In terms of relationships anyway. Fairy tales and romantic comedies are just the “meet-cute” portion of a relationship. They do nothing to teach people, particularly young people, how to have a successful long-term relationship. And they are the predominant message: have some cutely embarrassing interaction with a person and then “fall in love” and then “live happily ever after.” This is the message being absorbed by the vast majority of people these days, that relationships just work, and that everything will be just peachy-keen forevermore. Do you know anybody with a relationship that looks exactly like that? Probably not. So the fairy tale ends at the beginning, and yet, we try to make our entire lives fit that narrative, an unlikely and unrealistic narrative.
The story tells us that some goofy thing happens and the couple gets together. Already, at the beginning of the movie, we’re not basing relationships in reality. Sure, sometimes something adorable happens when you meet your long-term partner, but these are few and far between. And in our digital age, more and more couples aren't even meeting before developing relationships. Many, many relationships form when two people are introduced as strangers: on a formal blind date, as new coworkers, at a casual gathering of friends, on a dating website, and in lots of other situations. When expectations of serendipitous meetings are not met, it can feel like there is a damper on the emotions that tell us we’re in love and we may not believe it.
Then the dating part of a movie can be fairly accurate. There are conflicts, we introduce our families, and there are bucket loads of attraction and lust. This doesn’t happen for every relationship, but it is common enough that the movie feels realistic. That’s the catch: it’s still a movie! It’s fake! It’s somebody’s made-up-story about how nice these interactions could be. Once we get to the end, the happily ever after, there is no information on what happens next and certainly no education on how to make it BE happily ever after. The movie doesn’t teach us anything about relationships, yet so many people are brainwashed into believing at least part of the message. Marriage is wonderful, loving and lustful feelings will last forever, and it’s supposed to be easy!
So what do we do about it?
One of the first things to understand is that it’s not realistic. We as a society need to get better about talking about our lives with our friends and families. Tell your children the story of how you met; ask your friends to talk about how they met. Start having conversations about real stuff that matters, and not what some celebrity named their child. The more open and noticeable we make our interactions with our significant others, the more normalized they become. Then, future generations better understand the reality of life, and relationships won’t fall apart so easily.
The next big thing we need to understand and teach others is that there is a difference between love and affection/lust. Many people leave relationships because they just “fell out of love.” No, they didn’t. Their affection and lust levels changed. This part is normal and should be expected. Think of it like a family. They don’t always get along one hundred percent of the time, their affection rises and falls based on circumstances and time, but they can still feel love for each other. Romantic relationships are the same. The affection and lust change over time and do not maintain their strength over a lifetime. They ebb and flow. Real love that can last is about commitment and loyalty. You stay true to that person, even when things aren’t so great. There’s a reason traditional wedding vows include: for better for worse, in sickness and in health, in good times and bad. That’s real; those are issues to be expected. That is what love and relationships are all about.
Related to the concept of “falling out of love” is to understand that relationships take work, real, hard work. Think about what it was like (or expected to be like) at the dating stage of a relationship. You do things for each other, make meals, send flowers, take time to say, “I love you” and make sure to engage physically. You work really hard to convince this other person that you are worth being with and that you want to be with them. And it’s hard work! It’s time consuming and requires real effort. And we believe it’s worth it. Then, somewhere, somehow, sometime, we just start to decrease that effort, that hard work. We get comfortable and complacent and then if things get boring, we start to think we’re not in love anymore. Nope, you just stopped working for it and stopped being worth working for. Think of it like your career. If start work for the first six months going in early, making sure you have a quality performance, picking up extra projects or shifts, you really prove to your employer that you belong there and you are worth paying and promoting. But what would happen if you ever-so-slowly started to slack off? Even if you’re putting in the same effort as the person next to you, if it’s less than what you did before, you won’t be valued as highly as you were. Then, you’ll start getting reprimanded, then you’ll get a pay-cut (think of it like an affection cut in a relationship), you might even get fired. Why on earth would we expect our partner to treat us any differently?
The biggest thing to take away from this post is that fairy tales are fake and relationships take work. So go out there and do something extra for your significant other!