Opinion: The romanticization of romance

“I think most movies or shows have a romantic subplot of some kind, and in many cases, it’s the main appeal of the show—which is honestly super annoying when you don’t really care for them.”

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Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind" are just one example of movie portrayals of love. Credit: Unsplash Images

Valentine’s day has been February’s staple holiday for decades, if not centuries, with romance always being an issue of human interest. Romance, in all its forms, shows up in clothing, entertainment, and is practically hardwired into our heads as something to be sought after. Even though I’ve never been an expressly romantic guy, I can absolutely understand the appeal and why people enthusiastically pursue relationships as much as they do.

Over the past few decades however, it seems like people have become more and more dumbfounded as to what they are actually supposed to do when someone catches their eye, and since love is the topic of the hour, I figured I’d chip in my two cents. 

To start, I don’t think anyone ever knew what exactly they were doing when it came to romance; the ineptitude has simply gotten more blatant over time. Back in the days of yore, marriage wasn’t really hard to accomplish. A young lass would catch the eye of some lad and he would offer up a dowry to her father for the right to marry her. Was she happy with the arrangement? Maybe. Would it be a happy marriage? Again, maybe. It was, however, a simpler system than today, albeit ethically wrong. As the feminist movement rose, women have steadily gained more autonomy and, barring exceptions, largely have some level of choice over who they end up with. Gone now are the days of purchasing your spouse, now enters the dating game; an ethically superior, but much more complex undertaking.

This is probably a good time to clarify that when I talk about simple and complex, they do not correlate to good and bad. The dowry system was bad, and cultures who still utilize the practice have largely modified it since its inception. My point is that dating is hard. You’re expected to be confident, polished, interesting, and charismatic. Even worse, all those things at once. Let’s be real for a second: no one really knows what they’re doing when they’re dating, and I mean actively dating; not going steady with one person, but really meeting new people. You’re typically not going to have a coach there to guide you, but reference examples, and not particularly good ones until very recently. 

I think most movies or shows have a romantic subplot of some kind, and in many cases, it’s the main appeal of the show—which is honestly super annoying when you don’t really care for them. But these romance plots – also featured in songs, poetry, and prose – are really the only familiarity many people have with dating. Now as I said, portrayals of romance have gotten better in recent years, but I really want to focus on the historically bad portrayals we’ve that have been shown over the years. 

I think that rather than go movie by movie, it might be easier to just name a trope and give examples, starting with “The Piner.” Piner type characters, think Stanley Ipkiss from “The Mask” or Charlie from “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” are usually fixated on one particular love interest, Tina Carlyle  and The Waitress respectively, and will pine for their affection no matter what happens. They’re usually genuinely nice guys, whose main problem is an inability to express their emotions for some reason. Typically this results in them pining for their love from afar or holding onto a belief that their chance is right around the corner if they just remain persistent.

Typically this dynamic ends with some grand heroic display that utterly wins the heart of their love interest and ends happily ever after. Not so much in real life, because the heroic displays never actually happen and the “niceness” is often a facade, but people believe this will work because the media they consume tells them it will. They get angry when it doesn’t, and maybe even obsessive in extreme cases. This results in incels, stalkers, simps, mgtow, and many other toxic subcultures. Granted, the media can’t talk all the blame for these. Refusing to change when something clearly is not working is an individual shortcoming and raging at the opposite sex won’t change anything. 

The second major example is “seducer;” The “James Bonds” or “Jessica Rabbit” types. These are the people everyone falls hopelessly in love with without them even trying. If they do actively seek companionship, it’s through some horrid pickup line ala Barney from “How I Met Your Mother.” This portrayal of the savant player/seductress doesn’t really create problematic subcultures like the prior one, but is problematic nonetheless, because it paints unrealistic expectations of what dating is supposed to be like. If you can convince a stranger to fall in love with you in three sentences or less, then more power to you, but most people, suffice to say cannot. It creates self confidence issues in the folk who actually try and fail miserably to flirt because “it looks so easy.” Though most adults really aren’t affected by this all that much, it does influence a lot of young people to at least pretend they’re some big shot. This has led to a wave of fairly comical pick-up artists claiming to have all the answers, which is probably more alarming than just the movies alone. 

To end I’d like to say that while these portrayals of love and romance are inherently flawed, sometimes I just like to watch them. I’m not so jaded as to not enjoy basic entertainment. My only real gripe is when either the romance subplot becomes the main plot or is not true to real life. Dating is hard, but most people have no idea what they are doing, so you’re probably doing fine. 

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