It’s funny how during the same week I decide to write about how love is portrayed in films, it seems everywhere I turn, people keep telling me about a show or movie they just watched, and how it has significantly changed something in their relationships.
One young woman I met while traveling confided, “I’m on my way home to prepare for a hard decision I recently made— to ask for a divorce.” When I asked her how she came to clarity about this, without hesitation she admitted, “It was a tv series that completely changed my life. After becoming enthralled in it, I realized I didn’t really believe in staying in an unhappy marriage because it’s the safe or ‘right’ thing to do; I decided to not let guilt be the basis for my life choices anymore.”
Then, a good friend of mine shared with me how she couldn’t shake a mother-daughter movie she watched, replaying it again and again, literally, and in her mind. A mother of a similar child as in the movie, the storyline deeply opened her to a new level of acceptance of her daughter, not just the challenges she faces— but her. She was thrilled that a block she’s held inside for years simply vanished.
Many can relate to the transformational impact that a movie can have. Well done films or tv shows can touch and connect us to an aspect of our humanity — opening up feelings in ourselves we didn’t recognize or understand before, show us new ways to think and live and be. I actually love suggesting certain movies or shows as “homework” for clients when I sense the message might hit home or bring acceptance, or perhaps help them see a new way of being or thinking.
On the flip side, while many films can resonate and inspire us, it’s equally important to be aware (be-ware) that some of what we watch, particularly how love is portrayed in romantic comedies, can create (and intensify) a very dangerous thing— expectations! More specifically, unrealistic expectations. These limiting mental bi-laws thwart our ability to create fulfilling bonds, and diminish our appreciation for the good in each other.
Even though we know romantic comedies are great for lightness, fun and open-hearted laughter—and are not meant to depict real life—we are still influenced by what we see, unconsciously deeming movie love as normal love. So enjoy and laugh away but be mindful of the messages about love coming through.
Here are some of the unrealistic expectations (LIES) that romantic comedies commonly reinforce, followed by what we really need for lasting love (TRUTHS):
- Lie: True love happens immediately, if not it’s a bad sign.
- Truth: True love is a creative process that doesn’t just happen. Yes we sometimes feel attracted quickly to someone but true love, i.e., lasting love, is about deepening together over time, learning how to love (vs need), growing individually and as a couple. The depth of love we feel will be in equal measure to the effort we put in.
- Lie: Romantic infatuation should be a constant state.
- Truth: A relationship must go through 4 essential phases, which includes some kind of challenge to the bond itself, in order to grow our capacity to receive the real blessings in it. These phases repeat as we grow and are often misinterpreted as having “fallen out of love.”
- Lie: Only new romance is exciting and fulfilling. Love is about getting lost in the moment. Marriage is dull and mundane.
- Truth: New romance, and getting lost in someone else, these are not accurate measures of love. Rather they indicate the degree of lack or emptiness within oneself, of one’s degree of loneliness. When matching (not replacing) your investment in your true self with investing in your relationship, then love has the best chance to be real and lasting. The depth and height of love in marriage should grow endlessly.
- Lie: Public displays of affection, and how you appear to the outside world, are indicators of real love.
- Truth: Love between two souls is not measured by public display, though it is important to treat each other with human dignity and respect in both private and public. But ultimately, what happens behind closed doors matters the most.
- Lie: Drama and escalated arguing is normal, even with frequent breakups and reunions.
- Truth: While fights and conflict are essential for authentic love and growth, couples that have a high level of drama fall into the complicated department. It’s hard to build trust in these high conflict relationships and therefore real love is limited. High drama can be a significant distraction to doing the real work for love to grow. Couples need to establish fair and agreed upon ways of addressing conflict, a quite common topic for couples counseling and check where they might be addicted to the drama.
Despite how popular romance comedies are—especially for date nights and sisterhood slumber parties— it’s no surprise how sparse the research is on how the media represents love (click here for some research that does exist). This neglect matches what I see day in and day out. I often call it the intimacy corruption — that is, the extent to which we are grossly under-educated and under-prepared for creating real and lasting love. Hence, my passion for marriage counseling.
Good marriages and relationships are not a random game of luck and chance, but rather a piece of art crafted beautifully together with effort, care, sexuality, friendship, spirituality, and growth. Enjoy your films and shows —all kinds—and I’d love to hear what you learn about yourself, about love and the changes you decide to make.
Note: For more about real and lasting love, see my earlier blog MARRIAGE WISDOM: TIPS AND TRUTHS FOR LASTING LOVE which draws significantly from what we learn about love from the wisdom of Kabbalah, and in particular, the LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS SEMINAR by Michael and Monica Berg