Dating and relationships are supposed to be fun, and most of the time, they are. Often, it’s when you’re trying to measure your lived experience against some kind of ideal that things get stressful. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have standards — set them and set them high — but if you’ve ever felt frustrated when a date doesn’t do what you expect or a relationship doesn’t play out as planned, consider the source of those feelings.
Dating can be frustrating, especially when Hollywood films portray picture-perfect dates and relationships that make most of us expect the same. When perfection doesn’t happen, we can’t help but ask: “What’s wrong with me?”
Perhaps the right question is: “What’s wrong with movies?” Because experts refute many relationship myths perpetuated by Hollywood.
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.
1. Love at first sight happens all the time.
Movies like “(500) Days of Summer” and “Romeo + Juliet” would have you believe that love at first sight is a common occurrence. Two people lock eyes and — bingo! — they’re suddenly smitten.
However, according to a 2017 study in the Netherlands, “What kind of love is love at first sight? An empirical investigation,” love at first sight isn’t exactly “love.” Although people did report feeling an instant spark with another person at some point in their lives, research showed that this phenomenon is based on a strong sense of attraction rather than on feelings of intimacy, commitment, or passion, which are the qualities associated with true love.
2. Love and lust are synonymous.
The movie “Twilight” and the TV series “Mad Men” could not be further apart, but when I look at Bella and Edward, I hear Don Draper saying this: “By love, you mean big lightning bolts to the heart, where you can’t eat and you can’t work, and you just run off and get married and make babies. The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me… to sell nylons.” That love is instant and all-consuming is perhaps the biggest lie Hollywood has sold, and no movie in the 21st century has packaged it better than “Twilight.” It’s conflates love with lust and sets an untenable precedent of what we should be looking for before a relationship even begins.
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3. The man always asks the woman out (in a heterosexual pairing).
Rom-coms often tell the same old story of boy meets girl, in which traditional gender norms run rampant. For example, the male protagonist is usually the first one to make a move when it comes to setting up a date.
However, this old-fashioned approach is slowly fading out, according to a survey by The League, an invite-only dating app. It looked at data from 100 couples that successfully got together through the app and found that one in three straight relationships started with the person who identifies as a woman initiating contact.
4. Your future mother-in-law is the enemy.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is hardly the first movie guilty of perpetuating this trope, though it is the most recent. It’s not that there’s zero chance you’ll encounter a disapproving mother-in-law, but movies would have you believe it’s all but inevitable, especially if you’re a woman. Fortunately, in real life, two women can love the same man and like and respect one another from the get-go.
5. Blind dates are bound to be a disaster.
Movies have reaped a lot of comedic moments from blind dates gone awry, such as that disastrous double date in “When Harry Met Sally.”
But they’re not as hopeless as Hollywood would have us believe. After all, online dating revolves around constant blind dates.
According to a 2014 study from VoucherCloud.com that polled 2,511 married adults, one in four newlywed couples met on a blind date. That’s a 25% chance of success — if your end goal is to get married, that is.
6. Everyone loves a grand romantic gesture.
While Amy Schumer’s dance on the floor of Madison Square Garden in “Trainwreck” is admittedly endearing and mercifully not too public, grand romantic gestures play to the camera far better than they do in real life. Sure, some people dig them, but movies suggest that it’s the ultimate way to say “I love you for real this time” or “please forgive me.” Yet many — calling all introverts — would be absolutely mortified at this public display of affection. If ever there was a time to know your audience, this is it.
7. First-time sex with a new person is awesome.
Steamy sex scenes from the likes of “Top Gun” and “Titanic” paint a pretty picture of having sex with a new person for the first time.
But most of us can admit that, despite the excitement and passion, first-time sex can be awkward or clumsy.
“For a woman, it’s not always particularly orgasmic,” write Em & Lo, Huffington Post sex experts, and columnists. “Sometimes, it takes a guy a while to find his way around a new partner’s body, or it takes her a while to become comfortable and relaxed enough with him to climax. (Or it takes her a while to become comfortable and relaxed enough with him to explain how exactly he can get her to climax.)”
But that’s completely normal and doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.
“Don’t sweat it if the Earth doesn’t move the first time around,” they write. “It doesn’t mean you’re destined to have bad sex together and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be together.”
8. If it’s meant to be, nothing can ruin it.
For anyone who treats dating as a series of tests — if you can put up with X, you’re the person for me — you can at least partially blame “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” for imparting the idea that true love can survive deception, game-playing, and just plain awfulness. Despite Andie embracing every crazy-girlfriend stereotype imaginable and Ben trying to prove he can make any woman fall in love with him, enough of their real selves come through and the pair finds their happily ever after. Let’s just say they have a higher tolerance for poor behavior than pretty much anyone I know in real life.
9. Wowing them with an over-the-top date is the way to go.
Characters in movies often go to great lengths to impress their date, sometimes with surprise, over-the-top outings meant to sweep them off their feet.
However, according to messaging data from the online dating site Zoosk, women had different ideas about what constitutes an ideal date. Among ladies in their 20s and 30s, the word “dinner” came up most often when describing a great date. For women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and older, “coffee” was the top request. So, keep it simple.
10. Letters from the dead are romantic.
Imagine the love of your life has died. You’ve survived the initial shock, the funeral, and the early days of grieving. You’re putting your life back together when a letter from the dead arrives. This is what happens to Lou in “Me Before You” — and in countless other movies — when Will chooses to end his life with assisted suicide. Lou smiles, wipes her tears away, and goes on with her Parisian day. In real life, this would tear open the wound in the short term, even if you came to appreciate it later.
11. Opposites attract.
Movies perpetuate the myth that, no matter how different two people are, love can conquer all.
However, the notion that opposites attract might just be a romantic fallacy. Having shared interests is an important factor in a successful relationship, according to 64% of married couples in a 2014 study on marriage by the PEW Research Center.
12. Catfishing ends well.
There’s an entire show dedicated to just how badly catfishing ends, yet Sierra, the title character of “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” is presented as the ultimate exception. It’s true she became a catfisher by accident, but she quickly figures it out and does some of the shrewdest, most devious ’fishing our screens have ever seen. Still, she gets the guy. What do they say? “Liars make good lovers.” No, no they do not.
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.
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