What did Madame Bovary want, and what do you want?
Madame Bovary was not a romance, but it always felt like a romance—a doomed one—to me. An important piece of mid 19th century French literature by Gustave Flaubert, among other things this novel showed how an obscure young woman raised on romantic dreams of glamour could completely ruin her life in search of it. Emma Bovary really didn’t have a chance, stuck in a world in which women could only rise through marriage or sexual liaisons. Modern America is different…or is it?
We still have plenty of women today who have Madame Bovary’s deadly fixation, the yearning to be the belle of the ball in an empty world of glitter. It isn’t just the wannabe actresses and models. Think of the Bridezillas turning wedding celebrations into tense, tantrum-filled pageants in which the bride is the über beauty contest winner. Or the compulsive shoppers who constantly outfit themselves with clothes (which, like Emma Bovary, they can’t afford) suitable to the late Princess Diana’s social schedule.
In most of these visions, there is a central male character. But he’s more a prop, like a Ken doll in a Barbie set, than a real man. The princess can’t dance alone at the fabulous ball. Or walk down the aisle in her bridal finery to meet no one. So there is a man. But he’s a shadowy figure, well dressed, maybe handsome, but essentially empty. This is the common playacting of little girls. But grown girls, women, still think this way. They look for the show of romance, not the substance.
Compare this image of the glittering social event, the beautiful gown, and the handsome bridegroom doll to real life relationships in all their potential. To the first meeting of two strangers, the wonder at suddenly looking into someone’s eyes and seeing a reflection of your true self. To the long walks or long talks with a person who gets you. To loving, transcendent sex, not just going-through-the-motions sex or getting-yours sex. And then there are all the joys of being with someone who cares, day after day, year after year, through all the stages of life. Who, with a look, can share the full emotional depth of ineffable moments, experiences that language simply cannot describe.
Romance is an adventure that has both an exterior and an interior. Too many women mistake the one for the other. To be fair, some Bridezillas are trying to live out the fantasy romance just for one day of their lives. But the next act in the play is being a Stepford Wife, isn’t it? Or being poor Emma Bovary, always in search of that elusive romantic image, instead of its substance.
So, here’s the question: In that secret place in your mind, are you dreaming of an unreal, gaudy world of fancy gowns and spectacle? Or are you dreaming of a man, a real human, with whom you can be real when the party lights are off?