The Princess and the Pea: Reflections on the Princess Archetype

I remembered the first time the pain of endometriosis hit like it was yesterday. I was 17 and my mother and I had just eaten at Bennigan’s restaurant. I had experienced menstrual cramps before and this wasn’t it. Doubled over on the floor, wracked with nausea, I thought I had food poisoning and never went back to Bennigan’s again.

Approximately 28 days later, it happened again.

Back in the late 1990s, little was known about this crippling disease. My ob-gyn made an unofficial diagnosis of endometriosis and put me on birth control pills. A few years later, a formal diagnosis was made when an ovarian cyst ruptured and I had to go in for emergency surgery (at the time, endometriosis could only be diagnosed with exploratory surgery). This began a decade-long journey filled with synthetic hormones, prescription pain pills, drug-induced menopause, and five surgeries that would culminate in my body putting itself into natural menopause at age 27. (I later healed my body and came back out of menopause at age 36.)

The funny thing is:

2) My Prince Charming was going to come save me and take me away from the hormone hell I was living in.

It wasn’t until I was 40 and newly divorced that I realized the ridiculousness of both of those beliefs. That I wasn't broken and didn't need saving. And even if I did, I was going to be the one to do it.

I’m not sure where I learned to rely so heavily on this idea of Prince Charming – maybe from childhood fairy tales or Disney movies. Ironically, I didn’t even realize that I was looking for my Prince to save me, so deeply held was my belief in him. But as I sat journaling one day, I realized that I had been waiting on this Prince my entire life.

As I started to examine my own belief system, I began to unravel my thoughts about what it meant to be a woman in today’s society. On the one hand, we were raised to believe that we could be or do anything we wanted to and encouraged to be ambitious and independent, firmly seated in our masculine energy. On the other hand, we were told we had to learn how to cook because “the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” Apparently, we would need a man for something, even if we didn’t exactly know why at the time.

As my childhood turned into my teenage years, I was encouraged to be a debutante. My mother hoped those years of cotillion lessons would finally pay off. Unfortunately, she’d done such a good job of pushing me academically that putting on a white dress and dancing for boys was the last thing on my mind. I had AP tests to study for so I could get into college. And that’s what I did.

In college I learned two things: 1) I needed to get my PhD if I wanted to do anything with my Psychology degree, and 2) I was quickly aging past my prime to ‘catch’ a man. Although I thought the point of college was to advance my education, there were many women who went to college for the express purpose of finding a husband. We jokingly called it the “Mrs. Degree.”

Yet, the culture behind the Mrs. Degree was real, and it was based on the belief that women needed a man: they could not function without one.  As I watched my parent’s marriage unravel while my own fertility – what I then thought was the key defining element of what it meant to be a woman  – was in question, all I could think was: I want to escape. I want someone to take me away from all of this. Enter my now ex-husband. I finally got why I needed a man to save me and thought I had found my Prince who would, in fact, save me, in one fell swoop.

As my teens turned into my 20s and my 20s into my 30s, I discovered that life isn’t like a fairy tale. I had my Prince, but he didn’t save me. I had my ‘castle,’ but the septic tank was going bad and we had to shell out a lot of money we didn’t have to fix it. There was no glass slipper, no fancy gown, no ball. Instead, there were surgeries, failed attempts to have a child, and bills to pay. The worst part about it? I still felt broken and assumed it was my fault. I was the one with the job that didn’t make enough money. I was the one who had endometriosis and couldn’t have kids. I was the one who had wanted the ‘castle in the forest’ so I could be surrounded by woodland creatures (and I was – although they never helped out with any household chores – I think Cinderella got the better end of that deal!). All I had to show for it was a stack of bills and a failing marriage.

As my 30s came to an end, I finally realized my husband wasn’t Prince Charming and he wasn’t going to save me. Yet, there I was, still broken. We cut our losses and went our separate ways for myriad reasons. In the end, getting a divorce was one of the best decisions I ever made.

It forced me to take a long look in the mirror. It forced me to stop waiting for a man to come save me. It forced me to be my own Prince Charming. More importunately, it forced me to confront my belief systems. It made me realize that I wasn’t broken – never had been – and didn’t need saving. It forced me to be the woman I was meant to be. It forced me to heal.

If you have been living in your own version of the Princess archetype and waiting, consciously or not, for someone to save you, I invite you to join my Sacred Circle, where we are working on finding ourselves, healing our chakras, our insecurities and not enoughness issues, so we can step into our Feminine Power and live the lives we were meant to live.


  • Bonnie says:

    Thank you so much Dr. Mary for sharing your story. In my story I wasn’t looking for a Prince, but he found me when I was 20 years old. He was everything I was not – adventurous, daring, confident. We married and moved 5,000 miles away from my home and my parents. He had been pretty much on his own since he was 15. I was lonely at first, but began to adjust. After 5 years of marriage we really wanted to have children, but many disappointments and in seeking medical help, we discovered that he was not able to father children. We then adopted 2 baby daughters, two years apart. When they were 7 and 10 years old he gave in to the pull of another woman and we divorced. Now this is the good part – I too learned the value of myself as I became stronger each time I accomplished something that I thought I would never be able to do, I even ran two marathons. Like you, it forced me to be the woman I was meant to be. My goal is to share my strength with others so they too will know their worth.

    • Dr Mary Pritchard says:

      It’s funny how life happens for us, isn’t it, Bonnie? You know the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

  • Kali says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this story Mary! I don’t think our culture helps females with this archetype, and it’s so beautiful to hear stories like this where you overcame that societal image and became your own angel in shining armour 🙂 We can all learn so much from it! x

  • Jess M says:

    Love it. This Fairytale story has been my focus too.
    I just today dwell on the symbolism of the pea.
    She cannot rest…she sense it.
    This :pea” what is it analogous of?
    Is it that niggling codependent nagging at us…that we need someone?
    I find it interesting; the tales do not show men waiting; Awake & restless….we are the waiting or commatosed: as in “Sleeping Beauty”.
    What kind of message is that…he has to cut through massive Impenetrable thorns like a wood! In my subconscious: I took on that story of Not having…NEEDING TO BE RESCUED!! I see it today. X

    • Dr Mary Pritchard says:

      Great questions, Jess! I think most fairy tales portray women as needing to be rescued… What kind of message are we sending our girls?

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