this is not your happily ever after (…but that is totally fine)



I remember standing beside the man I was married to at the time as a woman said, “All this success! It’s like a fairy tale.”

She was talking about our life together. My life.

I didn’t want to disagree, even though signs of the end were already manifest: the good times slipping away beneath the criticism, the way his voice would turn cold before he stopped speaking to me. Are we in the fifth grade? I sometimes asked, trying to make light of it – his mother said that I took him too seriously, that I let him affect me too much, and maybe I did. But he was my husband. And I had yet to read a fairy tale in which the prince sweeps in on a white horse – or midnight-blue Porsche – and then gives you the silent treatment.

It wasn’t until years later – after the ugliness that marked the end of the relationship, the separation that shocked some and delighted others, the obscenely expensive lawyers, the neverending divorce, the emails I sent that I knew I would regret but felt too hurt and furious to care (and I was correct, I would regret them) — after the slow hard climb into my new existence – after our truce turned from hostile to uneasy to peaceful to the faint possibility of friendship – after I realized, with more than a little surprise, that when I encountered him at the preschool, or the hospital when one of our sons had minor surgery, I was enjoying his company again – it wasn’t until after all of this, that I learned the truth about fairy tales.

I only knew the Walt Disney versions. Beautiful girls suffered at the hands of wicked women and pined for the day their man would arrive, with his dragon-slaying heroism and magical kiss. These stories were fluff and romance. They were dangerous. They taught a girl to be deluded, trusting and passive, rewarded for her looks alone (and maybe a bent for emotional masochism).

But this is not how fairy tales started out.

Unless and until they are written down – or recorded in vivid, dancing Technicolor – stories are not static things. They shapeshift from one place or period or culture or social group to another, in order to code certain values and transmit a prevailing worldview.

And as Joan Gould points out in her book SPINNING STRAW INTO GOLD: “The more patriarchal and stratified the society, the more clearly the heroine is expected to rely on the hero to save her.”

Fairy tales were originally female tales, women’s work: handed down from mothers to daughters. In these versions, heroines were not pretty victims killing time and waiting for rescue. Sisters rescued brothers; daughters rescued fathers or lovers.

And when a heroine fell into a deep, enchanted sleep, she was about as passive as a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Sleep was not her prison but her chrysalis. She assimilated her body’s newfound sexuality and made the inner journey from girl to woman….in her own time. Men might be eager to bed her, her parents might be ready to marry her off, and she might have no legal rights to speak of, but the one thing she could do was close her eyes and withdraw into some serious Me Time. Her body remained complete unto itself, sealed off and protected by a glass coffin, a forest of thorns, a ring of flame.

When she had matured – when the process of ripening had come to its natural end — she awoke to the Prince who was both her reward and the symbol of her adulthood.

(Note: he didn’t actually wake her up himself. He was in the right place at the right time, with a tendency to take all the credit.)

Fairy tales were not about true love. They were about transformation. They were about the growth in female consciousness that makes love possible.

No growth, no story.

Transformation, these tales make clear, doesn’t come easy. It involves suffering, struggle, sacrifice and pain: skills must be acquired, lessons learned, experience hardwon. Often there’s a period of wandering in the wilderness — the forest, the desert, the snowscape — alone. Without this, remarks Gould, “no real change is possible.”

You must lose the old life – or get forced out of it — if you are to come into the life that is waiting for you.

Walt Disney wasn’t interested in any of this. He took the spotlight off the heroine’s initiation into higher consciousness and put it, instead, on the hero’s heroics, as he battled the dragon and fought the witch for possession of the beautiful virgin. Suddenly a girl could be transformed into a woman with a single kiss. All she had to do was wait for The One who would bestow it, so that her real life may begin.

So many of us keep waiting.

But what if the prince is meant to be a metaphor? When you fight your way through painful experience, when you descend into your personal underground and come back up into the light, when you retreat from the world into a kind of slumber, a waking dream, to assimilate your truth and grow strong enough to carry it: what if the prize for all of this, for getting through to the other side, isn’t a man on a white horse with a feathered hat on his oversized head, but a more integrated sense of self, and a vision for your future that makes you come alive?

You learn that you are stronger for the broken places.

