Four Lies Movies Taught Us About Dating

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In the Name of Love (Everything’s Forgiven)

She’s hot, but you know next to nothing about her. So hey, you may as well break into the school’s office and look up her home address so you can find out more about her. And ok sure, you may be sitting in the tree right outside her room, but that’s only so you can watch her sleep. And maybe you bragged to her about your awesome car… you know, the one you don’t have? OK, so I guess you better get your hands on one somehow. Hey, doesn’t your Uncle Walt have one? You better go grab it… whether Uncle Walt gives you his permission or not.

And hey, if you happened to imply you were someone you weren’t… well, that’s ok too! Because you did it for love! Love transcends all laws!

Famous Movie Examples: Twilight, You’ve Got Mail, Wedding Crashers, Untamed Heart, Say Anything, Love Actually, Revenge of the Nerds

The Problem Is:

I don’t really have to point out the obvious problems with this attitude, right?

Stalking is one of the most common examples of this attitude. In any other context, Edward following Bella everywhere and breaking into her home so he can sit in the room and watch her while she sleeps would be absolutely terrifying. Similarly, in Untamed Heart, Christian Slater breaks into his obsession’s crush’s apartment three times. As an audience, we’re supposed to see this as acceptable because hey, he’s just leaving her flowers or setting up a Christmas tree. But hey, stalkers love their targets, so it’s all ok, right?

"It's ok, because you're going to fall in love with me eventually..."

Similarly, there’s the classic “pretending to be someone else”, whether it’s literally assuming somebody else’s identity, pretending to have a relationship that you don’t actually have or even pretending to be someone’s boyfriend/husband… so you can bone her. Revenge of the Nerds has a classic scene of one nerd pretending to be a sorority girl’s jock boyfriend – by virtue of a Halloween mask and proving to be so amazing in bed that she’s willing to throw over her long-term boyfriend for him.

In the real world, this is called “Rape By Fraud” or “Rape by Deception”… and no judge is going to buy your “But I’m so deeply in love with her” excuse.

Even when you’re not violating laws, this attitude shows up in how guys treat the women they love. In Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail. Over the course of the movie, Tom Hanks plays constant mind-games with Meg Ryan, preys on her insecurities using his double identity as her bookstore competitor and the anonymous guy she’s been chatting with on AOL and destroys her entire career… and the two of them end up happily ever after. Because hey, love means you can forgive him for shattering your dreams.

Love Conquers All

It doesn’t matter what you face in life… it just matters that you’re in love. Just ruined her wedding to a jerk and now the two of you are running off? It’s ok, love will find a way. Are the two of you from radically different ethnic or religious backgrounds? It’s ok… if you love each other enough, it’ll all go away and everybody wil accept each other. Do you have personal problems that finally drove off your partner? Don’t worry, romantic movies teach us that all you need is love and all of your problems will magically solve themselves for you.

Famous Movie Examples:

More movies than I can count.

The Problem Is: 

It’s the nature of movies to be crowd-pleasers; you don’t make loads of money by telling your audience “The couple you’ve been rooting for all this time are actually horribly suited for each other and it’s all going to end in tears”. It makes sense that romantic movies – at least, the ones that don’t think suffering is romantic – like to end on a happy note: all the problems are resolved because of the power of Love and everyone is off to enjoy their Happily Ever After.

Of course, this doesn’t work in real life. Love is an incredible and powerful thing, but love in and of itself isn’t enough to make a relationship survive. Similarly, a relationship failing doesn’t mean that the two people involved just didn’t love each other enough.

Contrary to what movies tell us, relationships are hard work. The initial rush of love – where everything she does is perfect and you can’t believe how incredibly lucky you are to have found this goddess  – only lasts around six months to a year. After the infatuation fades, you still have the intimacy and affection… but you also have all of the problems and issues you had that you could ignore in that honeymoon period that Hollywood keeps telling us is supposed to last forever.

