I’m a die-hard rom-com fan. If we’re being honest, it’s basically the only genre I watch. No Hallmark love story is too sappy for me—I rewatch every Nancy Meyers movie on a regular basis and will only agree to a drama or thriller if it has a love story (and only with a happy ending, but I still prefer rewatching How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). I’ve been a hopeless romantic since I was playing with Barbies (let’s just say that Barbie and Ken were my ultimate OTP) and asked for a Little Mermaid-themed birthday party for five years straight because I liked her wedding dress the best (I’m not proud, but it’s the truth. Also the soundtrack is super catchy, and it’s freaking cool to have a fin, right?).
But as painful as it is for my romance-loving heart to admit, my beloved movies are not the best place to get relationship advice, expectations, and wisdom. The things that really make a relationship good, stable, and fulfilling are not very exciting, nor do they sell well or feel dramatic enough for the big screen, which is why we often confuse “love” with toxic behavior. From one hopeless romantic to another, I’m setting the record straight on what’s a romantic movie myth and what a real relationship looks like. Here are seven things movie relationships get wrong about real relationships.
1. Myth: If it’s true love, you’ll forgive and forget
Anyone else remember the cringeworthy moment in Love Story where Ali MacGraw says, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry?” She had great eyebrows, but relationship advice? Not so much. The theme of forgiving all in the name of love is a tale as old as time (like when Belle falls in love with the Beast, even though he locked her and her father in a dungeon). In other rom-coms, characters will perform questionable actions (and even criminal: remember in Twilight when Edward broke in to Bella’s house to watch her sleep?), but everything is forgiven by the end of the movie. Think: Bender humiliating, bullying, and even assaulting Claire in The Breakfast Club, but the two still end up together, or Mr. Big confusing, manipulating, and hurting Carrie for years. But we still root for their Happily Ever After (unless you’re Team Aidan, of course).
The truth: Real love should be unconditional when it comes to things like personality traits, quirks, or even failures. Of course, you shouldn’t be worried that you’ll make a mistake or show a side of yourself that’ll make your partner leave you. But there’s a fine line between love and toxicity, and some things can’t be (and shouldn’t be) forgotten, even in the name of love. Oh, and when it comes to “love means never saying you’re sorry?” In reality, love means saying you’re sorry even when you think you’re right because you care more about your relationship and the other person’s feelings than about winning an argument.
2. Myth: Miscommunication is normal (and even romantic)
We know the plot all too well: guy likes girl, guy is afraid to tell girl he likes her, guy waits until the very end to be vulnerable and finally gets the girl. I mean, there are entire plots built around lack of communication: the classic keeping-a-secret plot line (like Marisa Ventura pretending to be a totally different person in Maid in Manhattan) or “I’ve been hurt before, so I won’t let myself fall in love” heartbreak (like Hitch and Sara both having issues expressing their feelings in Hitch). In fact, do couples ever talk it out right away in movies? How many passionate love scenes start with, “What you said today hurt my feelings” or “I would really appreciate some more help with the kids.”
The truth: Built-up issues are not romantic. They lead to resentment and toxic behaviors. Sure, movies don’t have that kind of time, but in real life, communication has to happen routinely rather than just in the end scene. Also, a major disagreement or systematic issue is not solved in just one conversation. Deception like in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (it was what their entire relationship was built on) would not be solved with just a gallant chase across the Brooklyn Bridge and an “I love you.” Sure, some romantic gestures and honesty about your feelings might help, but it would take many conversations and maybe even counseling, to work through any deeper problems.
3. Myth: Your partner is your “other half”
I, along with every other teenage girl in 2010, will never forget the way we felt watching Channing Tatum tell Amanda Seyfried “you’re all that matters to me” in Dear John. But as swoon-worthy as the sentiment is, it’s just another reiteration of “You complete me,” which indicates we’re incomplete without our “other half” or nothing else matters except for the other person. I just want to yell through the TV at Channing, “What about hobbies? Don’t you have friends or family?” No one (and I mean no one) can live a fulfilled life with the belief that they need someone else to make them whole or that nothing else matters besides the other person. This mentality can lead to toxic dynamics like codependency, insecurity, and controlling behavior.
The truth: You deserve to feel like the top priority and should love your partner enough to make them a top priority, too. But that doesn’t mean you should be each other’s only priority. Have other interests, relationships, and passions that matter to you outside of your relationship, and make sure your partner does too. And when it comes to that “you complete me” crap, complete yourself first, and then choose someone who is compatible with the version of you that you love. A partner shouldn’t be what completes you—they should be an awesome plus one to an already complete life.
