Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden was walking through the forest when out of nowhere, a king stepped out of his golden coach and proposed to her. Frightened by his beard, which was totally blue, the maiden objected to marrying her suitor. Her father couldn’t believe his good luck, and after nagging his daughter relentlessly, she finally consented. However, the beard was so blue, it made one shudder somewhat to look at it, and so the maiden went to her brothers for some help.

“Dear brothers,” she cried, “if you hear me scream, drop everything at once and come to my aid immediately.” The brothers promised to do this, and said, “Farewell, dear sister. If we hear your voice, we will jump on our horses and be there as soon as possible.”

Then, the maiden hopped into the coach with Bluebeard and off he went with his new queen to a splendid castle, which was now also hers and would have made both of them very happy were it not for the king’s blue beard that, no matter how hard she tried, frightened her beyond belief.

One day, he had to go on a long journey and gave all the keys to the entire castle to the queen under one condition: she could go into every room and look at everything with the exception of one particular room, which was forbidden to her.

“If you open it,” he threatened her, “you will pay for it with your life.” The queen promised to do as he asked.

As soon as he left, she wasted no time opening every door one right after the other and saw many treasures that must have been gathered from around the world. Soon there were no more doors to open, except for the forbidden room. It was the only thing left on her mind. Curiosity gnawed at her as she turned the golden key over in her hand, wondering what was behind the last door. The queen would have willingly given up looking behind all the other doors if she could have just seen what was worth hiding in the last room. Since the key was made out of gold, she believed that something precious must be inside.

There was nothing precious inside. Instead, blood rushed towards the queen and she saw only carnage. The skeletons of dead women were hanging from the walls. Some still even had flesh on their body. Horrified by the ghastly scene, she slammed the door shut, accidentally dropping the key into a puddle of blood.Terrified that Bluebeard might discover what she had done, the queen tried to wipe away the blood, but to no avail; the bloodstains could not be erased. Out of desperation, she thrust the key into a pile of hay, thinking it would absorb the blood left on the key, but it was hopeless.

The next day, Bluebeard returned to the castle and asked for his keys back first thing. Heart pounding, the queen brought the bunch of keys back to the king as he requested, hoping he wouldn’t notice the golden key was missing. However, after counting all the keys, he looked straight into her eyes and said, “Where’s the key to the secret room?”

His queen blushed red as the blood she had seen. “It’s upstairs,” she stammered, “I misplaced it. I shall go and look for it tomorrow.”

“You’d better go now, dear wife. I need it. Today.”

“Oh, I might as well tell you. I lost it in the hay. I’ll have to go and search for it first.” Bluebeard was angry.

“You haven’t lost it,” he said. “Now you’ll enter the room whether you want to or not because you did not listen to me.”

The queen brought the key, still stained with blood, back to Bluebeard.

“Prepare yourself for your own death,” he told her, “because you shall die today.” Bluebeard grabbed a knife and started to sharpen it on the bottom step.

“Before I die, let me say my prayers,” the queen asked, and ran upstairs. As soon as she got to the window, she yelled to her brothers for help as loud as she could. Finally, she saw her three brothers riding as fast as they could towards her rescue just before her head was suddenly jerked backwards as Bluebeard grabbed her by the hair. He was just about to plunge his knife into her heart when her three brothers tore their sister from his hands. 

Once their sister was safe, the brothers went back to cut down Bluebeard with their swords. Afterwards, they hung him up next to the women he killed, and took their sister home with them.

Then, all the treasure that was once Bluebeard’s became hers.

The End

Love by Another Name

Two people you love are hanging off the side of a cliff. Who do you save?

Easy: I let go.

Not Clamence! This man is close enough to see the “cool and damp” neck of a woman dressed all in black staring at the river, hears the sound of a body striking water, and keeps walking.

It’s a metaphor for love, of course; it’s remarkable how often love and death coincide. I’m reading The Fall by Albert Camus and he’s drawing the boundaries around a definition of love from his perspective and experience.

Nobody is born knowing how to love. Growing up, my parents showed love by feeding me, clothing me, and keeping a roof over my head. When my ex-fiance kicked me out and I showed up at their door, they closed it in my face. I was forced to rearrange my own definition of love and face a truth I wasn’t ready to accept.

