Is romantic fiction the villain in your love story?
I’m definitely from a generation whose teenage years were spent consuming my fair share of romantic fiction. I grew up on a diet of movies like The Princess Bride, Pretty Woman and Titanic and devoured TV shows like Friends, Dawson’s Creek and of course, Sex and the City.
For me, the film and TV I consumed in my youth definitely created a sense of anticipation about what being a ‘grown up’ dating and falling in love would be like.
It’s no secret, nor is it an original thought to suggest that the expectations we place on our adult romantic relationships can stem back to the fictional stories we consume as kids and teenagers. This is a perspective I share.
The lessons taught by fictional romance can become the villains of our very real-world love stories if we’re not careful.
Here’s 5 reasons why…
#1 Attraction is always quick to develop and obvious
In ‘The Fairy Tale’ there is often an instant and obvious attraction. Neither party has to put their character on display in any level of depth for long nor step very far outside their comfort zone to a) make their interest known and b) spark attraction.
Remember that scene in Titanic where Jack first lays eyes on Rose? Or when Noah first meets Allie at the fair in The Notebook?
The problem: it leads to passivity, false expectations around how quick chemistry will spark if “it’s meant to be” and to a lot of added unnecessary dating pressures.
Here are some examples of the unproductive mindsets these innocent stories can generate:
For women: He for sure knows I’m interested, I don’t need to send any clear signals. He can read my mind, and even if he can’t, it’s his job to pursue me.
For men: I need to be charming straight from the start if I stand any chance
For both: If I don’t feel instant chemistry, there’s no potential here. My looks matter more than my character.
#2 Chemistry conquers all
In fictional romances, we’re often left with the impression that chemistry really does conquer all, even in the face of some pretty major red flags.
Let’s look at one specific example to illustrate this point.
(Oh… and obligatory spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t seen the Sex and the City series or movie).
In Sex and the City, Carrie falls head over heels for the very suave and yet completely emotionally unavailable character of ‘Big’. Carrie pursues this on again, off again romance through break-ups and even, yes, EVEN being left at the altar, only to remarkably, one day after 12 years, eventually seem to settle into a secure relationship with Big.
For women and men, these stories send a unhelpful message. The message is: pay attention to red hot chemistry instead of red flags. In this example, Mr Big was clearly avoidant and not really desirous of true intimacy or long-term commitment and Carrie, (very clearly anxious attachment style) really needed a nice SECURE man like Aiden. Still, in the story, Carrie just kept valuing the chemistry she felt with Big ahead of her own peace of mind.
(I can practically see all you Mr. Big fans rolling your eyes by the way!)
#3 “The one”
Fictional romances love to reinforce the idea of finding “the one”. There is someone who really just blows all the other contenders out of the water.
In Pretty Woman, Richard Gere’s character can’t wrap his mind around the idea that there could be anyone out there that could make him feel the way the sex worker he picked up on Rodeo Drive does. We’re left with the sense that Vivian (Julia Roberts) really is “the one”.
The problem? Okay where do I start…
I’ve had a good think about this one and I think there are two main unproductive sides to “the one” mindset.
- Being too picky – because “the one” will be perfect. They will have very few flaws, and if they do, they’ll be those cute little flaws that are actually perfect imperfections. So, anything I register as an actual ‘flaw’ automatically means they can’t possibly be ‘the one’. Big ears? SWIPE LEFT. Lives in a suburb I can’t stand? SWIPE LEFT. Isn’t exactly as I pictured ‘the one’. SWIPE LEFT!
- Not being picky enough! Because there is only “one” so if I find someone that I feel strong chemistry with, they must be “the one” so I better hang on to him/ her.
#4 Compatibility comes pre-packaged and gift wrapped for your convenience
Connected to this sense of “the one” existing, is this idea that the relationship doesn’t require much work in order for it work out. The Fairy Tale usually ends on a high. It ends as the Prince and Princess ride off into the sunset or walk out of the wedding chapel looking overjoyed and completely and utterly in love. Cut!
- We have to work at “happily ever after”. It doesn’t come pre-packaged and gift-wrapped to perfection.
- Yes, there are things that will help with compatibility to begin with, but we have to work at maintaining a relationship.
- Good communication, showing compassion towards one other, each partner being willing to make certain compromises, having values that overlap and sharing the same vision for the future are just some examples of the things that certainly are less of a focus in the standard Fairy Tale romance.
#5 The destination seems more important than the journey
In the fictional romance story, there is a beginning, a middle and a sense of the “happily ever after” ending being the whole point of the story. These stories emphasise outcomes over process. The destination over the journey. There is a sense that the characters can only be happy when their romantic needs are resolved. Take Notting Hill as a good example of this.
- Love doesn’t always come easily or quickly, and the truth is, if we can’t embrace and try to enjoy the journey, the destination will be that bit further away.
- We cannot live our lives waiting for the “happily ever after” ending. That’s one way to live entirely in the future and forget about the present moment you’re in right now.
So, by all means, keep enjoying that romantic fiction but don’t allow the expectations set in any fictional narrative become the villain in your love life.
Those narratives are someone else’s story.
Start writing your own story today.
© My Wingwoman 2019
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