From a young age I have been a lover of movies–from the black and white classics with Bogart and Bergman to the new-age sci-fi’s with all of the special effects. I’ve spent a lot of time watching movies. In fact, my high school job was at my local movie theater cleaning the theaters while the credits were rolling. I loved this job–mostly because one of my employee perks was unlimited free movies. But, I also treasured the movie-going experience: the anticipation from a preview, the dimming of the lights, collectively feeling the emotional ups and downs with a group of strangers scattered in stadium seating… and, of course, movie theater popcorn!! I was captivated by the fantasy and escape that movies offered. And yet, the fantasy world of movies is worth analyzing from a different lens.
We all know that movie representations are not always close to the truth! When it comes to the topic of love, it’s portrayal is no different. Love seems to be expressed in film in extremes: infatuation or sorrow. It’s characterized by a nearly-manic high of energy, passion, and romance, or by the dark lows of breakups, fights, unrequited feelings, etc. The dramatic “happily ever after” ending tends to come at a scene when the couple becomes exclusive or are married. As a society we love the idea of that fairy tale romance when we find someone who “completes,” you, a soul mate, if you will. And yet there are many indications in our society that the fairy tale “fantasy” is just that. Whether it’s the movies that influence our societal thinking or the other way around, the fairy-tale “happily ever after” ending needs a quick re-frame. Here are a few ways of thinking about being with your soulmate/life partner/husband/wife/significant other/favorite person that are more helpful than fairy tale representations:
Gender “Roles” are Going Extinct: And I’m kind of okay with that. In the movies men buy the roses and women wait patiently to be taken care of. Now, more than ever, people are re-defining their relationship roles. For example, it’s pretty acceptable (and often necessary) for women and men to both “wear the pants” in the relationship and contribute to financial needs. It’s also more accepted for men to take on more child-rearing tasks, and even be stay-at-home dads. Every couple has their own way of coexisting and making a life together.
Take Your Time: As stated above, movies often end when there is a wedding or an engagement. As if that’s the end of the story! Human beings are living longer lives than ever before. Nowadays, “Happily ever after” can go well into our 90’s and beyond! So, while you may be in a hurry to find your life partner, also remember that you will have a really really long time to gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes… It’s okay to be thoughtful and take your time when making your decision.
The Long Haul: Lasting, enriching love is so much more than finding someone to “complete me.” None of us know how to love, or be loved, perfectly. In reality, we all emerge into adulthood with some weird, often dysfunctional, ways of relating to each other. So when we think of being “completed” by someone, that’s a tall order to request. We can only make change for ourselves. A partner is the cherry on top that brings us more joy and enrichment.
So in the fairy tale movies love is effortless. But real love is often a challenge, and it’s really the day-to-day existence of dirty dishes, sick kids, financial decisions, etc. that make up most of our time. This kind of love that I am describing is a little more work and a LOT more rewarding. It is more about CHOOSING your partner on those hard days. Here are some ways that we can choose to love deeper:
What is it that you would like to improve about your relationship.. Think about ways that you could work toward this goal that would be possible for both people.
We’re all a little damaged in one way or another. Turn from frustration to curiosity and explore your hardships together.
Limiting tv, thinking about paying the bills, texting, etc.
Identifying and expressing gratitude
This one is hard. We’re all in survival mode at one point or another. Try to forgive and work through challenges when they come up.
These are critical skills that take some work to get better at! So try not to compare your own process to what your media may portray. Keep nurturing and growing your relationships and learning along the way. There are a lot of ways to do love.
Lisa Wilmore, LPC