Dear Four-Year-Old Princess: Love Is So Complicated

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My four-year-old daughter is home from school today, so naturally she's spending her afternoon twirling in front of me in princess dress after princess dress.

Mommy, don't I look sooooo beautiful. I know a boy will marry me.

My heart sinks. My mind races. My eyes dart all over the living room, where she's created Valentine's decorations. A sea of red and pink hearts drown me as I try to come up with an age-appropriate way of explaining to her the reality of love, marriage, life.

Yes, Valentine's Day has sent my daughter into love overdrive and in her adorable mind love = marriage to a handsome boy.

She's clearly knee-deep in the princess syndrome, and I've done nothing to stop the madness. In fact, I think my behavior with her father and men in general has probably made it worse.

But how do you explain to a four-year old that the prince hardly EVER comes to save you (and you don't need him to) and despite every message around her screaming otherwise, what she looks like INSIDE is what matters ... not outside with her damn dress and primped hair?

How do you explain that a partnership based on love is very hard work? That sometimes it goes horribly wrong and that the prince is a monster or that potential suitor is really going to break her heart? How do you explain that sometimes it's so wonderful and mesmerizing and lifts you off your feet until your heart thumps from your chest and you can barely breathe? How do you explain how lovers turn to friends and friends to lovers and they come and go and leave memories and wounds and sometimes very deep scars? How do you explain how a relationship changes and morphs over time and ebbs and flows?

She sees her father and me, and she sees nothing but love. I can't blame her for thinking that's all there is. Its all she is shown at home, on TV and anywhere. In her mind, it is the only way love exists.

How do I teach her just how complicated love really can be ... and how painful? Do I? Of course I do. I'm just not sure how.

Maybe she's smarter than I think, and she does see it. She sees the daily routine in this house where husband and wife sit in the same room and do their own things, barely talking. But she also sees the love pecks in the kitchen as we cook and the surprise butt-pinches as I bend over to grab something off the floor. Maybe just witnessing the roller coaster and mundane drudgery that IS the cycle of love is enough?

Or perhaps I've done her a complete disservice by not showing her it all. The tough. The boring. The very ugly. Because of that she moons over handsome boys and dons dress after dress talking about weddings and brides and her prince.

Maybe I haven't shown her, because I haven't figured it out myself. I have no idea how to explain the unexplainable. How I can be committed to her father yet flirt with other men? How I can be content in the routine yet throw a tantrum over it all in one day? How I can want more and love my life all in the same hour? How I can put on the adult version of the princess dress, that little black number, and paint my face and charm and smile and notice that indeed boys are soooo handsome? How I can come home to her father and cuddle on the couch while I remove my heels and then discuss bills? How I can remain happily married to my best friend sans dress and in sweats when it's not all flowers and romance and horses and carriages and glass slippers?

How can I talk to her about love as the restless mother who can't seem to get a handle on her own role in love well into a now almost 10-year marriage? Because in that little girl I see myself, wide-eyed and hopeful and willing to give away her heart with an intense passion that will sting, suffocate and be spectacular.

So many conflicting images and moments for her young, female mind to absorb. Resulting in twirling in front of me today, showing me how beautiful she looks.

I want my daughter to be strong, confident, and to not rely on a prince or even love this Valentine's Day or the next 100 ... but I'm afraid teaching her that lesson may be in watching her mother fail at it. Miserably. Happily. Having given myself to the princess syndrome long ago, unable to shake off its chains, and content with where, what and who it's given me.

More Valentine's Day thoughts:

Valentine's Day For Feminists Lovers
For Those of Us in Long-Term Relationships, Valentine's Is Really Happy-Sticking-It-Out Together Day
Half-assed Valentine's Day
My heart says: "Flobbada-Flop"
Surviving Valentines Day

Politics & News Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest

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