While heartbreak is universal, not all love is created equal. Camus (as Clamence) says:

“Some cry: ‘Love me!’ Others: ‘Don’t love me!’ But a certain genus, the worst and most unhappy, cries: ‘Don’t love me and be faithful to me!’ Except that the proof is never definitive, after all; one has to begin again with each new person. As a result of beginning over and over again, one gets in the habit. Soon the speech comes without thinking and the reflex follows; and one day you find yourself taking without really desiring…not taking what one doesn’t desire is the hardest thing in the world.”

Love is an ever-evolving concept. The only way I’ve learned how to show love is the same way as my parents showed me: feeding, clothing, and keeping a roof over somebody else’s head. It’s no mystery how three of my own relationships have collapsed. My concept of love dissolved the day a door closed in my face when I needed nothing more than life’s bare minimum to survive.

The only thing I’ve learned about starting over and over again is more about the way I desire myself to be loved, the only kind I’ve read about in books, and not the kind I can give myself. Self-love, for me, is empty and unreciprocated: it is a one-way street, a dead end.

Clamence is a “judge-penitent,” someone who has known love, but only in retrospect. Death is the deepest form of separation to express and properly convey the level of remorse he feels about whatever happened. The details are hardly relevant, not that he did, in fact, check the papers to see if the woman is still alive.

What he attempts to convey is the sense of an irreversible loss, something a better person would learn how to do the next time they are beginning over with someone new. He overcomes the false belief that a “woman who had once been mine could ever belong to another” and learns what belonging really means, that the love he received was taken for granted, not cherished as it should have been.

Now it’s too late because the woman is dead: she will never belong to anyone else ever again.

There’s a tendency to conquer heartbreak by loving the next person harder, instead of differently. Communicating love is an individual act. Heartbreak can become an all-consuming fire in life destroying everything in its path, or it can be a catalyst to do better the next time.

In other words, remorse. Love by another name. As a woman, a series of relationships is a mark against her. For a man, it’s experience. Without starting over, how does anyone learn?

Shakespeare says that a woman may fall when there is no strength in men. Camus shows what strength looks like through his character Clamence by looking back at the life he lived and returning as a judge-penitent, leaving a shining example for someone else to follow.

If there is one thing I’ve never had from a relationship, it’s closure, a definitive reason for why things went wrong. Now the answer to that question is clear as day: they simply don’t know how.

Cupid and Psyche

Once upon a time, there was a god and there was a mortal. Cupid is a god, while Psyche is a mortal. Not just any mortal though. She’s turning heads and Venus, a goddess, is not happy. She’s jealous. The attention Psyche gets interferes with Venus’ worship. Nobody actually likes Psyche. Men are content to look and wonder and adore and worship her, but she is passed on for marriage.

If it weren’t for Venus’ jealousy, there would be no story. Venus decides she wants to force Psyche to fall in love with a despicable and vile creature, so she calls in Cupid, and in an unforeseen turn of events, Cupid decides he does want Psyche when he sees her. What he doesn’t want is to tell anyone he likes a mortal, gods-forbid, especially not Venus, whom he has clearly failed.

Psyche’s parents are disturbed, naturally, by their daughter remaining so long unmarried. Her sisters have married well, even though they’re “inexpressibly inferior” to the “all-beautiful” Psyche. Psyche’s dad goes off to beg the god Apollo to do something about the situation, but Cupid beats him to the punch. He tells Apollo the whole story and he’s like “you’ve gotta lie for me, bro.” 

So Apollo does, naturally. Nobody can find out Cupid, a god, likes a mere mortal, especially not one who has been passed over by all the other mortals. Apollo says Psyche has no choice but to marry a “fearful winged serpent.”

Better dead than unmarried.

Dressed for a funeral, Psyche’s family leaves the poor girl to her doom. Psyche is glad the end has come for her at last. It’s unclear whether Psyche knows she’s getting married or thinks she’s going to die, for she knows not what terror comes for her. In another twist of events, Psyche is carried away by a wind and wakes up in a mansion.

A mansion!

And it’s for her! She has servants, music, a whole banquet table to herself with the most delicious food, and the most delightful baths; all the fear leaves Psyche. She’s convinced she’s found the lover and husband she has been waiting for, and that he’s not a monster or shape of terror. 

Of course she’s still unhappy, naturally. Except for the voices she hears, she’s alone. Psyche starts missing her sisters, who think she’s dead. Psyche’s god for a husband doesn’t want her family there, lest they discover his real identity. He gives in to her though, naturally.

Psyche’s family has not improved overnight. Her sisters are more than curious about her new lifestyle and her mysterious husband. Their jealousy evolves into envy: they want the stuff Psyche now has and they want to know who is the man behind it all. Psyche does the best she can to satiate her sisters’ curiosity.

