Distorting our expectations of love: the dark side of rom-coms

Valentine’s Day; the perfect opportunity to snuggle up on the sofa, perhaps with a significant other, or perhaps with some Ben & Jerry’s, and watch a favourite rom-com. Whether you relish or dread the idea of watching Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in their desperate attempt to find true love, movies such as Notting Hill have an undeniable impact on the way we view our own relationships.

Simply put, Hollywood’s unrealistic representations of love and relationships influence our romantic outlook so deeply that our real-life dramas often seem banal. A study done at Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that movies such as Notting Hill and Runaway Bride leave us with unrealistic and idealised expectations in relationships. Heriot-Watt’s Dr Bjarne Holmes stated that the glitzy love of Hollywood leads to “couples who believe that sex should always be perfect, and [that] if someone is meant to be with you then they will know what you want without you needing to communicate it”.

The point made by Dr Holmes and the team at Heriot-Watt is this: that movie relationships do not function in real life. Relationships in romantic films are often based on fate or an unexplained attraction. They develop fast and tumultuously, but eventually settle into a romance that burns bright for years to come. They are seldom based on communication and hard work.

This fact is important. Healthy and stable relationships are in fact built on communication and hard work. What’s more, not all relationships develop between pretty girls and handsome boys in their 20s. By constantly bombarding us with these narratives, Hollywood creates a climate in which reality hardly ever lives up to expectation.

This does not mean to say that relationships can never be as exciting as they are in films. But it is undeniable that movie-love makes the norm seem mundane. Dr Holmes even interviewed several marriage counsellors who claim that belief in the brand of love espoused by Hollywood can be a key factor in the breakdown of actual relationships.

It would be a tad extreme to shut down Hollywood and ban the creation of any more rom-coms. However, we all have a duty to recognise what is real and what is exaggerated. The power that Hollywood, and media sources more broadly, have when it comes to influencing our views on relationships should not be underestimated. The film industry has power, and those with power should be interrogated; if we concede that rom-coms can affect our relationships, then it also stands that action movies affect our views on violence. It is important to remember that what is permissible in movies is not always permissible in real life.

Of course, fairy-tale endings do exist. Maybe you will experience your own rom-com – some people do. Maybe you will meet your future partner in an independent travel bookshop in Notting Hill, or by some insane twist of fate. Or maybe you’ll meet them through a mate, or online, in a tutorial, or at Big Cheese. You might even meet them at Hive – adversity forges strong bonds after all. Perhaps you don’t want a relationship, a stance which is just as valid.

I for one will probably be enjoying a rom-com or two this February. After all, tis the season to be soppy. Yet, enjoyment should not come at the expense of our own relationships and wellbeing.

 

Image: Yong Chen

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