Last week, during the course of a very complex divorce case, a wife was regaling stories of how her expectations of her marriage had fallen very short indeed. In her 50's the woman indicated that life certainly did not reflect what was in story books or films to any degree whatsoever. As a child of the 50's and 60's, she is not the first woman who has voiced exactly this view. As a consequence, I began to investigate what was clearly emerging as a recurring scene in divorce cases up and down the country and particularly relevant to what we now call the "silver splitters".
The emerging theme of these "silver splitters" appears to be mainly women who are now in their 50's and 60's who were born in or about 1955, 1954 or earlier. They come from predominant middle class backgrounds that may have started out with a few assets but have ended up quite comfortable. However it is in relation to the expectations that were fed to them during that era that there appears to be the greatest disappointment and the greatest need for change.
Put simply, during that time and earlier, women did not have a lot of independence although they were starting to gain more in the post war era. They were the group of women in particular that were fed the expectation from books, films etc. that they would meet their perfect man i.e. Prince Charming who would gallop up on a white charger, whisk them off their feet, look after their every needs, and that they would live happily ever after. Looking at all of the literature from that period there was very little divergence from this theme. The story of Sleeping Beauty for example: along comes the handsome Prince, wakes her up with a kiss after her hundred year sleep, helps her with all the wealth of the kingdom, and they live happily ever after. The Frog Princess, where the princess kisses the frog and he turns into a beautiful prince, and they have all the riches in the land and live happily ever after. Rapunzel, where she lets down her hair, the handsome prince climbs up with all the wealth in the kingdom, and they live happily ever after. Cinderella, where from sweeping out all the hearths of the nasty step-mother and step-sisters, goes to the ball, meets the handsome prince, who has all the wealth of the kingdom, and they live happily ever after.
It is little wonder therefore, that these women who, in their teenage witnessed the first rumblings of women's emancipation, should now start to question the validity of the fairy tales that they were fed with at the time. Some psychologists, to whom I have spoken at length about this issue, call this scenario learning about the "the big lie". This they say is the expectation that women of this age had to marry at a very early stage and their husbands would fetch to them all that they would need, both emotionally and financially for all time. Because women in the early 50's did not work to any great degree, there were very little choices available even if they felt unhappy. This was to change dramatically from the 60's onwards and has undoubtedly impacted on women's expectations and the way in which they view men generally.
Because of this huge shift in society, women now no longer in many quarters regard the man as being the provider of all their emotional and financial needs. Many women are earning the same, if not more than their husbands which has shifted the relationship dramatically. They rely much more on their friends and colleagues to give them the emotional support that previously they would have obtained entirely from their husbands.
As one client put it to me recently, no one ever told me that Prince Charming would expect me to help him up onto his horse because he had a hernia/backache/had better things to do. Far from Prince Charming, and his family owning all the riches in the land, it turns out she says, that Prince Charming's and family were near bankruptcy, that Prince Charming had a gambling habit, and that there were actually no funds in the royal coffers. Prince Charming was looking far and wide for someone who would assist his financial difficulties by trying out all the Princesses in the land until he found the right one. This, she said, was not what she had expected.
Another stated, "Had I known that Prince Charming would be totally lazy, never help around the Palace, and expect me to do everything including working out his business plans and sorting out all of his emotional difficulties, I would never have woken up when he bent over to kiss me".
Another suggested "I was expecting Prince Charming, instead I got Rumpelstiltskin. Now that he has reached his 50's he does nothing but moan and complain, stamp his foot and suddenly has become has obsessive. What does that sound like to you?"
Another commented, that in her case she kissed the frog and she turned into a frog, there was no Prince at the end of the kiss and she was expected to do all the hard work in the marriage by looking after all the other frogs, working and cleaning the pond.
It is in relation to this particular age group that the unrealistic fairy stories have turned out to be the most upsetting and most disappointing. It would seem that the younger women today perhaps who have not been fed on the entirety of the fairy tale, have more realistic and sensible expectations. Indeed in these relationships they expect that they will share more of their social life on both sides with friends and not expect to rely so entirely on emotional and financial support from their partner. Whilst I am not in any way suggesting that no younger people are getting divorced, they are going into marriage with perhaps a more balanced and realistic view of sharing and expectations then ever the women of the 50's onwards, were allowed to consider.
Again, I am not suggesting for some the fairy tale can't become real and sustained, because clearly we do hear of those wonderful marriages that sustain and bring happiness to all. However, given the statistics of marriage breakdown and the age groups that this is affecting the most, there are layers of reasons for this and the real fairy tale is certainly far more different from many women in particular than those that they were read every night before they went to bed. On behalf of all my disappointed princesses I have never been more tempted to start a class action suit against Walt Disney Productions!!
Vanessa Lloyd Platt ©
4th November 2014