Guys get footy, we get romcoms. Happily Ever After has served us well over the years, but are chick flicks bad for your health?
Psychologists at the Family and Personal Relationships Laboratory at Edinburgh’s Heriot Watt University seem to think so. These peeps studied 40 top box office hits from 1995-2005, and found that fans of such films often fail to communicate with their partners effectively. They found girls fond of a light-hearted happy ending on the silver screen often believed that if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you needing to tell them. The conclusions of the study suggested popular media helped perpetuate these ideas. “Films do capture the excitement of new relationships,” commented psychologist Kimberly Johnson, who worked on the study. “But they also wrongly suggest that trust and committed love exist from the moment people meet, whereas these are qualities that normally take years to develop.” Can rom coms really wreck your love life?
The Big Picture
“What gives rom coms their power is the societal context and relationship landscape in which they exist. That’s made up of a couple of important features,” begins Relationships Australia’s Anne Hollonds. “We now live in an environment where there’s no longer societal pressure to be in a partnership or to stay in a relationship you’re unhappy in. We have far more choices about how we live our lives.” Not only that, but Gen Y are the first generation of divorce kids, raised with equal parts cynicism and realism when it comes to romance. We are self-sufficient survivors who experienced firsthand that love doesn’t always triumph. This societal context has produced what Anne describes as a new kind of idealism – one in which we are prepared to and are perfectly capable of waiting for our soulmate. “That’s where the romantic comedy comes in and has its power, because it reinforces that view,” says Anne. “When we see those movies, we feel that fits, that seems right.”
However the idea that you can draw a line from the glossy world of Hollywood to real-life unrealistic expectations is problematic at best. “If women are unhappy in their relationships, it would be unlikely to be directly related to watching those movies,” says Pam Stavropoulos, psychotherapist. “It would be more about our attachment style, family origin and previous history in relationships. A lot of culturally sanctioned mainstream institutions come up with some pretty problematic ideas about relationships – the church, the education system, academia.” Rom coms may be an easy target, but not, perhaps, the right one. Anne adds there’s a myriad of things that give us unrealistic expectations about happiness – even the expectation we should be happy all the time. “There are ebbs and flows in happiness – that’s part of life,” she says. “It’s also very easy when things are hard in a relationship to blame the other person and the relationship. That in itself sets up an unrealistic expectation that it’ll be someone else who’ll be making us happy.”
A Feminist Foray?
So not only are rom coms unlikely to be the source of any unhappiness in your relationship, CLEO’s experts go on to point out you can read even rom coms as feminist. Chick flicks explore the modern woman struggling with having it all. As her and her beau tumble through their amusing sexcapades, we see the pressures to have a great job, be a good friend, a lovely home, to be sexy yet nurturing, spontaneous yet practical, devoted yet independent – we’re exhausted just thinking about it! “Rom coms really examine, satirize and play with this new culture for women,” comments Pam. Our consumerist culture wants us to think we can have it all if we work hard enough – real life tells that’s rarely the case. Our friend the rom com, cheerfully confirms not only this, but just how bloody difficult it is to find a man in the first place. “We’re complex people, all operating on multiple levels,” says Pam. “As far-fetched as some of the content of some of these movies is, they’re actually providing a kind of framing where we can try and work out what is realistic for ourselves.”
I’ll Have What She’s Having!
We love rom coms because they’re an emotional drug, a feelgood aphrodisiac for the imagination. The girl is sweet, smart and sassy. The boy is strong, sensitive and above all, smitten. Their union is surprisingly perfect. But rom coms generally only stake out falling in love. They rarely claim ownership over what happens after that (despite what our Scottish psychs said). And isn’t mutual fascination, a feeling of your potential lover being The One and a fair dose of doe-eyed devotion on both parties hands a fairly apt description of meeting a potential long-term partner? Thus, are romcoms in fact quite accurate in their depiction of that wild ride: the honeymoon period of love? “That’s true,” agrees Anne. “We all love that period of falling in love, and the romantic comedy allows us to re-experience that time in our life.” What’s more, it’s often the commitment to and memory of this love that provides the glue for long-term relationships. Trouble at home? Try watching one of the new wave of boy-friendly stoner rom coms like Knocked Up with your man – a sneaky subtle way to remind him the bliss that was falling for you in the first place.
As long as you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground when it comes to the long haul of long term, there’s no harm in indulging in media which suggest romance can be hard but love wins out in the end. Sure, the circumstances which take us from Girl meets Boy to Girl gets Boy are sprinkled with a few buckets of Hollywood movie magic. Because sometimes – with a little luck and a dab of said movie magic – love happens in real life too.