Movies and television dramas can seriously distort our views on love and romance and can set us up to create unrealistic expectations in our own relationships. Let’s face it a 2 hour movie, no matter how well done, does not a life long relationship make. This can be a hard concept to swallow when we have been barraged with images of true love and romance for as long as we can remember. I believe girls are more susceptible to these images then men because we begin learning these concepts at such and early age. Stories like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are read primarily to girls and they embody a misguided concept that a man who loves us will come along and rescue us when devastating circumstances prevail. We grow up believing that love conquers all and once we have a man to love us our lives will be complete. Men are often taught to be the heroes and grow up thinking they cannot have feelings and must always be strong, capable providers.
These stories also invariably end with the line, “and they lived happily ever after.” If it is not stated it is implied. Of course we are not privy to the ever after, also known as the middle, only the drama that leads up to it and so in this way we often also come to believe that constant drama and intense situations are the fabric of life, so when life becomes routine and we start to get comfortable we think life is boring and we look for ways to create intensity. We feel our lives are meaningless unless they are lived like the characters in movies.
You may believe I am making a broad generalization, but ask yourself how your images of love and romance were formed? Who creates these images and where did they come from? Does my belief about love and romance empower me or is it a belief I have always had?
Do the terms, I am hopeless romantic or I am hopelessly in love bother you? Or do they seep with romantic ideals. These phrases emphasize that love and romance are situations we do not choose, but that we are victims of. As if we can’t help ourselves. They just happen. They successfully dis-empower us. Do you think it’s romantic that Romeo and Juliet killed themselves for love? Do you actually believe that a story like “Pretty Woman” could happen in real life or do you just wish it would? Or how about, “Gone with the Wind” a well known timeless classic whose love story distracts us from the real devastation of war? A more modern film, “Titanic” is also usually counted among the top 100 love stories of all time and it too distracts from a horrible tragedy by creating a romance whose heroine, on the brink of suicide is saved by a man she has never met and he becomes her savior. What about, “The Bridges of Madison County”, a story that glorifies infidelity as a way to escape the “boredom” of a “normal” life. You might also want to pay attention to how quickly the characters fall into bed with each other, as if sexual desire is an over powering urge that must be abated at once, often times before the characters have developed mutual love and respect. Sometimes the characters don’t even like each other.
Have you ever noticed that in the majority of love stories it is the woman who is unattainable and must be pursued by a man who has to win her heart? He will forgo rejection after rejection to obtain her love as if it were a prize, the final conquest. This gives men the false impression that women should be hard to get and that those who are open and available aren’t worth having. It teaches women to be manipulative, dishonest and fearful. In the movies, once he has proved himself worthy the story is over and the credits roll, but we never know what happens next. I bet we believe they lived happily ever after.
These stories keep the self-help industry afloat with such titles as, “The Rules”, “Why Men Love Bitches”, and “Manslations” which attempt to teach women how to be unattainable until the man proves himself worthy, while at the same time contributing to the illusion that we are conquests or prizes who should objectify ourselves.
Love stories also usually equate romance with pain and heartbreak and when these archetypes blossom in our subconscious we come to believe that love and heartbreak are a package deal. This is a prescription which instills a belief that pain in relationships is inevitable and an acceptable part of life. Pain is an inevitable part of life, but pain in a relationship between 2 mature adults should not be acceptable.
Finally we see that movies, television and fairy tales are not complete unless the main characters are physically beautiful. This, of course, skews our self perception and that of others. The media sets the standard for beauty in this country and keeps most of us striving for a physical perfection that is difficult for even movie stars to maintain and they are paid millions to achieve it. It also causes us to be afraid of growing old because when we do our physical beauty will diminish and our partner could leave us for someone younger and more attractive. When we compare ourselves with impossible standards it devalues us and creates an inner longing to be better. Because if we look better we will attract someone better and our need for that perfect love will be fulfilled. This one erroneous belief keeps the diet and beauty industry in business and puts to waste our hard earned money. What we may want to pay attention to is the real number of public celebrity divorces and failed relationships that occur between the most beautiful and successful people to validate the fact that they too have been sucked in by the illusion of romantic love.
So how do we learn what true love is?
The best way to insure a lasting relationship is to get to know who you are dating before you let the relationship get physical. Spend the time it takes to get to know someone and see if you have similar values. If the attraction lasts and a deep friendship ensues the next step is determining if there is a sexual compatibility, but be sure you really know someone before you have sex. This requires a level of maturity that few of us were taught or understand. You should be able to discuss serious issues like life goals, birth control, and health concerns etc., the way partners would.
If you have a history of failed relationships the best was to begin is:
By deciding what is valuable to you not your romantic ideals. Look at real life successful relationships and see how they have made their lives together work. Love yourself and find out what you like to do, alone. Realize that in a real “love relationship” both parties are open to and willing to work on the following concepts:
Commitment to self
Willingness to negotiate
Patience and tolerance for a wide range of emotions
Willingness to let go of control
Quality time with each other
A willingness to face problems
Ease with, and respect and admiration for the other
Commitment to the relationship itself as an ever changing entity
And most importantly realistic expectations about how much happiness should come from the relationship itself.