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The Fairytales of Love

The Fairytales of Love

Issue 70 July 2010

Embracing the reality of love; its challenges, its rewards and its constant, patient rhythm.  


I remember the day that I first fell in love. I was 13, and the film Grease was playing on TV. And there he was. Cool, trendy, good looking and ready to do anything for his girl. He was of course John Travolta, and I had no doubt that he would turn up on my doorstep and ask me to marry him. Things didn’t quite work out like that - he went on to become a scientologist, and I set off on my own quest for love.

The stories and legends we grow up with though, make it tough for reality to live up to those kind of epic romances. I thought back to the fairytales that I had grown up with; these were the stories which shape the ideas of our culture about love. Without even realising it, the innocent tales had whispered into my ears, and those of my peers, were simple words that influence the way that we see the world.

To find true love, I would have to be as beautiful as sleeping beauty, which meant that my prince had to be a strong testosterone fuelled hero who could chop down forests, which seemed a bit, well, Neanderthal-like to me.

Or, to find true love, I’d also have to be as lovely and caring as Cinderella who was nice even to her wicked step sisters, but then I wasn’t sure I wanted to be with a prince who was so fickle that he could only recognise me when I was all dressed up. What! He needed a fancy designer shoe to identify that I was a real beauty inside and out?

And on both counts, I didn’t feel like I needed to be rescued or saved from household drudgery or from a century long snooze. I was - still am - a modern woman, who is quite capable of saving herself. But just because I can, doesn’t mean that I want to.

The thing is, I rather like the idea of having someone around - not from financial or social necessity, but to support, love and encourage each other. Love for completion, love for fulfilment. Love for spiritual wayfaring.

It might be fun to play at princes and princesses, but once you’ve taken away the pretty frocks, glass slippers and big castles, that’s when you know who both of you really are, and what you bring for each other. When you take away the wrapping paper and ribbon, is it still love?

 It’s worth remembering as we enter the wedding season:  Love isn’t perfect or airbrushed, it can’t be. In fact, we should be strong enough to assert that love should not be so hideously plastic or saccharine. It is easy to love in the moments of beauty and happiness.  The challenge for us is to still love when it is difficult, because I believe that is when love is at its most rewarding.

It is at that moment that our human essence fulfils its purpose to selflessly serve another. And at that very same time, despite our own imperfections, we are intimately recognised and cherished for our own essence.

Love takes time and perseverance, not just weeks or months, but years - even decades - through those clichéd good times and bad, the proverbial ups and downs. Love starts out as exciting, full of the heady rush of romance, and we must celebrate new couples and help them enjoy the phase of red roses and moonlit walks. Even those who have made it through the journey of life together can share a moment of exquisite romance and the pure joy that it brings.

Collecting those early experiences in a memory bank can anchor the moments when love becomes hard work. A memory bank is love’s rainy-day-fund. A memory bank brings the rewards of the investment that all those who wish to love, and be loved, need to make. But those investments must be carefully selected, and cultivated with care and attention.  Love is certainly the enjoyment of the rose, but it is also the pleasure of seeing the plant grow. And that, of course, takes time.

In our age of speed and convenience – or as John Travolta would have said – the age of ‘Greased lightening’ - love is the one thing that continues to beat to its own patient rhythm.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf, and writes a blog at

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