We’re all guilty of having at least a few unrealistic expectations about marriage, but we might just have Hollywood to thank for our fairytale-like desires in the romance department. If you take a moment to think back on some of your favorite romantic dramas or comedies, you’ll likely realize there are more than a few problematic tropes in each. This isn’t to say you should boycott your favorite films. Rather, you might just want to remember that everything you see on screen is not quite what it seems.
The 2019 film Isn’t It Romantic starring Rebel Wilson poked fun at some of the common themes in rom-coms, including kissing in the rain, dramatic voiceovers, and slow-motion running scenes — naturally. Although these cinematic additions to our favorite films may be innocuous enough, there are other dramatizations that carry a more questionable message. This is especially true when Hollywood depicts married couples or those in committed relationships. Here are some of the biggest things movies get wrong about real-life romance.
Spouses are responsible for each others’ happiness
In order to be happy, every woman needs a partner, right? That is what Hollywood would have you think. “I believe movies, TV shows, magazines, and romance novels of the past half-century have done much to create the seriously flawed expectations couples take into marriage today,” Stephen Arterburn, counselor and author of The 7 Minute Marriage Solution, wrote in his book, which was excerpted for an article for HuffPost. He continued, writing, “Studies show that most Americans (70 percent) believe the purpose of marriage is to find a mate who will make them happy.”
If you expect your partner to make you happy, however, Arterburn explained that you’ll be disappointed as happiness, as defined by many to be “consistently romantic feelings between soul mates whose sexual ecstasy lasts a lifetime,” is just not practical.
Unfortunately, this trope is not only common in movies meant for adults, but also in children’s films, like Disney’s Cinderella. The main character for which the movie is named marries a prince to not only get out of a bad situation, but to also live happily ever after.
Falling in love happens instantly
Before getting married, many likely wait until they are sure they are in love. But most people’s favorite films would have you believe that falling in love happens as soon as you lay eyes on a person. From Jack’s longing glance at Rose in Titanic to Cady Heron practically melting when borrowing a pencil from Aaron Samuels in Mean Girls, the love-at-first-sight trope is a Hollywood favorite. In the film Big Fish, this theme is taken one step further as time quite literally stands still when Ewan McGregor’s character Ed Bloom first sets his sights on a beautiful stranger. “I’m gonna find that girl, marry her, and spend the rest of my life with her,” he announces shortly afterward. Well, that escalated quickly.
Mary-Lou Galician, a professor who teaches about media’s portrayal of love for Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s online program, says love at first sight isn’t actually possible. Lust, yes, but not love. She told the Chicago Tribune that Hollywood often speeds up how long it takes to fall in love for the sake of time. After all, many movies max out at anywhere from 112 to 156 minutes.
Only opposites attract
If you and your spouse aren’t complete opposites, well, what were you thinking? There are plenty of films that follow this formula. In fact, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast relies pretty much entirely on this trope — so much so that it’s even depicted in the title. Danny and Sandy in Grease would also have us believe that relationships work best when you’re nothing at all alike. After being sequestered in Saturday detention together, Claire Standish — “a beauty” — and John Bender — “a rebel” — discovered their differences drew them closer together in the ’80s classic The Breakfast Club.
Other films like Pretty Woman depict people of vastly different social classes falling in love. In reality, Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist with a speciality in “gender, sexualities and popular culture studies” told the Chicago Tribune that social classes are “the great divider” in relationships. Outside of Hollywood, people who come from such different backgrounds aren’t really all that likely to experience one of these fairytale romances depicted in so many films.
Spouses are mind-readers
As out there as telepathy may be, mind-reading is perhaps more prevalent in rom-coms than in sci-fi. Psychologists at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland studied dozens of top movies released from 1995 through 2005. Through questionnaires, the research team also had hundreds of volunteers sound off about their relationship expectations. What the researchers found when comparing the common themes used in the films to “regular” people’s relationship expectations was pretty shocking.
According to The Telegraph, the researchers discovered that those who enjoyed the movies While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail, and The Wedding Planner had trouble effectively communicating with their partners. What’s more is that many of these individuals believed their partners should be able to instinctively know their needs without ever having to share them. This form of mind-reading was not only prevalent in some of the volunteers’ favorite rom-coms but also in many other films the researchers analyzed. Eek.
Soulmates are a thing
A 2011 Marist survey (via Psychology Today) revealed that almost three quarters of Americans believe in soulmates. Could Hollywood have had a role in perpetuating the idea that two people are destined to be together? That there’s one person for everyone? Well, considering there’s a movie quite literally named Serendipity about — you guessed it — serendipity, we’re going to have to go with yes.
“There’s a passivity in [destiny] thought,” Craig Malkin, a clinical psychologist and an instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School told the Chicago Tribune. “But love is participatory. You have to collaborate. You have to engage it. It doesn’t just happen to us.” People who understand that, the psychologist explained, tend to “have happier, longer relationships.”
When films rely so heavily on the destiny storyline, they’re really doing us all a disservice. According to Malkin, believing in “the one” puts the onus not on oneself, but on fate. As such, people believe they’re not in control of their own relationships.
“Marriage is dull”
“Marriage has always been portrayed as the downside of weddings,” Lois Smith Brady, author of the book Love Lessons: Twelve Real-Life Love Stories, wrote in an article for The New York Times. “Weddings are glamorous and usually involve weight loss; marriage is dull and involves weight gain. Every bride and bridegroom is beautiful; every husband and wife is exhausted.”
Often a wedding will be featured at the end of the film — because obviously nothing exciting happens after the big day, right? When Hollywood does depict married life, it’s much like Smith described. As hilarious as the film is, the 2009 comedy Date Night plays into the trope that couples, once married, basically become shells of who they used to be. At the outset of the movie, we’re really supposed to believe that the most exciting thing Steve Carrell and Tina Fey’s characters did after getting hitched was taking someone else’s dinner reservation. Spontaneity is for the uncommitted, apparently.
Read More: https://www.thelist.com/148107/things-movies-always-get-wrong-about-marriage/