Every little girl is a princess. Every little girl is waiting for her prince to rescue her. And when she grows up and the random cruelties of life have worn her down a bit, she can still be dreaming that some prince will do the right thing.....
She can even read in more grown-up books, even books of a spiritual nature, that such dreams are reality. For instance, read this from the wonderful Dominican writer, Fr. Gerald Vann**:
That is the most obvious fact about woman throughout the course of history; it is her fate to bring out either the best or the worst in men. They will perform herculean feats of bravery to win her, or they will cheat and lie and do crimes of violence; they will fight amongst themselves for her; for her sake they will become wise and strong and gentle, or they will sink into servility and degradation which will in the end empty them of their manhood.
Now I'm sure many men reading this will disagree. You see, whilst girls were reading fairy stories, (ancient texts with good pedigrees and deep messages), boys would be reading Ladybird Books on how to be a fireman or a soldier; how to be brave in a way that the world would understand. Boys have not been looking for princesses for sometime (if indeed they ever have). They want to be heroes. They want to be needed. They want to be useful and valiant. They will look to the world to find places and careers where they can be like that. It is an honourable dream for a boy to have, it is good as far as it goes. If a boy ever thought about the girl dreaming of the prince coming to rescue her, he'd think her a bit lame, a bit passive, a bit unreal.
But the boy will have missed the point of the fairy stories, and perhaps the girl has too. The thing is these princesses are independent, unneedy, lovely and unselfconscious creatures in their own right. They do not clamour for attention, they are virtuous, vivacious and intelligent. They will never say anything like "I want you, I need you", "be there for me, darling". Sadly, when boys hear these words, every hero response in them is triggered. They can be fireman, soldier and brave knight to their damsel in distress, but she's no princess. Then, because they then find themselves with a girl who has simply been a projection of their own need to be needed, the romance dies and they often don't think much of her as a person in her own right and they end up having a weight round their neck, rather than a companion for life. Meanwhile the girl he really liked (his princess), he has ignored because her lack of passionate needyness has been taken as a sign that she's not that interested in him. I've watched it happen too often, but nobody listens to me....
So there you have it. A woman must be loved for who she is, not loved out of some sense of duty. A man must recognise his mate as a person and not for some secondary need he may have to care or protect. That will come, that will come in family life.
Running through the fairy stories is the Judeo-Christian notion that life comes from the man. These princesses have died (the stories say cursed, poisoned, locked up.. they are all metaphors for the death in women due to original sin.. and she can't chase him, because she's 'dead'). She remains 'dead' till the prince gets off his butt and takes her and gives her life, and he takes her because he recognises at some deep level that she is his mate for life. Unlike the fairy stories, she isn't really reclined on a bed at the top of a castle or lying in a glass sarcophagus in a flowery meadow, he won't find her in such places. She's right there, under his eyes, he doesn't need to look far, but he must act and take what is his. If he does, they will grow together, they will make each other live truly. Obviously it is the life in Christ that they are both need; the prince is as dead as the princess until he acts. They must both have the desire to grow in faithfulness to Goodness, Beauty and Truth to live "happily ever after". That is the ancient narrative that is played out in the fairy stories...
* Story 'retold' by Vera Southgate, illustrations by Eric Winter, pub 1965
** Eve and the Gryphon by Gerald Vann OP, pub 1946