I’m a big believer that when it comes to love, you can learn a lot from movies. The problem, of course, is making sure that you learn the right things from movies. As inspiring as it can be to see the nerdy kid finally win the heart of the most popular girl in school through following her around until he’s learned everything about her, then covering the entire campus with his declaration of love for her, when these lessons are applied to real life… yeah, they never really go so well. In fact, most of these lessons will end up blowing up in your face.
Before you decide that the key to love is to follow John Cusack’s example in Say Anything or find your own Manic Pixie, you need to understand a few things about the lies movies teach us about love and dating.
The Grand Gesture
Bigger is always better, isn’t it? How better can you show your love for someone by making a giant production out of it? Are you too late? Is your girl already dating someone else? Or worse, is she about to get married? Well, the Grand Gesture can help you here too! So whether it’s secretly filling her office with roses, standing in the rain with a boombox or infiltrating her wedding in order to proclaim your love in front of God, her family and everybody, your inventiveness, creativity and passion can’t help but melt her frosty heart.
Famous Movie Examples: Wedding Crashers, Bed of Roses, Love Actually, The Graduate, Big Fish
The Problem Is:
You’re not coming off as romantic and clever. You’re coming off as desperate and pathetic…if you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’re coming off as actively deranged.
The underlying idea is that if your crush could only see you for how you much you care for her, she would surely realize that deep down, she loves you too. The problem, of course, is that if she’s not actually attracted to you in the first place, then all you’re doing is wasting your money and making it clear that you don’t understand how relationships work in the real world. The depth of your sincerity isn’t the issue. The issue is that she doesn’t like you. I’ve personally seen people attempt this in the real world, including one guy who tried to woo his crush by buying giant plush toys to be delivered to her house. Then, when that didn’t work, he filled the back seat of her car with yellow roses.
She had to be talked out of filing a restraining order against him.
(Interesting side note: despite being the first thing that comes to mind, Say Anything isn’t an example of this trope; Lloyd’s holding the boombox up over his head doesn’t win him Diane’s love back… in fact, it’s the event that makes him realize that it’s time to move on.)
Crashing her big event isn’t going to make things better either. In the movies, the audience sees the depth of your love and actively encourages her to come back to you. In real life, you’re looking like an obnoxious asshole who’s ruining things for everyone and embarrassing her in front of all of her friends and her family. And depending on where you are, you’re also staring down the barrel of trespassing charges if someone decides to call the cops on you.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Is Here To Save You
Let’s face it: you’re a geek. You’re a little introverted and reclusive. You’re on the passive side. You’d love to grab life by the horns and chase down the adventures of the day and break out of your shell… if only there were someone who could help.
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the rescue! She’s a quirky free spirit who comes whirling into your life like a tornado with dyed bangs and and striped stockings. Her bubbly – if a little off-beat – personality and casual disregard for social norms are what allows her to see the potential raging within you and inspires her to drag you into a world of wonder and teaches you embrace life like a giant smorgasbord of magic and experiences.
Oh, and there’s sex too. Y’know. As a bonus.
Famous Movie Examples: Enchanted, Bringing Up Baby, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Girl Next Door, Sweet November, 500 Days of Summer
The Problem is:
This is just an excuse for not actually taking control of your own damn life. If you’re dissatisfied with who you are or you have some deep longing for a life that you don’t actually have, you need to man up and find it for yourself. Waiting for someone else to come around to “inspire” you to it is just another convenient excuse for not making the effort.
It’s understandable, really. Change can be scary and sometimes you don’t know where to begin. When you’re trying to make substantial lifestyle changes, especially ones that run counter to how you’ve been living for years – if not decades – you’ll have that little voice in your head telling you that you’re an idiot and that you’re just doomed to failure. Breaking the habits of a lifetime takes a lot of effort and determination, and you will feel like you’re a fraud and everybody can tell. But putting up roadblocks in your own way isn’t going to help.
The appeal of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that she’s there to do all the heavy lifting for you, and be your cheerleader at the same time. In the real world, most women have their hands full managing their own lives. Expecting them to be responsible for yours as well is an absurd amount of pressure to put on a relationship. And falling for this quirky hipster girl… well, you’d better make sure that there’s more to your attraction to her than just her cats-eye glasses and thrift-store fashion – otherwise, it’s no different for dating women strictly because they’re Asian. Or geeks.
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?
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.