Invitation: Traditional-Fairy-Tale-Takedown Challenge

As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s almost impossible to escape the standard romantic narrative that presumes we all aspire to march two-by-two into happy (and usually heterosexual) committed couple-dom. But so many of us whose feet don’t fit the standard glass slipper are living amazing lives we love, and those stories need to be told, too!

Your challenge: write your own alternative fairy tale, one that describes your current awesome life or hints at the fairy tale life to which you aspire.


  • Your fairy tale should open with (what else?) “Once upon a time” and be 6 to 7 lines long, loosely following the models of the “world’s shortest fairy tale” and other examples, below. Unconventional tales most welcome, but more conventional ones are too, if that’s your happy place. No need to include a proposal, unless it’s part of your story.
  • The challenge remains open from February 10th-20th; post and link or submit within that window.
  • To participate, post your fairy tale on your own blog and link it back to this post, post it in a comment below, or send it directly to me at
  •  All entries PG, please. 🙂
  • Tag #fairytaletakedown if you wish (I’m still kinda figuring the hashtag thing out.)

In early March, I’ll feature some of my and my readers’ favorite fairy tales in a follow-up post. Please visit the blogs of those who submit, and like and comment on your faves! Any non-bloggers, indicate how you’d like to be identified in the post should your fairy tale be included in the March feature.

The inspiration for the challenge

Back in October, I questioned the privileging of a single model for happily ever after, and its counterpart as featured in the following meme:


You can read the original full post here, but here’s what I had to say (with a few updates) that’s relevant to this challenge:

“The meme made me laugh—and think. It works specifically because we’re familiar with its counterpart, the fairy tale wherein the girl says “yes,” they marry, and presumably live happily ever after. In the male version, the “happily ever after” is spelled out in detail, though in traditional fairy tales it’s not. The conventional version, if it were spelled out, might look like this:

Once upon a time, a man asked a woman, “Will you marry me?”
The woman said, YES! And they lived happily ever after
and settled into a lovely house with a big yard
and had one boy and one girl and a well-trained dog
and the man made lots of money while she cooked perfect dinners
and they held hands every day until the day they died.

Of course, even for women who desire marriage or partnership, not everyone’s happily ever after includes 2.5 kids and a mortgage. The assumption that marriage per se is every woman’s dream—the assumption the original meme’s humor depends upon—is, if not sexist, at least shortsighted. A good marriage built on true companionship is something I want (even though it scares me in some ways). But I resist the easy equation of single male = happy and married female = happy as a default setting; it seems especially problematic in a world where not everyone has the legal right to marry even when they wish to. There are alternatives to both of the above tales. My  own life, prior to Steve’s presence in it, looked a bit like this (yes, I was proposed to once before, but that’s a story for another day):

Once upon a time, a man asked a woman, “Will you marry me?”
The woman said, NO!  And she lived happily ever after
and moved to Virginia and traveled at every opportunity
read incredible books and drank good wine and tea
and spent money on journals, artwork, and clothes
had a raspberry-pink sofa and loved her four cats
and farted whenever she wanted.

The last line is not a typo. You think women who live alone don’t enjoy the freedom to fart with abandon (or put off shaving, or let the dishes pile up in the sink…)? Now, there’s a fairy tale.

Here’s another, a composite fairy tale based on some awesome women I know:

Once upon a time, a man asked a woman, “Will you marry me?”
The woman said, NO! And she lived happily ever after
and traveled to Africa and met fascinating people
took up running and drank cosmos and craft beer
and spent money on marathons and beautiful shoes
bought a sewing machine and fostered rescue dogs
and (just guessing here, friends) farted whenever she wanted.

The upshot? One person’s sweetened-up Disney fairy tale is another person’s gloomy Brothers Grimm version. And (this is not news): there is no “happily ever after,” at least none that applies universally—nor, I would hazard, only one that is possible in any one person’s life. I wrote about the “infinite variety of paths” we might travel as we wind our way through the world, and, for each of us, I believe, there is more than one route to happiness. Mine is starting to look a little something like this:

Once upon a time, a man asked a woman, “Will you marry me?”
The woman said, YES! And they lived happily ever after
and traveled together to oceans and mountains
and talked and read books and gave each other plenty of space
and spent money on wedding stuff and shopped for a house
and wondered when to introduce her cats to his dog
who farted whenever he wanted.”

