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After a lifetime of self-esteem struggles, I realized I deserved a Freddy, not a Henry
Welcome to our latest Theatre Lovers essay. Today, TDF member Meg explores how My Fair Lady taught her about the greatest love of all: self-love. If you'd like to submit your story for consideration, email TDF Stages.
Two years ago this month, a younger, misguided version of me was strolling around the Upper East Side with the 2018 My Fair Lady Broadway revival cast recording blasting through my headphones on repeat. I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch to discuss the latest developments in my love life, which recalled the plot of the Pygmalion-inspired musical, though I failed to realize that at the time.
I had just exited an unhealthy situationship that paralleled the toxic dynamic between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins. Prior to that liaison, I had no experience with men whatsoever. Due to all the weird ways movies and shows romanticize dysfunctional relationships, I had a pretty warped idea of love. For months, my own real-life version of Henry Higgins instilled in me a need for his validation. Even after ending the entanglement, I was still attached to the idea of a man like him—someone older, wiser, better. I thought if I earned the affections of a smart, accomplished, emotionally distant man, I would finally find my self-worth.
My anthem in the wake of that experience was My Fair Lady's "Without You." Every morning, as I struggled to rise from my bed of heartbreak, the opening lyric called to me: "What a fool I was, what a dominated fool, to think you were the earth and sky." I clung to those words so I wouldn't slip back into the delusion of needing that man. After a few weeks of soaking in that song, I began to play "Just You Wait" on repeat as well, sure that one day that man or someone like him would see my worth. Unfortunately, I still didn't see it! Just like Eliza, the reason I became involved with someone who treated me poorly was because that's what I thought I deserved. Eliza tolerated Higgins' emotional abuse because she felt fortunate to have him as her teacher, even if it came with hurt. Meanwhile, I thought I was lucky just to have a man interested in me, even if he used and mistreated me. I didn't think I was entitled to unconditional love without struggle or strife.
While I had always loved the melody of Freddy Eynsford-Hill's big My Fair Lady solo "On the Street Where You Live," I never really believed the lyrics. A man who would hang around for hours just to get a glimpse of the woman he was crushing on? It sounded like a fairy tale. I didn't think men like that could ever want me. Fittingly, that was the song that I paused in March 2019 as I entered the café to meet my friend to tell her about a new guy I was seeing, who seemed more like a Freddy than a Henry. I joked to her that because of this "he wasn't my type."
The night that we met, he fell for me instantly. I didn't even have to try. I was so used to putting on my brightest red lipstick and coming up with the wittiest remarks, I was baffled as to how someone could find me lovable when I wasn't trying to "earn" it. In fact, I made quite the fool of myself that evening, oversharing an embarrassing story to a friend as he, a stranger, sat nearby. Somehow, he was charmed by my TMI and he cut in to say how funny he thought I was. Our meet-cute was reminiscent of Freddy's first encounter with Eliza, when she scandalizes the socialites at the racecourse with her language. Like Freddy, for weeks after, this man followed me around as I ran away in fear of rejection by the very person I was rejecting.
But as I continued to listen to My Fair Lady, I had my Eliza-like epiphany: I was worthy of respect and love. I deserved a Freddy, someone who would wait for me, bring me flowers and hold me when I cried. Someone who understood my worth from the moment we met, not a man I would seek my worth in or need to prove my worth to.
On March 12, 2019, I finally stopped turning away the kind gentleman that kept showing up at my door. When he brought me flowers, I accepted. When he told me he loved me, I believed him and reciprocated. Our first Broadway date was My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center and for our first Christmas together, he took me to see the touring production at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Admittedly, our first anniversary was a bust since it came on the day that Broadway shut down. But now, after 12 months of love during COVID and two years together, this essay is my gift to him, to thank him for finding me on the street where I live.
Top image: the author and her boyfriend in Times Square. Photo courtesy of Meg Masseron.