Psyche becomes divided between her family and faceless husband. Her nameless sisters have sowed seeds of doubt, gaslighting her in contemporary terms, and Psyche falls to pieces. She’s uncertain, she’s unsure, and she didn’t listen to Cupid in the first place. She knows the truth about her family, but she doesn’t know the truth about her husband. She’s torn by doubt and distracted.

Cupid gets the whole spiel later and tells Psyche once more that no one can discover who he is because he’s a god, and Psyche is not, and Venus still doesn’t know anything.

The whole scene repeats itself. Psyche is interrogated and gaslighted, until she finally decides this is not how she’s going to live. When Psyche’s sisters hand her a plan for unveiling who her husband is, she runs with it. 

With a death wish in one hand, and a candle in the other, she sneaks into Cupid’s room while he’s sleeping.

Lo and behold! Her husband has the face of a god (literally) and the first thing Psyche wants to do is kill herself. What she actually does is drop hot oil all over him. He wakes up and runs away: “Love cannot live where there is no trust.”

Psyche blames herself, naturally. What do you expect from a mere mortal?

Meanwhile, Cupid is recovering at home from his burn and Psyche gets the bright idea to ask Venus for help, secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband instead. Venus scorns Psyche and puts her on a wild goose chase with a series of impossible tasks. One after another, Psyche wipes them out.

Alas! Nothing she does captures the attention of her husband. Psyche wants to die a second time. Indifference finally overtakes Psyche when she returns from Hell. She’s exhausted.

Cupid decides now is a good time to pop back up the minute Psyche lays down to rest. Turns out watching Psyche go to Hell did something for him. He’s also healed at this time and finally calls the whole assembly of gods together, proposing to make Psyche immortal.

This, of course, completely changed the situation. Venus has nothing further to say and so the two live happily ever after, finally married in front of all.

Moral: Appearances matter.

The End

Enough to buy a miracle

Almost all of what I know about love comes from fiction, films, and songs. What can I say? 

I’m a silly girl. 

Fiction seems to have a more honest way of representing reality than actual reality. Nothing is born out of nothing, and writers write from experience, the way I do. Either art imitates life or life imitates art.

It’s always fascinating to me the way fiction represents the truth. The Princess Bride is a classic tale of true love and high adventure, written by extraordinary writer William Goldman. That really seems to be the miracle–males and their perspective dominate the topic of love, while in my experience, women seem to be held to higher standards for how to act in love.

Who really knows any better?

I almost got married once or twice upon a time. The first one only promised to marry me and the second one actually proposed with none of the follow through. Both of them bought me very pretty rings. (My first boyfriend was the only one with enough sense to buy me a mood ring.)

There’s a difference between dating and being in a relationship. The only problem with finding yourself in one long-term relationship after another is that you stop acting on your own principles and start conforming to theirs. The truth is my almost-marriage had no love and no money and therefore really stood no chance whatsoever.

The Princess Bride for me is a celebration of something I always wished existed, but could never find anywhere except between the pages of a book. I was raised to believe in marriage, not love. Dating wasn’t encouraged in our household. Women are still judged too harshly by their dating history with men–a woman’s reputation means more than her character.

Most of us are too inhibited to talk about love in any significant way. Most books dole out advice I feel like everyone knows or should know, mainly that relationships take communication, cooperation, and compromise. Nobody ever tells you what to do when the other person refuses to give in, but swears he loves you.

When has anything in love gone right? When, for anyone, is love ever enough?

The most humorous parts of The Princess Bride tend to be some of the most real, like the reunion scene readers are deprived of because the two are arguing less than thirty minutes later. Mind you, this is after Buttercup pushes Westley off the side of a cliff and then demands to know what he was trying to tell her from the bottom.

The relationship between Buttercup’s parents is borderline hysterical; they keep score against each other, have been for years. Miracle Max takes his wife’s word for gospel while also calling her a witch.

For best friends Inigo and Fezzik, true love is the only noble cause they’re after. (Well, not the only thing: Inigo also wants revenge.) With 65 florins, it’s enough to buy them a miracle. Nor does the story end as you would expect. Happily ever after is a possibility, not the reality. It’s certainly not the end-all.

For some of us who haven’t given up yet, marriage is still an ideal; I like the world better through rose-colored glasses. All stories starting with “once upon a time…” end with happily ever after only when two people are married. For once, someone has written a story that ends with two people in love.

What you do with it, William Goldman says, will be of more than passing interest to us all.