Life is too short for misconceptions, and one common misconception perpetuated by the culture is that we are somehow incomplete if we are single. Men and women both often fall prey to the need to live out the archetype of “happily ever after.” Many people have recently drawn attention to the erroneous concepts perpetuated by fairy tales, like the need for a prince to save the girl, but it’s more than that. The problem is deeper than the prince charming stories. In fact, the problem isn’t even prince charming: it’s our definition of “happily ever after.”
Most fairy tales, romantic comedies, and novels with female protagonists bring the woman through a personal development journey that leads her to a man. Lizzy Bennet realizes her prejudice in the face of Darcy’s pride, they reconcile, and they live happily ever after. Jane Eyre learns the strengths and weakness of her own character in the light of Mr. Rochester’s flaws, eventually they are reunited, and they live happily ever after. Richard Gere teaches Julia Roberts that she doesn’t really know what she wants, she learns, they marry, and they live happily ever after. The man is always involved in the process in the story, but the real world requires more of its heroines than half of the journey to self-discovery.
In the film Under the Tuscan Sun, the heroine, Francis, goes through a heart-breaking divorce. Her friends send her on a trip to Tuscany, where she impulsively decides to buy a house and stay. The entire 2 hour film is about Francis’ learning to be happy again. At the beginning of her new life, Francis cries that she bought a house for a life she didn’t have. She had no family to cook for, no children to occupy the rooms, and no man to marry in the picturesque garden in front of the house. Throughout the film, Francis learns to interact with the people in her community, to enjoy herself, and to take risks she hadn’t been able to take before. By the end of the film, she has a family of friends to cook for, a young couple who marry in her garden, and a friend with a baby come to stay with her. And in this happy state of revelation, Francis is content. It is not until 5 minutes before the end of the film that a worth-while man shows up.
Under the Tuscan Sun illustrates a theme that needs to be embraced by women and men alike. It is possible to live “happily ever after” before the spouse comes along. It is not only possible, but important, to have an identity as a complete, whole person before attaching to someone else. I believe the story in this film is powerful because it at once breaks an illusion and creates a dream. It shatters the illusion that ultimate happiness is reserved for couples, but it affirms the dream of a happy life ever after. And there is no dichotomy. It isn’t a choice of “happy single” or “happy married,” because if you are not happy single, chances are you won’t be happy married either, because the problem isn’t the loneliness, it’s the person. Francis thought that what her life needed was a man, but what it needed was her. When she was content, she was content…and then a man came along. Contentedness is not a means to an end, it is an end. It doesn’t have to involve a significant other, but it does have to involve you. What do you like? What do you want? What do you enjoy? It’s time for all of us to start living our lives happily ever after now, because we’re the ones holding the pen to the story anyway, right?
 Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Champaign, Ill: Project Gutenberg, 1990. <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=1085113>.
 Brontë, Charlotte, Fritz Eichenberg, and Bruce Rogers. Jane Eyre. New York: Random House, 1943.
 Field, Ted, Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott, Garry Marshall, Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Rita Wilson, Joan Cusack, Hector Elizondo, and Paul Dooley. Runaway bride. Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1999.
 Sternberg, Tom, et al. Under the Tuscan sun. Burbank, CA: Touchstone Home Entertainment, 2004.