4. Myth: Love conquers all
A myth that might make other hopeless romantics feel, well, hopeless is the reality that love does not conquer all. I truly do believe in my romance-loving heart that if you love someone enough, you make it work as much as possible. But “possible” has limitations. From Ben Affleck’s character in He’s Just Not That Into You finally proposing to Jennifer Aniston (even though he was adamant about never getting married for the entire movie) to Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler ending up together in 50 First Dates (despite a severe brain injury and daily memory loss), movies give us the idea that love is enough, no matter what.
The truth: In reality, two people may want very different things, or circumstances might make it hard to make a relationship work. People who are in love still break up for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with their feelings for each other. A failed relationship isn’t always on account of lack of love—sometimes, a relationship doesn’t work because of opposite values or life goals, or due to differences that just can’t be solved. Spoiler alert: When it comes to real life, not every love story needs an ending where the main characters end up together. Sometimes, Happily Ever After comes separately. If you don’t believe me, have yourself a good cry and watch Someone Great a few times in a row.
5. Myth: There’s one perfect person for us (our “soulmate”)
Another box office belief that had me believing in Prince Charming since I watched my first Disney princess movie is the idea of soulmates. According to a Marist poll, 73 percent of Americans believe in soulmates. That means the majority of Americans believe there’s one perfect person out there who they’re destined to be with, just like what West Side Story, The Titanic, and Romeo and Juliet taught us. But the mindset of “soulmate” and the psychology behind it could actually be more damaging than romantic.
The truth: One study found that on the topic of relationship longevity, people typically fell into one of two categories: destiny beliefs (believing in the idea of a soulmate), or growth beliefs (believing that a relationship is a choice, not destiny). In the study, the people who identified with destiny beliefs were more likely to break up and have more difficult relationships than those with growth beliefs. Why? If you believe there’s only one perfect person out there for you, you’re more likely to measure your partner in terms of what they aren’t rather than what they are. When they make you mad, annoy you, or show a flaw (as every human will), it’s easy to think they’re not perfect for you and that there’s a better person out there.
I’m not saying you won’t find someone who checks off every box on your checklist or who won’t love you bigger and greater and kinder than you ever knew to wait for (in fact, I believe love isn’t worth having unless it’s that–I’m still a hopeless romantic, after all). But it’s the way we think about commitment that makes all the difference. Personally, I think it’s way more romantic to choose to be with someone every day. It’s not because they’re perfect for me and I’m meant for them, but because I love them so much that I want to stay. Someone call Disney–we’re in need of a new love story.
6. Myth: Chasing (or being chased) is romantic
Rom-coms quite often take this literally: romantic leads sprint through train stations to chase after the protagonists or hop on a last-minute flight across the world to prove their love (apparently movies don’t have pricey tickets or overbooked flights). The grand-gesture romantic ending is most often one character chasing after another in order to win them back or prove their love. Besides the fact that we have cell phones (no need to sprint through the airport to their gate when you can just call them), the concept of chasing is actually not all that romantic.
The truth: Most of these chase scenes happen because of the aforementioned miscommunication: either a fight happens and they stop talking instead of working through it or they’re not telling each other how they feel until it’s too late. If people just talked, it would save a lot of sprinting through airports. But more importantly, the idea that a “chase” is romantic (i.e. one character tirelessly pursuing another to win them over) is damaging. Relationships should be about mutual interest and respect, which means both parties should be showing signs of interest. Healthy relationships are equal. Period.
While we’re at it, refusing to give up after being rejected is not sweet. It’s often considered harassment. “No” means no, and we should get over this idea that love means endless pursuit at all costs. If you’re interested in someone, let them know, and if someone is telling you they’re not interested, accept it as it is.
7. Myth: Fighting means passion
We’ve all laughed, cried, loved, and ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching the iconic rom-dram The Notebook, which features screaming matches that turn into passionate sex scenes (there’s a reason it won an MTV Award for “Best Kiss”). If you didn’t dream about Noah’s angry lip quiver, did you even see the movie? Many other movies depict two people who can’t stand each other but realize their hatred is actually love. It’s actually hard to find a rom-com where love didn’t start out as dislike or fighting wasn’t confused for passion (The Proposal, 27 Dresses, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Ugly Truth. Need I say more?).
The truth: The real ugly truth is that “passion” in the form of regular screaming matches is always rooted in deeper problems like immaturity, difficulties with communication, or even traits of relationship abuse like narcissism or control. Not getting along with someone’s personality or values is not ground for romance, it’s a recipe for an unhappy relationship. No matter how good the “make-up” is, consistent blowup fights are not romantic. Bottom line: A healthy relationship is more consistent than it is up and down, and you should feel content more often than angry. I don’t think the best relationships have to start out as friendships as they say, but I think the best relationships are strong friendships. And if you had a toxic friend you fought with all the time? You know what you’d do.