If you want a happy relationship, don't believe the movies

I’ve said it before, and discovered on my plane trip home last week that the Daily Mail agrees: Romantic comedies tend to lead to disappointment in real-life relationships. Some TC.com readers may have already seen the Daily Mail piece, which reports on studies about the connection between romantic comedies and unhappy real-life relationships, but in case you didn’t, the gist is this: ” … the entire romantic comedy genre has made couples wonder why their relationships don’t match the light-hearted fun and eternal happiness they see on the screen.”

May I suggest that maybe people watching movies have forgotten something key: Movies are fiction and real life is, well, not. When was the last time you saw some handsome man ride up on a white stallion and offer to rescue a woman from last night’s dishes? Exactly.

But it is a sign of the power of media that we are frequently brainwashed into believing that what we see on a screen is what is “normal” and thus, what we should expect in real life. It isn’t a new thought – as C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity wrote in 1952: “Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humour.” Lewis was writing from a Christian viewpoint specifically on sexual morality, but his point was that what we put in our brains affects how we view reality and that sometimes, with enough propaganda about a particular things, we can see a wrong as a right. Or, in the case of romantic comedies, we can come to believe that fantasy should be – or is – reality.

I’ve heard this often from 20-something women. They were brought up on The Princess Diaries and other seemingly harmless movie fodder and then gravitated to chick flicks such as Notting Hill and Serendipity as they grew older. Time and again they received the message (and are still receiving it), via the big screen, that there is The One out there, that he will find you, that you will marry and live happily ever after with nary an argument over who reads Good Night Moon to the babies or who does the laundry.

Alas, real life is not so perfect. As the counselor who conducted the study reported by the Daily Mail said, “Real relationships take work and true love requires more than fireworks.” Indeed, in relationships of longer than about two years, part of the work is making sure you still have fireworks.

But work, dear readers, is not a bad thing. I think far too many long-term relationships and marriages suffer from a lack of commitment to work on the relationship. One or both members in the union decides to get comfortable and just slide on through life, partner by their side, happy as a clam. (Are clams REALLY happy? Has anyone ever polled them?) Meanwhile, their partner is feeling lonely, abandoned, neglected, or – worst of the worst – bored. Sometimes, there’s also the feeling of suffocation or being controlled. Do any of these feelings mean the relationship – which started out all sparkly and fun – is suddenly doomed? Because it doesn’t look like Sleepless in Seattle does that mean the relationship is failed?

No, it just means it needs some attention, some variety, some (gasp!) work. We have to be willing to put the same energy and/or consideration into our relationships on day 654 that we did on day five. According to a variety of advice and relationship counselors, that includes finding shared interests, learning new things, reaching out during the day and reminiscing about about the early days of your relationship. It also means, and I say this in the nicest way, keeping up your appearance to keep yourself attractive to your spouse. (And this isn’t just a female responsibility – there are just as many, if not more, men letting themselves go in relationships as women. In spite of all that talk that men are more visually stimulated than women, I’m here to tell you all women appreciate their men looking good. Here’s a hint, guys: If you’re not doing at least 25 push ups and 50 sit ups a day, you’re letting yourself go.)

So, does this mean we should give up our chick flicks and rom-coms? Not necessarily. But it does mean parents need to do a better job about teaching the realities of relationships to their children, and women, especially, need to be aware of the brainwashing that’s going on at the local theater. No man (or woman) is as perfect as they are projected on the big screen, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the work of real love anyway. Here’s a video about the down side of chick flicks and feel free to participate in the poll below.


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