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5 Reasons Fairy-Tale Romances Almost Always Go Wrong

Holding out for a knight or princess could hold you back from finding real love.

Stefano Cavoretto/Shutterstock
Source: Stefano Cavoretto/Shutterstock

Young women often say they want to find a knight in shining armor and be "a princess" on their wedding day. From an early age, many girls are indoctrinated with the idea that lasting romance and commitment looks like a magical

fairytale. Parental cues, movies, books, and sometimes even fashion further support this conditioning. (Consider toddler princess dresses, tiny tiaras, and the recent remake of Cinderella.)

Similarly, many boys may be taught that a "real man" must never show vulnerability and be a protective provider for his partner. Many men then grow to shy away from love and commitment, perceiving them to be a burden. Consequently, the "fantasy" romance results in many women being disappointed in love.

Millennials frequently say they won't "settle" for less than the fairy tale in order to commit to a long-term romantic partnership. At different points in a relationship, they may think they have found it, but inevitably, reality sets in.

Why is the fantasy not what it seems? Here are 5 reasons why fairy-tale dreams often lead to misery in marriage and romance:

1. Princesses and knights have a dark side.

For a woman who wants to be treated like a princess, power in her romantic relationships comes from being prized by men and placed on a pedestal to be cared for, protected, and cherished. In exchange for this security, though, he gets to be "The Man." The hidden dark side of the princess/knight mentality is what researchers term "benevolent sexism"—which means that believing women should be protected is actually used (intentionally or unintentionally) to justify gender inequality. The idea of the princess and the knight with a protective shield is predicated on the woman being so weak that she needs male protection, which includes the man making decisions for her. This, in a way, is degrading to women, because it means that, even on a pedestal, she is not meant to be taken seriously or trusted with the real decisions or the heavy lifting of life.

2. Princess status stunts growth.

For the woman who wants to be the princess in the fantasy, the development and preservation of delicate femininity has one purpose—to exist to be adored. For the man taking the role of the knight, his value as a romantic partner exists only according to his ability to protect the princess. In the real world, women who overemphasize their femininity may do so at the expense of their own personal power. Research shows that women who are more interested in romantic goals can be less interested in mathematics and science-oriented careers. Women who put all of their worth into relationships and do not experience their worth in other pursuits have lower self-esteem than women who occupy a variety of roles.

3. Fairy-tale fantasies rarely match reality.

Research shows that marriages based on the fairy-tale notion of women being protected and cherished for their feminine qualities lead to dismay when both members of the union cannot live up to expectations. In many couples, when men cannot deliver this unrealistic fantasy, the woman is left feeling defeated and hopeless.

4. The knight-in-shining-armor adores delicate femininity, but not assertive women.

For women in this type of relationship, the implicit "deal" is that she will be passive and let her partner call the shots. Working independently on pursuing empowering projects or making decisions on her own may not be supported. Every consequential decision is solely the man's responsibility.

5. The lonely princess.

Women in particular tend to pay the price when a couple adopts unrealistic expectations for their relationship. Research shows that women who endorse fairy-tale ideas about romance and marriage tend to have less relationship satisfaction and a more negative sense of psychological well-being—including depression—than women who are less compelled by fairy-tale ideas of marriage.

Conversely, projecting an overly positive perception of your relationship and/or partner is related to higher relationship satisfaction and can even buffer the impact of other, negative relationship dynamics. There is a difference, however, between seeing your partner positively, and expecting things from one another that you simply cannot consistently deliver. Holding one another to rigid gender roles can be suffocating over the long term. Men and women who allow one another to be their full selves have greater emotional intimacy as well as more fun and spontaneity in their relationships.

Be aware of the drawbacks of the static fairy tale, both for yourself and your partner. Talk openly together about the roles you expect one another to occupy, what you expect from a man, and see how he feels about that. Find out what he expects from a woman. Then go back and determine if these expectations are realistic. This is an empowering process that leaves the door open for long-term personal growth and change for both partners.

For more, tweet me your relationship questions @DrJillWeber, like me on Facebook, or visit

Jill Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy--Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.

copyright Jill Weber, Ph.D.

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