What comes after Happily Ever After?
When you’re a kid – heck, even when you’re an adult – fairy tales and Hollywood romantic comedies tell you that after two people fall in love, they live happily ever after.
Even as a child, I wanted to see what life looked like on the other side of happily ever after. You don’t see Prince Charming holding Cinderella’s hair back as she hunches over the toilet in her first trimester. You don’t know if Sleeping Beauty ever wishes she could go back to sleep after finding one more sock that didn’t make it into the hamper. And you certainly don’t know how Ariel worked out visiting both sides of the family for holidays (scuba gear for Eric?)
My husband and I were young when we said ‘I do’ and stepped into our happily ever after. Now, here we are, fifteen years later, still going strong.
So, for all those curious minds like mine, here you go. Here is what the other side of happily ever after looks like.
First, paint this picture in your mind. Start with a huge, lovely table. We’re talking a behemoth of gleaming mahogany with not a speck of dust on it. Now place a pretty little vase of flowers in the middle. This is the first month.
Add two plates – they’re hand me downs but beautiful and just might be worth something one day. This is the first year. Go ahead and throw a little lace doily under the flowers for that first anniversary.
Now, I want you to take the screwdriver that just randomly appeared on the corner of the table. The one next to the pile of laundry that needs to folded. Yep, that’s right – we’ve got laundry now, too. Pick up that screwdriver, hold it over the edge of one of those plates and let go. If you did it right, there should be a little chip. Do that again. In fact, do it about 15 times. And then do it to the other plate, too.
That takes care of the third year.
Add some mugs of coffee to the table. And just to be safe, you probably want to go ahead and add a few more, the bigger the better. You might as well spill some of the coffee – you can always wipe it up with that dish towel that’s still waiting to be folded and put away. Now time for some paper products – put a big stack of bills on the table – anywhere is fine. Better freshen up those flowers though with a bigger bouquet. Hello year five.
Wait a minute, you say. This table is really messy. It’s got some nice stuff on here but it really needs to be cleaned off. So, you pick up the bills, put away the laundry, wipe up the spilled coffee and even change out the plates. It looks really nice now! So, go ahead and add some wine glasses and fill them with a lovely chardonnay. Add some candles. Fill those plates with a lovingly prepared meal. Ah, what a satisfying turn of events. You are really doing a good job with this table and it looks like you’ve got the hang of things now.
Ready for the next step? Are you really sure you’re ready? Because this step changes everything and there is no going back. Yes? Okay. Take a box of Cheerios and dump it on the table. Now, here’s twenty Matchbox cars- toss them on there, too. This is really important: make sure one ends up in the wine glass. Ooh, and here’s the best part – I’m giving you a Sharpie. You get to color on the table – yes, the actual wood top of the table. Color as hard as you can and as big as you can.
Perfect. Add some bowls and spoons and turned over cups.
Here’s some milk. Spill it. Now, as quick as you can, smear all of the following on the table: peanut butter, syrup, mustard, ketchup… and yes, that brown stuff too – it’s probably best if you don’t really know what that one is. Trust me.
What’s that? You don’t remember what year it is and you’d like to sit down at the table for minute and relax? Sorry, no can do. I need you to put some moving boxes on there. But you can use your other hand to drink some coffee if you really need to. Just make sure you keep adding stuff to the table – remotes, cameras, phones, cookies, birthday cards, pacifiers, keys, the sky’s the limit here.
Okay, enough, you say. You’re going to take a minute to get this table clean again. You look at it, trying to decide what to take away first. The flowers have to stay of course. And you can’t possibly take away that mug that was a souvenir from your trip to New England. And that dish towel is super useful right where it is – the instant you take it away, you’ll need it again. And that little plastic dinosaur is your son’s most prized possession – it of course deserves a place of honor next to the flowers. And all those papers, stacked up on the corner? Definitely have to stay.
You shuffle things around a little bit but ultimately you realize, if you take anything away, the table is … empty. And you think really hard – do you want an empty table?
And you realize the best thing that ever happened to you was a full table.
That my friends, is happily ever after – it’s a full table that is slightly messy and filled with the souvenirs of a life lived out together. It’s the beautiful next to the necessary. It’s a couple of spills along with the tools to clean them up. It holds treasures and time together. There’s vintage sitting right next to the new. There are a few stains but also a lovely patina that could only develop with age.
But here’s the best and the worst part: the table changes. Some things will leave and new things will appear. The choice is up to you whether you will wake up each day and see the beauty of the table that day – not how pretty it could be if it this or that was replaced, not how lovely it once was before stuff was piled on it. If you can see the incredible beauty of the Matchbox cars and the laundry and the flowers and the coffee, then you will also see the hands held and the laughs shared and even the tears shed around that table. And you will know exactly what happily ever after looks like
Happy 15th anniversary to my best friend and husband, Andrew. I love our very full table.