Posted by: L. E. Barnes | November 4, 2010

Forget Fairy Tale Romances

I’m sure you’re familiar with the stories of Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, and a host of other fairy tale damsels who are rescued from their situations by Prince Charming, who comes riding in on his white horse to marry the fair maiden so they can live happily ever after. Doubtless plenty of girls grow up with dreams of finding their own Prince Charming–that “special someone” who’s just right for them. And it’s not just women; guys often have the same ideal of finding the lady that Destiny has arranged for them to share their lives with. You’ve probably heard a young person who has gotten engaged (or at least is in a very serious relationship) say, “I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else!” Most of the Christians I’ve known seem to cherish the notion that their matchmaker will be not blind Fate or Destiny but God Himself. “The Lord has someone for everyone,” I’ve heard some of my fellow believers say.

What about this sort of mentality? Does reality bear it out? In his recent article “The Non-existent Prince Charming”, Karl Keating–president of Catholic Answers–tries to persuade us to ditch the pie-in-the-sky notions of romance to be found in fairy tales and argues that reality presents a very different picture of love and marriage:

Liking is something that “just happens.” Loving is something we have control over. Liking is a spontaneous emotional reaction. Loving is an act of the will. You never will like everyone, but you can love anyone. It is theoretically possible in a way that liking everyone is not.

And this brings me to the topic of prospective spouses.

Catholic Answers hosts chastity talks by various speakers. Such talks are aimed at young audiences–high school and college students, chiefly–and, by necessity, the speakers themselves are fairly young.

Some speakers who have spoken for us, when first starting out, told their young audiences that somewhere out there was a Prince or Princess Charming, someone fated from all eternity  to be a young person’s perfect match. The speakers said something liek this: “Save yourself for that one person that God has set aside just for you.”

When I heard about this statement, I told our speakers to cut it out–because it wasn’t true. It sounded romantic, and it sounded pious, but it wasn’t true. It left each young listener thinking that there was one and only one person whom he could love and have a happy marriage with and that if he waited long enough, God would arrange for the couple to meet.

That’s not how real life works. When I have a chance to speak to young people, I shock them by saying, “Within easy driving distance, there are a hundred people whom you could marry and have an equally happy life with.” Of course, there also are a hundred or a thousand with whom they might be miserable. This does not, of course, mean that every match is a good one or that every match is wisely entered into. But it does mean that fairy tales should be left to children.

It does no harm for  a 10-year-old girl to dream of a Prince Charming, but half her life will be wasted if she still thinks, at 35, that she should wait for the appearance of a Prince Charming whom God has reserved for her and that she should let pass other prospects with whom, in fact, she could be sufficiently happy.

Thank you, Mr. Keating, for the reality check. I can imagine that a lot of the young people who hear him make such remarks are shock, perhaps even disgusted, at the suggestion that there is no “special someone” they are destined to be with, that there are actually plenty of others they could just as easily have a happy marriage with. But life has a way of playing havoc with some of our cherished ideas and preconceived notions. (Believe me, I’ve learned that all too well!)

Your thoughts?



  1. I can’t agree with this position. There may be a number of persons we might find ourselves romantically attracted to, but maybe not one of them would be the one we could fulfill our vocations with. I do believe that God has the person in mind for us with whom we will work out our salvation but too often our gonads get in the way and we make bad choices.

    Sometimes God calls us to religious life or single chastity, too.

    Keating is right that we can love anyone, but that doesn’t mean that anyone is a suitable mate. Discerning one’s vocation is paramount.

    And I must agree that if a 35 year old woman (or man) is still yearning after Prince Charming, she isn’t in touch with reality.

    What comes to mind here is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all else will be added unto you.”

    • Yes, the kingdom of God should be foremost on our minds, though unfortunately the stuff of earth tends to overshadow it. (I’ve been guilty of that plenty of times.)

