Eric’s wedding with Vanessa was perceived by Ariel as ultimate, irrevocable rejection on Eric’s part. Reasonably so, seeing as when your love interest/crush willingly (or at least that’s what Ariel originally believed) chooses to marry someone else it’s more than an overt and unambiguous statement that they are not interested in a relationship with you. And remarkably, Ariel did not feel entitled to Eric regardless of how far she might have been inclined to go in order to achieve her individual AND romantic goals.
This right here is the core of Ariel’s character and one of her fundamental, defining traits: she is persistent, enthusiastically devoted and unwaveringly determined in pursuing her agendas. But she NEVER interferes with anyone’s freedom of choice and agency while doing so.
When she lived under the patriarchal authority of her empowered, controlling, regressive values perpetuating extremist of a father who loved her in the most genuine and simultaneously the most toxic way she diligently pursued the acquirement of knowledge, information, experience and other essential elements pertaining to personal emotional, ethical and intellectual development. Being incessantly condemned, degraded, chastened, yelled at and consistently demeaned for her firm refusal to subscribe to her authoritatively empowered father’s bigotry against a different culture didn’t prevent Ariel from relentlessly seeking out ways to expand her views. To challenge the limitations/boundaries imposed on her in order to determine why the fire burns, to aspire to one day ask questions and get answers and to come to a conclusion that her mermaid form restrained and repressed her potential (“flipping your fins you don’t get too far”).
When Ariel found herself drawn to a representative of a culture her father systematically discriminated against her privacy was violated and her endeavor of multiple years was viciously destroyed by Triton. Who wasn’t above taking advantage of bothauthoritative and physical superiority he held over Ariel while she vainly and fruitlessly pleaded with him trying to stop the gruesome act of vandalism against her grotto/safe heaven and treasured items that took her numerous years, enormous efforts and several life threatening encounters with sharks to obtain.
By disregarding Ariel’s entitlement to individuality, to cultivating a mind of her own, to gaining knowledge and not being inclined to conform to his misguided and harmful mentalities, by interfering with Ariel’s organic process of self discovery and pursuit of romantic goals - regardless of whether it was a momentary attraction a young woman is perfectly entitled to explore or something that had a potential to evolve into a more substantial relationship - Triton basically marginalized Ariel on both personal and social/institutional level.
A male authority figure, Triton used his position of power to suppress young woman’s yearning for “more”, denying his daughter education SHE strove to acquire (not the one he deemed as appropriate for her, namely whatever musical skills his narcissistic assistant Sebastian could have instilled in her in order to put Ariel on public display and brag about his grandiose concerts). Dismissing her right to expose herself to information SHE was eager to be familiarized with. Invalidating Ariel’s needs and wishes and practically punishing her for being romantically drawn to someone whose cultural background Triton didn’t approve of (hello slut shaming AND discrimination) because he considered himself fit to instruct her on who she is or isn’t allowed to be attracted to.
This, in a nutshell, is patriarchal oppression Ariel chose to defy - by turning to another marginalized woman, irrespective of how controversial her image might have been. Ursula offered Ariel means and resources to accomplish her goals and offered a legitimate deal to her. Terms and conditions of which implied only that Ariel alone was going to be subjected to consequences if she fails to fulfill her part of it, specifically kissing Eric within three days. Ariel did not place the responsibility for this deal on anyone but herself- she was willing to become Ursula’s life time slave if she didn’t manage to build a constructive and effective relationship with Eric and if her feelings for him were one sided/unrequited, misguided and not as powerful as she might have initially assumed. Ariel acknowledged her responsibility for her physical, emotional and romantic desires, individual goals and methods she resorted to in order to attain them.
She was going to participate in Kingdom Tours and grasp the opportunity to learn, grow and make little but valuable discoveries. She was going to be immensely overwhelmed when finding out that Eric - contrary to her father - not only recognized her needs and agency but encouraged her pursuit of knowledge, adventure and progress by giving her literal and figurative reins. She was going to work towards establishing a relationship with him that could warrant a “Kiss of True Love” that was going to make her a human permanently - only to have her heart reduced to shreds, pieces and fragments at one point.
Enter Vanessa (whose true identity and malicious intents Ariel is not yet aware of). A woman Eric seems fiercely insistent on marrying. Someone who didn’t engage in thrilling carriage and boat rides with Eric or work towards forming emotional bonds with him. A person Eric knows for no more than a day and is nonetheless inclined to wed. Ariel is at risk of becoming Ursula’s prisoner for life because of this woman’s insertion. It would have been absurdly easy for Ariel to throw a fit/tantrum, resort to petty aggression like Triton did (he only knows her for a day! How dare he cultivate his feelings and pursue a relationship with someone before having an obligatory number of interactions with this person and before he VALIDATES his feelings! He needs to be taught a lesson and have his privacy invaded/violated as a punishment! - at least according to Triton OR self professed couch critics of Ariel’s arc who undermine her for having emotions and feeling entitled to them without feeling obligated to PROVE their legitimacy).
Yet Ariel doesn’t antagonize either Eric or Vanessa. In full consciousness, she made an investment - her literal voice, physical trait - in order to find a figurative/metaphorical voice by achieving her long term goal of becoming a human. To make knowledge and personal growth accessible and available the way it wasn’t under the sea where it was persecuted by her oppressive empowered father. And receive an opportunity to decide for HERSELF who, when and how she wants to be attracted to without being gruesomely punished for it and having her personal possessions violently demolished. When said investment was at risk of not paying off Ariel didn’t blame it on Eric or consider him unworthy of her determination and effort. As someone who took a major risk in pursuing liberty and escaping a patriarchal/oppressive haven Ariel recognized and accepted the consequences and sacrifices that might come with the mere FACT of taking this chance.
When Eric treats her like an equal, shows clear signs of affection to her, endorses her agency and supports her aspirations and ambitions Ariel keeps pursuing this relationship. When Eric chooses someone else - Ariel is devastated but BACKS AWAY regardless of the extreme, horrific and unenviable turn her deal with Ursula was inevitably going to take.
It’s not before she is informed that Eric is forced into this marriage by having his agency/free will compromised does Ariel slip back into action.
Because, again - Ariel is relentless, persistent and passionate in pursuing any type of goal she might have but the last thing she would ever do is dismissing other people’s entitlement to freedom of choice the way HERS was dismissed by her father. When Triton makes his last ditch attempt to repair the damage of his admittedly incompetent parenting and oppressive behavior by confronting Ursula Ariel realizes her actions were going to negatively affect him and instantly apologizes. That’s the point - Ariel is NOT going to apologize for RIGHTLY pursuing her emancipation, for going after her goals, exploring her feelings and challenging problematic/discriminatory outlooks. But she DOES feel remorseful when the consequences of her choices backfire on anyone OTHER than herself.
Obviously, she and Eric efficiently defeat Ursula and liberate her other innocent victims (Triton’s citizen that he, a ruler with direct duties and obligations towards them, clearly could care less about) by working as a team and being partners. That’s the onlykind of dynamic and commitment Ariel is interested in - a partnership based on equality and functionality and strict recognition of each other’s agency.