Love, Lindsay

How To Love Rom-Coms Without Falling For The Unrealistic Expectations They Set

Love, Lindsay weighs in on the relationship between pop culture and real life.

For so many of us, what we perceive, appreciate, and ultimately expect of relationships has been influenced in one way or another by romantic comedies. While the genre itself is synonymous with happiness, so much of that happiness is rooted in unrealistic relationship expectations.  

While recently watching Crazy Rich Asians (a rom-com I love and highly recommend) it dawned on me that, as much as I love all the classic tropes, I love my real-life relationship more because it's not a rom-com. 

But I wouldn't be in my current relationship if it weren't for all those years I spent watching those movies and hoping the next person who spilled a drink on me at a party would be the love of my life. (Spoiler alert: He wasn't.) Rom-coms kept me hopeful throughout my perpetually single years, but they also set several unrealistic expectations I had to train myself not to expect out of real-life. 

Because when it comes to relationship expectations, less is more. 

According to a 2016 Florida State University study, the higher a couple's expectations, the more likely the relationship will fail because having unrealistic expectations can, unsurprisingly, make you feel less satisfied in a real-life relationship

So instead of setting unrealistic expectations, it's important to remember that real relationships have their fair share of romantic moments, just not nearly as many perfectly-timed ones as in the movies. With that in mind, you can love rom-com for everything they are and love real-life relationships for everything they aren't. 

The key is taking what we see on the silver screen and adjusting them to fit our actual lives — and this is how you do it.

1. Love at first sight.

Why It's Unrealistic: A movie is roughly two hours, so writers only have so much time to tell a full love story. Having the protagonists fall in love at first sight helps get straight to the action, but as anyone who's been on a dating app can tell you, that's not really love, but lust, at first sight.  

What You Should Do Instead: Recognize these sudden feelings for what they are and nothing more. After all, when the most you know about someone is what they look like, you're infatuated, not in love. Of course, that doesn't mean there isn't potential to fall in love with that person, just that real love takes time to grow and deepen over time. Give it that time.

2. Real love is proven through grand romantic gestures.

Why It's Unrealistic: It's visually dynamic and dramatic, aka made for the big screen. While there's nothing wrong with swooning when The Notebook's Noah builds a dream home for Allie or when Lloyd blasts 'In Your Eyes' at the end of Say Anything (who doesn't?), these grand romantic gestures work in the movies because they're supposed to. In real life, however, such a public declaration of love can fail miserably, come off as creepy, or even embarrass the other person. 

What You Should Do Instead: While grand gestures can work sometimes, you should know if your partner is into such a public display of affection before planning that flash mob proposal. (Hint: If they're a generally introverted and private person, they probably aren't.) If you're not sure, play it safe and stick to small, sweet gestures, like bringing your partner coffee in bed or running errands for them if they're having a bad day. Over time, these will add up to way more than one grand romantic gesture because they show the love you've worked together to create bit by bit, day by day. 

3. When someone says they’re not interested, they just need to be won over.

Why It's Unrealistic: This is the classic "nerdy guy gets the popular girl" trope that encourages viewers to root for the "underdog." But real people, especially women, all over the world have had to deal with the negative consequences of this unrealistic relationship expectation. On the flip side, it also sets people up (again, mainly women) with the unrealistic expectation that a man should — and will — always fight for them. If he doesn't, then he must not be "man" enough

What You Should Do Instead: Take them at their word, and move on. You can't "win" someone over, and honestly, why would you? Wouldn't you rather date someone who's just as into you as you are into them? That person is out there, so it's best to put your romantic energy into finding them.

4. You’ll find someone who completes you.

Why It's Unrealistic: Holy Jerry Maguire, does this one come up a lot! The only thing romantic comedies love more than promoting the idea that "The One" is out there is that once you find them, nothing else really matters. Movie characters will totally uproot their lives if it means they can be with their person. "All you need is love," right? Maybe when you have two minutes before walking off into the sunset, but not when you have a whole lifetime ahead of you.

What You Should Do Instead: Be with someone who complements you, not completes you. Every relationship requires compromise, sure, but it's important to maintain individual interests and personal relationships outside your romance. No matter how "made for each other" you and your partner may be, they shouldn't be your "everything." You should be your everything. Unlike movie characters, real people evolve and change all the time, so the person you "end up with," may not be the person you're with in five or ten years. Go into your relationship knowing that you both will grow into more complete versions of yourself, and, in doing so, you may even grow apart. Your relationship should be just one part of an overall fulfilling life, not the other way around. 

5. Every problem magically disappears as soon as you enter into a relationship.

Why It's Unrealistic: Romantic comedies traditionally end at the beginning of the protagonist's relationship because viewers want to see them live happily ever after. That makes it seem like all you have to do is get into a relationship with the right person, and you'll never be unhappy again! That's not only misleading, but can cause difficulties in the real-life relationships of those who have this expectation. A team of psychologists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, found that fans of rom-coms regularly "fail to communicate to their partners effectively" because many believe that if someone is meant to be with you, then they should know what you want without you needing to tell them." 

What You Should Do Instead: Go into a new relationship knowing you're going to have fights. There will be days when you and your partner might not like each other, but still love each other. And it certainly doesn't mean you're not "made for each other." It means you're human. Perfect relationships don't exist, but strong ones do. That strength is built on open, honest, and constructive communication with each other to work through disagreements. While every couple wants to have more good times than bad, working through relationship problems together is how you really know if you're meant to be together.  

Cover image via Netflix

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