The Secret Life of Prince Charming: Essay « Deb Caletti
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The Secret Life of Prince Charming: Essay

Bad Boys: The Prince Charming List

Sometimes you don’t know where a story comes from. It’s some mystery gift you figure out as you go along. Other times, you know exactly. It’s a focused, directed mission laid out by the heart and soul and compelled by the forces of your past. The Secret Life of Prince Charming was that kind of a book.

When I was nineteen, I met a twenty-one year old young man who was dark and handsome, mysterious and moody. Yes, friends, the Baaaaad Boy. I was a good student, the “nice” girl, who was completely taken in by this storm of badness and uncertainty and the desire to guide him to happiness with my love. Yeah, I was also incredibly naive. Three years later (after a long-distance relationship), we would marry, and that’s when he became the abusive husband I would live with for the next thirteen years. This one decision, this decision to have this particular relationship, would result in years upon years of devastation – emotional, physical, financial – complicated layers of pain and damage that would affect me, our kids, our families and friends. The destruction of an abusive relationship is insidious and widespread. The damage, too, doesn’t stop when you finally gather the courage and resources to leave (an abusive man still find ways to abuse, even when – especially when – you’re no longer there). The fallout continues; it continues to this day for me and for my kids. In many ways, the cycle of violence, once entered, is one you are a hostage to forever.

As my kids approached the age when I first met their father, and as I got clearer over the ten years since I left, the need to write about relationship choices and self protection grew. Grew? Became urgent. I was getting a lot of letters, too, from my readers in harmful or hard-to-understand relationships. They related to the bad boy themes in Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, and to the scary pairing in The Queen of Everything. I wanted to yell and scream – wait! Don’t! Stop! I saw really great people going down the same paths I did, the same paths we’ve been going down for-EVER. Yes, forever – get your mom and your grandma to tell you THEIR stories.

It scared me like you wouldn’t believe – scares me – because this ONE decision, the decision of who we give our heart to, has an impact and weight we can’t even begin to see when we’re first in love. Listen people – even if you don’t end up marrying the person, an unhealthy relationship can harm or haunt for a good long while. A GOOD LONG WHILE. Yet, where are the classes on how to choose wisely? Where are we taught how to know a bad situation way before you’re smack in the middle of it? When you think how much time is spent on SAT prep classes alone, say, where are the classes on what a healthy relationship looks like and what it should NEVER look like? Huh? Where?! We need to be taught these things!!! SAT vocabulary won’t possibly save your life!!!

See? Don’t get me started.

The Secret Life of Prince Charming, then, felt like a mission. It’s everything I’ve learned about love set down in one place. It’s every bit of insight I’ve gathered from my own relationships, from endless reading, and from the experiences of others. The book is about the way “love” can go wrong, from violence and demeaning words and jealous acts, to the way real love can go simply and beautifully right. It’s a plea of sorts. Not just to my readers and my own children, but to all people: put yourself in good hands only.

Those who have read the book know that Mary Louise Hoffman, Quinn’s mom, writes a list she keeps on the fridge of red flags and warning signs Quinn and her sister should watch out for as they are dating. (You may remember that Grandma added “He’s a big fat liar” and that “You feel you need to pay a private detective about him” was added when Annie Hoffman was dating that creep, Quentin Ferrell). When I first wrote the book, I included the whole list in the back of the book, but later decided to take it out. It’s still one of those things I go back and forth on – whether it should have been there or not. I’ve decided to put it here instead. It’s important to note that even though I use the pronoun ‘he,’ these are warning signs in ANY partner, male or female. Please, please remember that you deserve good things.