If we’re to accept that the relationships continue past the credits, we have to accept that the issues that affected the characters will still be around as well. Richard Gere’s “rescuing” Julia Roberts at the end of Pretty Woman is all well and good… except it doesn’t address the fact that he’s still an ultra-rich magnate and she was a prostitute. It may not mean that their relationship is doomed from the start, but the fact that they’ve fallen in love isn’t going to change the fact that her past is going to be a permanent part of their relationship. My Big Fat Greek Wedding drives home that the Greek Orthodox Portokalos and the WASP-y Millers are going to have a lot of adjustments to make and the drastic differences between the two protagonists’ backgrounds is always going to be a source of conflict, just on a family level. And while Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are driving off into the sunset with Isla Fisher and Rachel McAdams, they’ve just alienated and humiliated the girls’ entire family… and that’s going to haunt them later on.

If you want a relationship to work, you can’t assume that love is enough to solve your issues. Love isn’t the cure for all of your ills. Love is the reason to resolve those problems and to make sure that you do finally get your Hollywood ending and your very own Happily Ever After.

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Comments

  1. Seriously dude, you should try submitting one of these movie articles of yours on Cracked. You'll be able to net a whole new slew of nerds looking for incredibly helpful advice

  2. room temp says:

    "My Big Fat Greek Wedding drives home that the Greek Orthodox Portokalos and the WASP-y Millers are going to have a lot of adjustments to make and the drastic differences between the two protagonists’ backgrounds is always going to be a source of conflict, just on a family level."

    They made a TV show about it and no one wanted to see it so yeah Love Conquers all and no one wants to see the hard times. Or maybe the show was just crappy.

    Loves Conquers all one went against me freakin insane mom.

  3. Arnold.J.R says:

    I don't know if i'd class Ramona from Scott Pilgrim as a "Manic Pixie dream girl", she's not bubbly and seems to be just as bad as scott, but i'm being nitpicky….good article

    • In the comics at least, Ramona is a deconstruction of said trope. Scott is blatantly shown there as a pathetic loser who switches girlfriends, has no job, and mooches off of his roomate.

  4. hey i love your columns and am a long time reader but i find my self attracted to the magic pixie dream girl and i am wondering if i like these girls because they fit that model or because i like them for them. ps you really hit home with this one because even the movies you gave examples of are some of my fav rom coms

  5. DNL, there is no "continue reading" link in the front page post for this article.

  6. I agree with Chris, because I saw a Cracked article on a similar subject. I can really easily see some cross-up here. But while I think Cracked's article is very specific, yours is very general on many idealistic romantic lessons of Love > Everything, which gives it bonus points.

  7. Spot on the Manic Pixie Dream girl. I, sometimes, may look like a "quirky" girl, but am not. I'm actually usually very shy, which has come off as snobbery since preschool (I'm working on it). A couple of guys have been disappointed that I'm not the type to spontaneously take them them to some unknown dive bar to sing drunken karaoke. Sorry dudes, I can't save anyone from their social awkwardness because I'm trying to fix my own. Sometimes I wish I could, but really, like you said Doc, it'd more of a disservice by enabling them in a way.

  8. Movies are trying to entertain not teach life lessons. The reason these things are in films is because they produce drama, comedy, etc. They aren't meant to reflect what happens in real life. Life isn't grad school, relax and enjoy the show.

    • Dr. NerdLove says:

      You know, I'm beginning to be fairly certain you've managed to miss the point of just about everything I've written…

    • Aurelia Verity says:

      Yea, I'm sure that's exactly what Spielberg said when he decided to film "Schindler's list"

      Entertainment, not some shitty moral lessons highlighting fragility and cruelty of human life

      Amirite guys?

