We grow up watching romantic movies. We start with the Disney princesses, evolve into our High School Musical era and graduate with Nicholas Spark movies. Throughout our lives, we are enthralled by love stories, wistful for our own fairy tales. But our infatuation with movie romance could be harpooning our real life romantic happiness.
A recent study examining the habits of successful couples, and their less fortunate counterparts, has found watching romantic comedies causes relationship satisfaction to plummet. This makes sense. When we watch an improbable and adorable romance play out onscreen, we think, “This could happen to me.”
Then we look at the person sitting next to us, fiddling on their phone and wearing grey sweatpants with Chinese food stains. Naturally, we feel dissatisfied.
On date night, we could opt out of watching those romantic comedies and instead watch something involving car chases, Abraham Lincoln or Storm Troopers. Compared to the guy who got shot or the one whose work uniform is a bodysuit made out of white plastic, our lives seem pretty good. Our romantic satisfaction can bob along, unaffected by our movie choices.
But is the solution that simple?
Over the course of our lives, we watch the same sequence of events over and over. In every one of these romantic comedies, the girl breaks up with the guy just as shit hits the fan, and she gets back together with him just as the story rolls merrily off into a happy ending. Somewhere along the way, it becomes ingrained into our heads that a partner is synonymous with happy endings.
Not only do we expect to find an unbearably handsome partner who is willing to run through an airport with a dozen roses to declare their feelings for us, we feel we can’t be happy until we have found them. Romantic movies have sidled us with both an intense need for a relationship and unrealistic expectations for these relationships.
Real people are flawed, insecure, uncomfortable with vulnerability and terrified of rejection. They’re focused on passing their midterms and finding an internship; they don’t have the time or energy to fully commit. Relationships are messier, scarier and way more awkward than Hollywood would have us believe.
Our infatuation with romantic movies is setting us up for failure and disappointment in real life.
Furthermore, since these movies are primarily marketed toward women, they impact women more than men. If the central conflict in female-oriented movies revolves around the romance, the media pushes us to believe the central conflict in a woman’s life, her purpose, similarly revolves around her romantic life.
These romances, with their fanciful plot lines and their improbably heartfelt emotions, set up skewed gender schemas for their audiences. The woman’s life and her happy ending only come together after she successfully finds her man. Her principal goal in life is to look for a partner.
In communication theory, experts believe the media either dictates what we view as important through what they show, influences our perception on what mainstream behaviors are or provides us with actions to imitate in our own lives.
I don’t generally succumb to the notion the popular media dictates our opinions and our behavior. I believe the general population is capable of critical thinking and forming individual opinions.
But the inescapable and longitudinal influence of these gender-oriented romances could make them normalized in our minds in a way most media sources are not. We watch our first romances as toddlers, and we are continually bombarded with romances as we age. The romantic archetype is more salient to us than the overall mass media.
Romances are intended to be harmless fun, to play into our fascination with romantic love and successful relationships. But they foster unrealistic expectations and create destructive gender schemas. Romantic movies are damaging our real life happiness.
Teresa Turco ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in psychology and economics.