      Overall, I think Keating is correct. There are plenty of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, who have happy marriages, and they didn’t need some sort of God-given sign or other divine guidance that they had found a partner who was the “special someone” who’s “just right”–or even predestined–for them. And I think Keating isn’t saying just that there are lots of people we can feel attracted to but that we need to develop more realistic expectations about finding suitable marriage partners. Besides, we should also bear in mind that our notions of marrying for love or finding that “special someone”–however romantic they sound–are relatively new ideas in human history. And there are some places in the world where marriages are arranged or based on other considerations, not modern ideas of romance.

      And he’s certainly right that we can choose to love. I recall seeing a preacher who had “Love Is A Decision” in large letters posted on the wall behind him. We tend to think of love as a feeling, but it’s not–and that’s something I have to remind myself of!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. It’s not so much a “sign” from God that is obvious but rather that He presents us with people and arranges a set of circumstances in which we choose someone. Only later, and sometimes after many years, do we realize that the one we picked was the one He picked for us. At least that’s the way it worked in my case. Also, there are certain “deal breakers” that come into play for the Christian that would rule out certain people who may be in our lives at a particular time.

    • Perhaps so, though it could just be our superimposing our views on the situation, interpreting the events according to our assumptions. Anyway, I still tend to side with Keating on the matter. Maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree. 🙂

      There are definitely a lot of deal breakers for Christians–or there should be. For instance, we should only marry fellow Christians and not become “unequally yoked” with an unbeliever. (I don’t believe in “missionary dating”!) But it’s easy for us to let our feelings overwhelm our better judgment. In fact, some have suggested (how seriously, I’m not certain) that love is a form of madness, because when those “love chemicals” start flowing, our rational side tends to get suppressed.

      Thanks for your comments! I haven’t checked other people’s blogs this week, so I need to head over to yours and see what kind of insights you had for us. God bless!

  3. Well, Evan, I have to side with Barb on this one. While I agree that love is a decision, it is usually a decision based on various factors and after there has been romance and time spent together.
    I am an incest survivor. I married the right man for me, a man with a world of patience and compassion who could put up with my baggage. But I didn’t know that when I married him.
    Also he didn’t know I was a survivor when we got married and I had no intention of ever telling him. I dont know if there are a lot of men who would put up with what he has had to with me and my past. So yes, I think God brought us together.
    I ran away from every man who wanted to get serious. And then I moved 1600 miles on a “whim” and ended up in an apartment across the hall from my hubby. Sorry, but there are no coincidences. Only God incidences.
    I had no God given sign that he was the right person. I was not even Catholic at that point nor did I pray much. But I know with every fiber in my being that God led me to him because he was the right man for me. And I was the right woman for him.
    So this is not a fairy tale. This is real life. And it was not always easy for either one of us. It never is. And that is when we talk about love being a decision.
    By the way, I always loved Cinderella. But for me, it was less about fairy tales and more about hope. Hope of a better life and hope of finding love and healing. Seems to me that Keating wants to take away that hope. And the belief that God is in all things.
    Sorry for the long post. God bless!

  4. One more thing. Marriage is a vocation. It is also a sacrament. In order for it to be those things, God has to be involved.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. I’m very glad to hear you found such a good husband! Even though real life will not be like a fairy tale, there is still the chance for bad situations to be turned around.

      I don’t think Keating is trying to deprive anyone of hope or deny God’s invovlement in our lives, and I still tend to agree with him that a person looking for a spouse should be realistic and recognize that there are many people who would make a great spouse for them, not just one individual whom they’re “predestined” to be with and that marrying anyone else would be disastrous. And unfortunately, not all people, including devout Christians, have the same experience as you did in marrying someone who turned out to be such a good match. Or as I mentioned in a previous comment, plenty of non-Christians likewise have wonderful marriages–including arranged marriages–in which purely cultural or other mundane considerations were the deciding factors, not a belief that they had to be divinely guided to just the “right” person. And again, we shouldn’t forget that our notions of romantic love and finding “Mr. or Mrs. Right” are relatively new ideas. Marriages in previous eras, and still in some parts of the world today, are not based on our ideas of “love” but on things such as social, economic or other issues.

