I Didn’t Always Know That Life Is Not a Movie
Who doesn’t remember the rom-coms (romantic comedies) of the 90s and early 2000s with fondness? When I was in college, the girls would all pile into one dorm room for late night movies and snacks. (Pretzel sticks dipped in frosting?! Umm, yes, please!) We watched movies like You’ve Got Mail, Runaway Bride, and Two Weeks Notice. Estrogen filled the room as we imagined our future spouses, who would go to extravagant lengths to prove their love for us, act charming at all times, and give us butterflies every time we looked at them. Forever. But those movies, and our dear friends Meg, Julia, Sandra, and the likes, set us up for disappointment. Because life is not a movie.
Why It’s Important to Remember That Life Is Not a Movie
Movies, like any form of art, can bring us overwhelming joy. They can move us to tears, inspire us to take action, and more. The problem is that they’re not accurate reflections of real life or of an average, healthy relationship. Walt Disney recognized the truth. He said, “Movies can and do have tremendous influence in shaping young lives in the realm of entertainment towards the ideals and objectives of normal adulthood.”
Romantic comedies have done our spouses an enormous disservice. Sure, our husband wrote a thoughtful note to us on a card. But did he coordinate a marching band to play “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” while he sang over loudspeakers to the entire soccer team? No. Heath Ledger set the bar pretty high. Those movie standards set our spouses up for failure, because really, who can compete with imaginary people and scenarios that don’t exist in real life?
They also set us up for disappointment. As our spouse continues to not plan incredible Hitch-style dates for us, our frequent disappointment has the potential to slowly grow and turn into resentment.
Life Is Not a Movie, So Reset These Expectations
So how can we avoid setting unrealistic and unfair expectations in our relationships? We have to keep a few truths in mind while dating, or the next time we feel like our spouse isn’t measuring up, and they all directly contradict the rom-coms we grew up watching:
- First, you might not experience love at first sight, or “just know” that they’re “the one”. Maybe you’ll share an immediate mutual attraction with someone. Sparks will fly as you run around the Titanic escaping your fiance, then end with a romantic door float. Or maybe you’ll go on an awkward first date that’s less than impressive, but find that your date grows on you the more you get to know them. We should never consider immediate and overwhelming attraction as a requirement for a relationship. Falling in love is easy. Staying in love, and choosing to love even when it’s difficult, are the skills your partner needs.
- Second, polar opposites might be attracted to one another, but they’re usually not a fantastic long-term match. She’s All That, A Lot Like Love, and 217 other movies have convinced us that opposites make the cutest couples. Yes, opposites may attract in real life, but their opposite needs and priorities will make it difficult to go the distance. If one person is extremely social and impulsive, and the other is an introverted planner, they’ll experience difficulty aligning their desires and paths.
- Third, your spouse is probably not going to be as well-spoken as a screenwriter. “I want you. I want all of you, forever. You and me, every day.” The movie quotes that we love, while moving, weren’t spoken in the moment. They were carefully crafted by screenwriters. Then edited. And edited again. Then run past test audiences and edited again. Your spouse is likely not going to sound as eloquent as Ryan Gosling speaking from a script and reshooting his scene 12 times until his tone, pace, and facial expressions are perfect. In-the-moment interactions usually don’t come across quite so poetically, so be careful not to fault your partner for being human.
- Fourth, your spouse probably won’t wait outside your window holding a boombox over their head. Rom-coms are full of elaborate displays of affection, like rooftop dinners with hired violinists, and running onto ball fields to kiss in front of a cheering crowd. These ideas were thought out and executed by teams of literally hundreds of people. Don’t discount your spouse’s sincere efforts because you’re waiting for them to sing a duet with Billy Idol over your plane intercom.
- And finally, you won’t always feel crazy in love with, or even like, your partner very much. In The Notebook, we see Noah and Allie die just as in love as when they first started dating. Incredibly romantic? Of course! But the movie doesn’t show all of the time in between. Of course you love your spouse at all times, but some seasons may be more difficult than others. You’ll have moments of frustration and even anger with one another as you work to navigate life together. Raising children, battling illness, facing loss, and other circumstances may even put your relationship in more of a survival mode for a while. But the romantic stage will return again. Marriage, and life in general, follow seasons. We should expect ups and downs, wins and losses, trusting that difficult times won’t last forever.
This isn’t to say that we should hold low standards for our spouses. Nor should we simply accept an unhealthy relationship as the best we’ll get. But when we watch movies, if we want to be fair to our partners and avoid our own disappointment, we should keep in mind that real life is not a movie.
Wrap It Up
Remember that you can experience love without love at first sight, and that polar opposites can expect a more challenging relationship. Your spouse won’t be as well-spoken or as extravagant in proclaiming their love as Westley was to Buttercup, and you won’t feel those butterflies every single day.
Appreciate what you have, and appreciate your movies for the swoon-worthy works of art that they are. What’s your favorite rom-com?
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