This doesn’t happen only once. Initiation comes for you again and again throughout a lifetime. The ground opens up; you eat the poisoned apple; you descend once more into the dark. You wander through some bleak internal landscape until finally there’s a crack in the clouds — there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in — and you turn your face to the sun. You rise to claim your reborn self, spiraling up a little more with every transformation.

You look into your prince’s face, and discover that it is your own.

You have opened your eyes.

Jan 23, 2014

27 comments · Add Yours

Preach it, sistah. I LOVE reading about the gritty, sexy, transformative ways of the old tales.


Chills. My goodness. After reading this, my whole body is enveloped in tingly soft chills.

Your words….prose…..story? It’s an infusion of spiritual bordeaux to my heart.

Last year was the absolute worst year of my life…
..being violently attacked…
..losing everything and everyone who I believed defined me in this life…

…the universe had a different plan for me.

Having come face to face with evil and being it’s target for the first time,… It’s taking much longer this time around. I’m still digging myself out of the darkness.

I’d heard about evil, seen it from the stands, but never come face to face with real monsters…and because of that, there’s a different taste and feel of death wrapped around me, my hope and passion disappeared……they left the building and have yet to return.

I’m not bouncing back like times before.. I’m not even close to rising again…

In the meantime, my old self is desperate to attach my ego to something, to have an identity, to be somebody again… and at the same time grieving the notion that I have taken the rose colored glasses off and gained clarity that I was never somebody and never will be somebody. The lesson in this chaos is there was never somebody to begin with… just projections, posturing and ego. None of it was real.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that the only solution is… patience…. and gratitude for the magnificent destruction of my identity on the earthly plane in the human world.

Why is this beautiful wisdom of yours so important and meaningful?

The only relief I get is reading things like this where I’m reminded that I am not alone and hope is just on the horizon.

Thank you Justine. Lovely and brilliant at just the right time.

(It’s late in New York City, so if you would be so kind to excuse any grammatical mistakes, the perfectionist in the other room would be grateful. Thank you in advance. SMILE)


What an incredible post! I could not agree more. Without growth we are blind and sheltered. Without growth we have no voice. Without growth how could we exist? I had to experience loss and pain to realize that the only “Prince” was within myself. You could not have said it more beautifully Justine. We are the Prince and the Princess – once they both meet and dance within ourselves – only then are we ready to live and love freely.
Thank You!!!

Just Sharing this:


Six Fairy Tales for the Modern Woman
By Renee Lupica


Once upon a time a woman never got married, but had many fulfilling relationships, a job that kept her comfortable, an apartment that she got to decorate just for her, and hobbies that stimulated her mind.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman and a man tried having babies, but it didn’t work, so when they were past the age of trying, they decided that they had enough disposable income to travel the world, and so they did, and it was awesome, and both of them felt okay about it, and no one gave them any grief over it, either.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman was approached by a drunk guy in a dark alley, but he was very polite, and explained that he had driven to the bar, but because he was responsible, he didn’t want to drive home, but his cell phone was dead, so he asked the lady to call him a cab. She did, and he was grateful, and they said pleasant goodbyes before going their separate ways.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman was very good at her job, and she knew she had added value to the company she worked for, so even though she was nervous, she talked to her boss, and asked for a raise, and she got it.

The End.


Once upon a time a woman grew up in a land-locked state, and continued to live there because she had married her high school sweetheart, and his job was tied to the area, and she wanted to stay close to her parents, but she had always wished she had learned to surf. So when she turned 65 she used some of the money from her savings account, took her first ever solo vacation to the coast, and took a week’s worth of surfing lessons, and had a very nice time.

The End.


Once upon a time a young girl grew up reading magazines about beauty products and consequently felt very self-conscious about her acne. She tried a bunch of treatments that had varying degrees of success, and never left the house without a full face of makeup. She started using anti-aging products when she was 20, thinking that prevention would work better than a cure. But when she turned 30 she still had acne that she had hoped to outgrow, but somehow it just didn’t seem to matter as much. She would sometimes run errands without any makeup at all. And despite the preventative care she had tried to do in her early twenties, she started developing some wrinkles on her forehead in her late twenties. But again, somehow, it just didn’t seem to bother her as much as the prospect had when she was younger. When she was in her forties her skin had continued to wrinkle, but she cared even less, and was pleased to see that the wrinkles around her eyes made it look like she smiled a lot, which made her smile more, and she cared even less, and she only wore makeup when she wanted to, and never felt obligated to do so. When she was 80 her skin was thinner and delicate, but reminded her of really beautiful tissue paper, and she was happier, and felt more confident as a person than she ever had.