      By the way, I’m not denying that we should seek wisdom when selecting a spouse. I’ve never been married (due to a combination of issues that have simply made marriage unfeasible for me), but if I ever do seriously look for a spouse, I most certainly will pray for wisdom and discernment! But I can’t say I believe that God has some woman out there that He has prepared for me to be with (if marriage is the right thing for me after all).

      Well, we can go on and on about this, and I can see that there are strong feelings about the issue. I think Keating’s point is correct, at least as a general rule. There may very well be cases when a couple is brought together by divine appointment, and the Bible contains a few stories where that seems to have been the case. (Or in the case of Hosea, he was literally ordered by God to marry a particular person, but that is not the norm even in the Bible.)

      Thanks again for your comments and for telling us about your experiences. I commend you for seeking to help others. God bless! 🙂

  5. One more comment. Then I’ll shut up. Or maybe bring it to my blog to get more opinions.
    Catholics don’t believe in predestination so I dont think I was destined to marry Rich. Perhaps the Lord sent me other men and I turned away. We do not always do what the Lord asks. There is free will involved here. But He is a God of 2nd chances and will keep trying.
    In a sacramental marriage, Jesus is present. We learn about God’s love for us through the love of our spouse. 
    We need to be prayerful and pay attention and pray for discernment as to where God Is leading us.. Romance is all part of it. It’s all a gift from God. And it is all mystery. Lets not take the mystery out of it.  Let’s not take the heart out of it. 
    That is what we should be teaching our children.

    • Good points to make! Maybe we need to do some more blog posts dealing with this sort of thing, as it provokes some strong responses from folks!

  6. […] Forget Fairy Tale Romances […]

  7. Yes it does!!! Thanks Evan! 🙂

    • In fact, maybe some of us should have a week where we blog about this theme (seriously!). Single folks like me can talk about what it’s like for us, as we contemplate a vocation of marriage or celibacy, and married folks can weigh in on the accuracy/inaccuracy of Keating’s ideas.

  8. My dad used to say that any two reasonably mature people who were willing to work at it could marry and make each other reasonably happy. The trouble is finding reasonably mature people who are willing to work at it.

    • Rann,
      I fear that nowadays that’s very much the case. People are too ready to divorce if things don’t meet their expectations. Sad, not just for the couple but for their kids as well. But I agree with what your dad said, and I think that was more or less what Keating was driving at in his article. Rather than thinking that we’re “predestined” to marry a particular person and that there’s no one else we could possibly have a happy marriage with, we should realize that there are plenty of folks we could be happily married to. But no doubt it’s something that has to be nurtured to work.

  9. I don’t believe in the “predestination” word because that takes the choice out of it, but like Colleen, I believe God did arrange my marriage even though I didn’t know it at the time. I think it is in retrospect that we see this. If God means for you to be married, He will provide you with the person He wishes you to work out your salvation with – the one best suited to help you get to heaven, and you likewise with her. And if He wants you to be married, He means for your wife to work out her salvation with you. It always takes work and constantly putting yourselves before God. Also, I don’t believe God whispers in our ears “She’s the one!” Sometimes even if we get married for the wrong reasons we have still married the one God wants for us. We must grow toward Him together, listening to each other and to Him.

    • Perhaps a lot of this boils down to the issue of divine sovereignty versus human free will–an issue that has been discussed and debated for centuries, and one that I’m not really qualified to tackle! 🙂

      I’m interested in hearing what other Catholic thinkers have said about finding the right marriage partner. Would they tend to agree with Keating or not?

      Thanks again for sharing your views.

  10. Colleen said what I wanted to say. I know too well in my life how easy it is not to do what God wants. The idea that we have a God-ordained “soul mate” is one I don’t buy into. We all screw up too often, turn our back on God too frequently. However, I also think God can give us second chances if we screw up the first one. My marriage is one of those. (Can I be annoying and leave a link? 🙂 )

    • Don’t worry, you’re not being annoying. That’s part of what blogs are about: facilitating discussion. I think Keating was saying essentially what you did–that there’s no “God-ordained ‘soul mate'”. And yes, God surely gives second chances… sometimes third chances, fourth chances… He’s very forgiving toward us!

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