Submit your alternative fairy tales!

34 thoughts on “Invitation: Traditional-Fairy-Tale-Takedown Challenge

  1. Michelle Matthews says:

    Once upon a time there was a woman who fantasized about a man who was precise with words.
    For years, they worked together, and slowly became good friends.
    Little did he know that she would sneak glances of him and her heart would pound,
    and she smiled each night as she went to sleep thinking of his blue eyes and perfect hands.
    One day, at last, she told him her secret, and guess what?
    He was starving for love and attention and affection, and he’d been thinking about her, too.
    And she fed him, and he fed her, and at long last her dreams came true.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love this challenge!! I will give some thought and publish mine on (I know, I know…) Valentine’s Day. Just because I can 🙂
    I am also looking forward to reading more of you so I am following your blog. Sounds like you’ll give me a thing or two to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz says:

    Once upon a time a girl thought she wanted
    hard adventures in foreign parts but she was scared to go
    until a friend listened to her wonder and worry –
    not just one day but lots of days –
    until she saw any old adventures would be OK shared with him
    and he asked her, “Will you marry me?” and she said yes
    and ever after, sometimes happy, sometimes not, they’re Living.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Once upon a time, this guy wanted to marry a girl. She wasn’t ready for that life, she had other things she needed to do first. He wanted her to quit her life and abide by his, she said “HECK NO”. So they went their separate ways. She’s currently living her happily ever where she dresses the way she wants, hangs with who she wants, does what she wants, she reads all the books she wants, talks to all of her friends again and can’t wait for all the other new adventures she has coming her way, including when she decides to say “yes” because she’s ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Once upon a time, she stumbled upon an unrequited love.
    She gazed upon her Love with tenderness- it surprised her, made her fall and tore at her skin.
    She devoted hours and energy to her Love- it tugged roughly at her hair, pushed her around and made her cry with exhaustion.
    Her friends understood, although if it had been Love with anyone else they would have tried to talk her out of it.
    They knew because they felt it too.
    And so, all together, climbing higher, braving wind, snow and ice they loved the wild outdoors without being loved, and together were not lonely.
    In fact, they were jubilantly happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. twenty7zero3 says:

    Once upon a time a girl asked if her bum looked big,
    Her friend told her indeed it did,
    but there was no time to change
    As the taxi had been arranged,
    for a night on the tiles,
    So they left with smiles,
    And that’s the night she met her prince!

    (This sums up my life just a few years ago, hehe)

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Lucie says:

    This was fun!
    Once upon a time a guy said, “I tried it twice before; I want to try again once more.” And a girl said, “I did too; now I’ll try again with you.” Dragons came between them in the form of day to day but they booed them and they shooed them until finally they wooed them: guy and gal and dragons living happily in their kingdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Lora Jarrett says:

    Once upon a time there was a broken fair lady. Her heart was shattered beyond repair. One fateful night, in a night full of despair, a not so shining knight stepped forth. He bravely picked up a fragile sharred and began to help the fair lady try to piece together what once had been broken.. Though the process was not with out pain and anger, the outcome healed the fair lady. She was blessed with a most beautiful son and a not so shining knight that, to this day, remains by her side protecting her fragile heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Once upon a time, a boy asked a girl to marry him.
    She said yes, but wasn’t really sure. The marriage didn’t last.
    So years later the boy asked another girl. She said absolutely.
    But stuff happened, and that one didn’t last either.
    The boy spent time getting comfortable with himself.
    Then a girl came into his life. She’d had her own “not-so-happily-ever-after” before him.
    They clicked. He asked her to marry him. She said yes, and meant it, and knew it.
    So did he. They work on the happily ever after part every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

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