. But only a couple of decades ago it would have been an outright scandal if my grandmother would have wanted to get divorced.”

All the information and stimuli overwhelm us on a daily basis. How to stay focused on one thing? One person? We live in a globalised village, an alternate reality, with our smartphone in hand. The number of people we could possibly get to know, meet, and date seems infinite. Not being committed to ”the one and only” constantly makes way for the notion of finding someone nicer, smarter, prettier next time. 

That’s how it works. We get bored and out of curiosity decide to move on. We can’t stand the routine.

It feels like the values and obligations expected of adults are blurred. We don’t have to be married, raise kids, follow any kind of path. But only a couple of decades ago it would have been an outright scandal if my grandmother would have wanted to get divorced. “People would talk” – I can hear her saying. It would have been abnormal and treated as a disgrace to family life, to people who live in smaller villages, where everyone knows each other. Nowadays, though, it wouldn’t be such a big deal. The variety of relationships we can get into unleashes our urges and needs. The sexual freedom we are reaching for in the modern world is extending possibilities for all kinds of relationship. We’ve grown into understanding our needs and most no longer feel guilt or shame when striving for them.

But, are we really free, or are we maybe deluding ourselves?

Where this leaves us?

I can barely count the times I’ve read about the egocentrism of the modern humans, but that’s not all there is. The independence each one of us can have is something completely new, compared to previous generations. Following this thought, I could say that we are just honest and true to ourselves, when we decide to not get into relationships that just don’t fit. 

We respect ourselves to not giving the other person a painful illusion of affiliation or worse – love. 

The layers of today’s dating realities include so many different features of human nature that I find myself speechless. I’ve always believed in true love; moments like in Big Fish, when you’re dancing among the crowd and suddenly, out of nowhere, you realise that the person right in front of you is ”the One” and the world just stops. 

“So, what is love, really?”

It had happened to me once, it was the first and only time in my life that I knew that I was in love. Nowadays, I don’t name to what I feel anymore. I just don’t know what love is, after the irreversible breakups I’ve been through. Unfortunately life cannot be captured in one shot or ideal.  Probably, it won’t ever stop and all you can do is decide for yourself what to do with it, to make it feel right. 

When it comes to me, I’m truly grateful to be satisfied with myself and to feel strong enough not to settle for what I’m not convinced of (even if from time to time my grandmother says I’m too picky). I know I also owe it to my great friends,  family, and, yes I will admit it, my cat. All thanks to whom I’ve never felt lonely.

So, what is love, really? Is it a lifelong relationship, of you growing old together and having kids or a short period of intense time full of passion, when you share all your universe with this one significant person, who just electrifies you? Maybe something completely different (you name it!)? I don’t really know, but I’d say there’s no wrong or right answer and that’s wonderful. And quite honestly, a great accomplishment. 

I cannot foretell future to know what kind of love’s will happen to me. I probably won’t name it the moment it happens, but I have this gut feeling of a naive dreamer that it’s still out there and I hope the same for everyone of you. 

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash.


This article was originally published in Europe & Me (E&M), with which A Tribe Of Women (ATOW) collaborates.

Julia lives in Cracow with her beloved flat-faced cat Louis (it’s a she). This year she will finish her Masters in psychology at Jagiellonian University. However, for a year and a half she also studied history of arts and even tough she didn’t graduate from it, art remains a passion nested deeply in her heart. Julia has a big crush on Truman Capote, on Italy and on movies from the 60ies. She loves long walks by the sea and a good wine. She can’t imagine her life without jazz music and more alternative sounds like Beach House, the Marias or Men I Trust. She’d rather not share her future plans. Just not to jinx it. You can join her over at Instagram.

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