The End.


I LOVE this observation! Must share…
Thanks Justine!


I read it somewhere – that no One is to become the surrogate for One’s inner life. That is so deep… and that is when i’ve finally learned how to truly LOVE! Gigi Schilling


Can’t remember where I read this but I wish I’d seen it earlier in life…

‘No-one is coming to save you’ or from a Buddhist perspective ‘Give up on hope’

Now obviously you can take these rather bleak statements the wrong way but really they’re a battle cry to fully shoulder the responsibility for one’s own happiness.

Sadly it may be that these realisations sometimes only come from us all getting into positions where the lie we’re sold becomes evident.

Onwards and upwards, into the light, where the drama is gone and communication is the goal not winning the argument.


@Sue I do too. The more I read them + read into them the more fascinating they become.

@Lala Thank you, Lala. That was an incredible comment and I am honored + moved to receive it.

@ANYA We are, indeed, the ones we’ve been waiting for! And I love the Lupica piece.

@Gigi Schilling Powerful + true. You can’t outsource your inner life.

@Robert Sweetman It’s liberating when you finally do realize that, accept that, and dump the rescue fantasy. I think of real communication now as the ability to penetrate reality — to get beyond your own drama, projections, biases, etc. + know the world as it actually is ( + respond accordingly). Which makes it something that’s not about winning or losing — but a practice.


re-imagining the world, modern tales


Wonderful post, I have been reading your blog for a while and would really like to know your opinion of the “Fascinating Womanhood” book by Helen B. Andelin, simply because I expect it to be hilarious :) Keep writing and enlightening.


“You look into your prince’s face and discover that it is your own.”

deep love.


Disney? No or, at least I’m not sure, is the best case. Pretty Woman yes, the most perverse movie of the last century… I’m not at all sure that the fairies in Sleeping Beauty, are in any way as pornographic a character, collectively, as in that movie. I watched Fargo with my little girl but I’d never watch that pretty petty mindless movie except to show how dumb. Also strong female characters in Frozen (recognizing it doesn’t address your point which is early Disney, and true).


Walt Disney the *man* reshaped traditional fairy tales for entire generations, so that the versions we grew up with and know are the Disney versions instead of the original, more empowering ones. The fairies in Sleeping Beauty are hardly pornographic; they are dumpy middle-aged matrons with limited power. Pretty Woman and Frozen are inspired by fairy tales without actually being fairy tales, so they don’t really apply here. Interesting that you would let your little girl watch Fargo — a dark, violent movie (isn’t that the one where the bad guys put a person into a wood chopper?) — instead of Pretty Woman, which is about a woman learning how to reveal her shining, authentic self that she was all along beneath the “Cinderella rags”.


Ok, marriage isn’t happily ever after, but being single isn’t happily ever after either. Don’t you feel “unhappy” when you wake up in the middle of the night and look at the empty side of the bed, many of you single girls out there? The problem isn’t that the prince or the princess aren’t grown up enough, it’s that happiness has become such an out of touch concept in today’s society. Our lives are so complicated, jobs so demanding, competition so high that we technically have robbed ourselves of any chance at happiness. So it’s not that we haven’t had enough inner growth rather we have become too sophisticated to be satisfied with little and ordinary happiness adult life has to offer.


Do you think there might be a connection between modern discontent and our lack of myths, stories about female transcendence? What do we have instead? Disney princesses and Kim kardashian?


Kim Kardashian certainly adds to my discontent :) but seriously, it’s an interesting conversation to have. Growing up on the other side of the world without any Disney products and a wealth of original stories, I still struggle with keeping my light on, living in the shadow of an overpowering man. Unfortunately, those original stories aren’t female centered either: the female transcendence only comes through her death, usually after her husband’s death, her only distinguishing character is her beauty and maybe wit when choosing a husband, and she basically always disappears after marriage; only to re-emerge as a widow or a crying mother who lost a child. I can’t say those stories help me, writing my own story however helps.


Writing our own story is our most creative + powerful act. Not least because it inspires others to write their own stories as well…Courage is contagious.

I know what it’s like to live in someone’s shadow. Just remember that good things grow in the dark.