      *headdesk*

  9. Another interesting thing about Pixie Girl: even if you do meet your Manic Pixie (Girl or Guy), their dragging you around to places you don't want to go or do things that make you uncomfortable will either get annoying real fast or you'll be too resistant to change for Pixie to do any of their imagined good. Not that they're annoying because change is bad, but you're being forced to do things you know you won't enjoy. For example, my boyfriend taught me to shoot and we had a fun afternoon hitting targets that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did (not that I thought I wouldn't like it, I just had a ton of fun shooting cans :P ). However, I do not intend to ever go hunting and if he had tried to drag me into that, I would have been very irritated.

    Speaking of the boyfriend, he is going to haaate you :p He had a hard time getting me to watch Rom Coms before, it will be impossible now XD

  10. One single thing I disagree with in this article: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. While I admit Kate Winslet's character seems like the manic pixie dream girl stereotype (and she sometimes fits that role), the movie is very clear that she can not save Jim Carrey's protagonist. When we see him tell her he wants her, she warns him that she can't be a goddess to him and can't be his saving grace… that she's just as messed up as anyone else and she's trying to figure herself out. The fact that their relationship crumbles eventually just establishes that fact. Yes, they got back together again, but she even tells him that she isn't sure they can survive because they are both very imperfect people. This revelation is one of the things I love about this movie.

    OK, rant over.

  11. Spot on the Manic Pixie Dream girl. I, sometimes, may look like a “quirky” girl, but am not. I’m actually usually very shy, which has come off as snobbery since preschool (I’m working on it). A couple of guys have been disappointed that I’m not the type to spontaneously take them them to some unknown dive bar to sing drunken karaoke. Sorry dudes, I can’t save anyone from their social awkwardness because I’m trying to fix my own. Sometimes I wish I could, but really, like you said Doc, it’d more of a disservice by enabling them in a way.

    "Me, me, me.."

    Shut up you self-centered narcissist. Geez…

  12. jdbobblehead says:

    About the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: definitely file that under "Be careful what you wish for."

    I had a MPDG come into my life, although I never asked for one. She was a desirable flirty girl who happen to have a thing for nerds. She took an interest in finding out why I was so reserved and prying me out of my shell.

    The relationship started exciting but after a couple of months became painful and disastrous. Today I would rate her as my second best friend.

    If you are looking for a MPDG, understand that she will take you in a completely different direction from where you want to go. And also, as much as she is pulled into your life, *you* will be pulled into *hers.* That includes the dark ugliness in her life that she had to bear, you willl help bear it too.

    • Mental Mouse says:

      There's also the matter of making a connection — they say "opposites attract", but that's not quite right. True opposites can't have a relationship. It's complements who can do well — people who are opposites in many ways, but have some shared core in common.

      I fell for a MPDG just after college — way too besotted to realize that we literally had nothing in common (except the social group where we'd met). We had no common ground, and were pretty much aliens to each other. Obviously, that didn't go anywhere…

  13. I agree with a commenter who said that Scott Pilgrim is probably not a best example and goes against in the grain when it comes to Magic Pixie Dream Girls (especially, in the comic books).

    However, don't you think that (500 Days of) Summer is actually an example of a character learning from his obsession with MPDG and seeing the light of day?

  14. FilledeMarius says:

    This was a very good article, but I have one minor nitpick about using 500 Days of Summer in your MPDG examples. While it does have Zooey Deschanel in her trademark quirky hipster role, much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it's made very clear that the protagonist is weak and idolizing her when she's just trying to live her life and they don't end up together at the end; she marries someone we never see and is completely happy with her new love interest. So, it's a deconstruction of the trope; they don't play it straight.

  15. Bug Report says:

    The "Or geeks" link at the bottom of the first page is broken.

  16. I tell you man, a "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" gets close to me, she's getting a facefull of Mace.

    • Uh, what? I'm not fond of the trope either, but conforming to social pressures in an irritating way doesn't quite seems like it warrants assaulting someone to me.

      • Not wanting to wake up in a bathtub full of ice with a fresh surgery scar on my lower back surely warrants it.

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