When I attended this winter ball last year, I posted a Photoshopped picture of me with Disney’s Prince Charming. Still in the budding stages of our romance, my beau and I hadn’t gone “Facebook official” yet. My most popular blog was shortly after, in January, when I posted the first picture of my Charming, perhaps because the fairy tale became real for my readers like it was for me.
It’s tricky to balance the art of anecdotal integrity and respect for others’ privacy when you’re a writer. Perhaps you’ve wondered, even when drafting a status update, just how much is too much. Nevertheless, as creative writing teachers, we emphasize the importance of specifics and details. We ask students to show us with imagery rather than tell us so that we might creatively engage with that story ourselves.
When my sophomores are writing fairy tales in the spring, anecdotal integrity will be integral. It’s fiction; there’s no need for protecting people’s privacy. They can give background stories and qualities and characteristics to their protagonists and supporting characters without crossing sensitive boundaries. With my bloggers afterschool, a little club time is always devoted to tactful ways to figure out how to give our readers just enough that they can engage and relate, but without divulging details that aren’t ours to share or writing salaciously about painful events.
Sometimes, I’ll use my own blog as an example of how I struggled to construct a personal anecdote involving Charming knowing how incredibly private he is by nature. I’ve respected the natural boundaries I imagine my ex-husband would desire, including withholding the specifics surrounding our divorce. That’s easy. My mother uses her own experiences when leading Bible studies or speaking at conferences, so I typically feel safe bringing her to life on writing nights.
My friends and students have all been carefully concealed by fairy tale pseudonyms. This choice allowed me to share more private, personal sentiments without fear of reproach. My young bloggers sometimes refer to themselves at school by my princess nicknames, and it makes me smile. We have an inside joke, a little secret we all prize: this gift to write about those who are important to us, especially each other.
Writing about Charming has always been a challenge. Even now as I type these words, I wonder if he’ll cringe dramatically at the title or the picture. Charming is a military man. He’s served in Afghanistan. He’s currently posted at the Pentagon. The black tie gala we attended for the second time this past weekend was a military ball, and Charming was awarded a medal at a ceremony beforehand. These all speak to who he is.
I’ve never shared this much about Charming before. But when I posted a picture of him, my blog stats boomed. My readers needed to see him to understand my infatuation, to be able to join me in my fairy tale. As the year progressed, I’d divulge too much on occasion and make Charming uncomfortable; the pseudonym no longer protected him once there was a photograph.
For one night, just one, I want to write the real Prince Charming into my narrative. He met me in a tea shop in Richmond fifteen months ago and changed my life. Teachers and kids tease me about a ring under the tree at Christmas, but I know there won’t be one. I don’t want there to be. Because I know the real Charming, and he has to take his time.
I don’t know what it will take for him to decide I’m the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and that’s okay. It’s out of my hands, and rightly so. When my kids are writing their fairy tales, I don’t chime in during their exposition and hand them their resolution. They have to develop their plot for the story that they want to write. Giving them an ending would limit their creativity, destroy their sense of ownership, and cheapen the integrity of the experience.
Charming has to write his story, and one look at that uniform says he’s written some amazing, inspiring chapters all on his own. One look at the girl on his arm says he’s got a leading lady for his narrative now, and it’s not up to her whether this story ends as a comedy or a tragedy. We fell in love, so we have two potential outcomes: marry each other or fall out of it. I don’t want to consider the latter.
What I know is that I felt twice as much pride on Charming’s arm at the ball this year as I did last December. Now, I know the real Charming. Our story is not a fairy tale because it’s filled with sunshine and roses. We’ve struggled to get ourselves working on the same chapters, much less ending up on the same page. He’s a year behind me in the divorce process… and pretty much everything else. He’s nothing if not consistent.
Our story is a fairy tale because of who he is. I gave him his nickname before our first date. I didn’t know that he would embody it. Nor is it self-fulfilling prophesy. Charming never sought to be my hero. He was simply the answer to every question of my summer of online dating. I didn’t have to settle. Men of quality still exist, however difficult to fish out of a quagmire of doctored profiles.
Charming still opens the car door for me. He lets me pay for inexpensive meals to feel like I’m carrying my weight. He thinks of things that will make me smile, like dressing up in a sparkly red gown I haven’t worn since I was seventeen (hmmm…. fits me a bit differently now) and dancing with the man of my dreams. He might take his time to arrive at major life decisions involving a potential life partner, but in the meantime, he fills our moments together with creative memory making.
When I asked him to write me a love letter, it took him a few weeks, but it was so rare and honest that I cried when I read the words. When I asked him if he would love me, it took him a few months; then, he finally said the words, and I cried because I knew he meant it. Like me, Charming has amassed a slew of broken chapters in the development of his narrative, and I feel honored to be his leading lady now.
Tonight, I don’t want him to cringe. He is the reason I get to have a fairy tale every week, and I know it’s hard to battle my weaponized biological clock while he’s finding his way to a few months from now. His royal track record shows he consistently catches up eventually, so that’s promising.
The reality is that I might be alone during the week, resenting the absence of the pitter-patter of little feet, but on the weekends, Charming gives me two-day episodes in our own fairy tale. He’s never put me on a pedestal, never asked me to be his royal match, but his courtship has made me feel like a queen.
I don’t need a ring to believe this man loves me. He respects me. Our relationship honors God. I get to look my dad in the eyes without shame. Two years ago, that was unfathomable. Our story may not play out like a Disney movie, but Charming has never failed to live up to his name.