…and we all want and need to be loved. I’m not denying that. But we also want to become whole, and I’m not sure we give ourselves enough of a chance to do that, especially amid a culture that teaches us we need somebody else to complete us.



@justine musk Thanks for the reply, I completely agree with you. xo back :)


I love your writing and hope it never stops :)


Your might like “Kissing the Witch” by Emma Donoghue. Fairytales reinvented from a feminist slant.


Not really because Fargo is about a woman who aspires to and captures blood thirsty killers. Oh, and Pretty Woman, I guess I forgot what that’s about? What possible authentic self? Someone who shops, gets insulted, and gets rescued by the prince who buys her stuff? Oh yes, that movie. Authentic what? Fargo anytime. Wood chipper rather than chipped off at the head. I was agreeing, or thought I was, with your point about Disney. I wasn’t at all saying the fairies are pornographic. I was saying, relatively, that Pretty Woman is. If I wasn’t saying that I meant to, and I stand by that as it’s a bad message for 10 year old girls. I think if the character achieves anything other than capturing Richard Gere’s character (I forget thank god) then you may be right, but that would have been a different movie. Like if she actually finds her authentic self and does something other than pout till he comes back. Well, that’s not true either. She pouted all the time. Authentic pouter, yes.


@G I don’t think the movie was really meant for 10 year old girls. I do see your point. :)

I think there was something in there though about the power of loving + being loved. Cinderella the fairy tale is about a young woman who tests her prince to see if he can recognize her true authentic self beneath the rags — and thus be worthy of her. That message kind of gets lost in contemporary versions.

Good point about Fargo. Something about that movie turned me off, so I forgot what a revolutionary character she was. I should watch it again.

@liz I’ve never read Donoghue, although I know the name. Will check her out, thanks! (I’m finally getting around to reading Angela Carter.)


You absolutely have to watch Fargo again. I know what you mean, and felt the same way the first time, and kind of wondered…. It really was the third time I realized how incredible it is, the stamp (do you remember, at the end? kind of blending the banality of his simple dream with the horrific wood chipper) and also the scene with the guy who is mentally ill and her kindness. Just a lot in there. I’ll concede to the fact that when I saw Pretty Woman I liked it (or confess I might say) but it was when I really thought about it that it troubled me. Granted, too, I’ll watch it again, one of these days. And I’m not really saying Fargo is for every kid (she actually watched it a couple years ago or maybe even 3 years ago); it entirely depends on the “10 year old” as it would have for you, who could also have watched it as a 10 (or 7 or 8) year old.


Do you think if you still lived under the same roof as him — for the kids’ sake — that you would ever be able to get his voice out of your head when you look in the mirror so that you could see your prince in your own face? I’m wondering if I can get to that point without leaving. I’m afraid that if I do leave, all I’ll see when I look in the mirror is not my prince, but someone who took away my young son’s right to a home with mom and dad under the same roof.


There are certain circumstances under which I believe that divorce is actually better for the kids…They grow up using your marriage as a model for their own relationships, for what love and intimacy are like, for how to treat women (or men). A toxic dynamic doesn’t serve anybody.

To answer your question: no, not in my particular case. I still had his voice in my head for years after we broke up.


“Fairy tales were originally female tales, women’s work: handed down from mothers to daughters. In these versions, heroines were not pretty victims killing time and waiting for rescue. Sisters rescued brothers; daughters rescued fathers or lovers”

Why do some women these days always think that saying this makes it true?
Besides it being false, is it even necessary to say this? No one really needs to prove that feminine ambitions, capabilities, thoughts and contributions are great and worthwhile. To me thats obviously true, because woman are people and people are amazing in what they can do and what strengths they can possess.

Stories and fairy tales belong to everyone. Women, men, kids old people…whoever cares to invent them or tell them. They were never usurped by men, you know.

As a man, I feel that the more woman have to talk about the fact that they’re strong, powerful and writing their own story (as in the comments above) the weaker they sound.
Living an empowered life is about doing it, not talking endlessly about doing it.


As a woman, I have to say: a rather condescending comment. Also, might want to research the history of fairy tales, it’s fascinating, and there are some great books on the subject. Also, instead of asking me these ‘questions’, why don’t you open some real honest dialogues with the women in your life? And truly, deeply listen to them? Or read some books about — wait for it — women’s history. I dare you. :)


Add your comment