In college, when Jonathan and I were dating, we had an acquaintance who was always asking me questions about our relationship. I’d run into him coming out of the Beamer Center and he’d throw his arm over my shoulder and ask me, “Tell me, is Jonathan good to you? Does he treat you like a princess?” This made me really uncomfortable. Partly because it felt like a weird way of flirting when I was clearly not interested and partly because it seemed to suggest that maybe there was something wrong with our relationship.
Jonathan was my first boyfriend and I wasn’t totally sure what it was supposed to look like. Questions like that made me panicky. I thought things were going well, but what did I really know? Did I feel like a princess? Shouldn’t I?
Growing up in a conservative evangelical church and community I believed that the ideal husband was a man who treated his wife like a pristine jewel.* I imagined I would marry a man who admired me for my purity and my modesty and who considered it the great honor of his life to provide for me. This man would be captivated by my beauty and filled with gratitude and maybe even some disbelief that he had been entrusted with something as precious as me. I would be a companion to him, supporting him and taking care of all of his domestic needs** and he would dote on me.
When I pictured my husband in that abstract way of a teenage girl I imagined flowers every Friday and frequent serenades (sometimes featuring string quartets). I pictured picnics in the park and romantic dinners and moments where he stopped dead in his tracks, awe-struck by my beauty and maybe a little weepy.
If you know my husband, you know how funny this is.
Don’t get me wrong, my husband is a wonderful man. He is very gentle and tender towards me. He serves me in beautiful and humbling ways. But he is not a romantic in the conventional sense. He tells me that I’m beautiful, but I don’t think he’s ever stopped and stared at me in awe. He expresses appreciation for the things I do around the house, but he does not worship me as a domestic goddess. Once, I leaned over and whispered very sweetly in his ear, “I love you so much and I’m so glad that we’re together.” And he smiled and reached out and said, “Got your nose!” while joyfully tweaking my nose. My husband is unfailingly patient and kind to me. But does he treat me like a princess? No, he doesn’t. And I’ve come to realize that I’m glad about that.
See, the “princess” as we commonly envision her, rules from an ivory tower. She may be adored, but she isn’t really known. She is praised for her sweetness, her beauty, and her daintiness. She might be wise and may be present for important discussions, but she doesn’t make decisions. Her power is symbolic more than it is actualized. She can’t protect herself because she’s never been given the opportunity to develop her strength. She isn’t able to grow because she isn’t given the freedom to fail. Her value lies in her position and in everything that that symbolizes.
My husband doesn’t treat me like a princess. He treats me like I’m his favorite person in the world. He treats me like a woman whose ideas and opinions he respects and is influenced by. He tells me that I am capable and strong. He treats me like I am valuable, not for the role I play, but for who I am. I am not afraid to make mistakes because my husband treats me like a human being – he isn’t devastated when he discovers that I’m flawed, because he never expected me to be perfect.
So while the remnants of my younger self sometimes wish my husband lived in awe of my beauty, my current self is thankful that he doesn’t. I don’t need a husband who treats me like a princess. I need a husband who reminds me that I’m a warrior.
*Ok, part of that might also have come from an early obsession with Disney. But I don’t want to get into the whole Disney princess debate because they are really improving that lately. And also, Disney still added far more magic to my life than the damage done by limp-noodle heroines. In conclusion, I still love Disney and my children will know the words to every Disney song ever recorded by the time they are three, so help me God.
**I wasn’t raised in the kind of strict complementarian circles that would disapprove of a woman working outside of the home, but there was certainly the expectation that part of a wife’s role is to keep a nice home.