Hollywood’s Worst Love Lessons

Hollywood’s fairytale romances are hardly a realistic barometer for your own love life. Here, we explore some of the more popular (and scripted) myths that have set such unachievable expectations.

By Christine Champ

nlucky in love? Blame Hollywood.

Heriot-Watt University psychologist Bjarne M. Holmes and researcher Kimberly R. Johnson analyzed the top-grossing romantic comedies released from 1995 to 2005, dissecting every detail from first kisses to
Much like Romeo and Juliet, neither can exist without the other.
dramatic declarations of love. The themes that emerged — like the notion of predestined soul mates — were some of the same relationship myths, the pair discovered, that their couples-counselor colleagues heard about frequently from their clients. Clients, that is, comprised of men and women whose beliefs and expectations about love had Hollywood’s stamp all over them. Here, we explore the greatest love myths perpetrated by romantic films.

Myth 1: You Only Have One True Soul Mate
Twilight’s centuries-old vampire Edward finally finds his soul mate when he meets all-too-human Bella, who barely blinks before deciding Edward is the only one for her (werewolf Jacob’s clearly no substitute). Much like Romeo and Juliet, neither can exist without the other, as their recklessness in the sequel New Moon clearly indicates. In Slumdog Millionaire, destiny decides that Jamal and Latika belong together (regardless of the obstacles tearing them apart) and rigs a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-style quiz show’s questions to make it happen. Lori Gottlieb, author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, cautions that “holding out for an ideal soul mate” can nurture bad dating habits — such as nitpicking perfectly compatible people apart. It’s “prince [or princess] charming or nobody,” writes Gottlieb in Marry Him. “It never occurred to me to trade those impractical glass slippers for shoes I could actually wear.”

Myth 2: You Always Hurt the One You Love
This myth, according to Arizona State University Professor Dr. Mary-Lou Galician, author of Sex, Love, and Romance in the Mass Media, is one of the unhealthiest when it comes to romantic relationships. In The Ugly Truth, tightly-wound TV producer Abby and Neanderthal talk show host Mike relentlessly sling juvenile insults at each other, yet by the film’s finale, they realize mid-argument they’re right for each other. These hate-love tales promote the idea that the passion of sexual tension and constant combat can make two people form a lasting bond just as well as shared values, interests and lifestyle. But as Gottlieb wonders in Marry Him, “If the couple has so much trouble simply getting together, what makes us think they’ll have more success in holding a marriage together?” Plus, what’s the takeaway message here — pursue the “person that annoys us initially?” Hopefully not.

Myth 3: True Love Tames Any Beast
Connor, the haunted lothario in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, is molded into marriage material by the scolding of his exes and his enduring fondness for old flame, Jenny. In The Proposal, we see good-natured Andrew bullied into marrying his shrewish book-editor boss Margaret in order for her to obtain her green card. However, Margaret’s heart melts after spending time with Andrew’s family in Alaska. In the television series Sex and the City, we see Carrie wish upon a Manhattan star for emotionally unavailable perpetual bachelor Mr. Big to marry her. He does at the end of the first film, becoming Carrie’s dream spouse. Gottlieb wonders, “What were the qualities these individuals possessed that were so attractive?” Indeed. If you must be railroaded into a relationship, what are the odds it’s going to last?

Myth 4: First-Date Disasters Always Spell Doom
Who would you deem worthy of a second date? The smooth operator who sweeps you off your feet with a flawlessly executed candlelit dinner, or the nervous Ned or Nelly who spills wine on your shirt? According to Gottlieb, an awkward date’s bumbling
When all else fails and you haven’t yet found The One — get pregnant...
often has a good reason — it means your date really likes you and is truly “invested in the date.” Twenty-something moviegoer Erin notes that most men don’t have the “event planning skills” to compete with professional “Date Doctors” (think Will Smith in Hitch).

Myth 5: First Comes Baby, Then Comes Love
When all else fails and you haven’t yet found The One — get pregnant, apparently. A newer breed of bun-in-the-oven romances like Knocked Up and The Back-Up Plan seem to suggest that this is a real-life option for single women. Get blitzed and bed a stranger you brought home from a bar, or use the man-attracting magic of artificial insemination; either way, if a baby’s on board, Mr. Right will surely arrive once the deed is done. Erin points out that “any real woman who’s gotten accidentally pregnant” will have “hard decisions to make” and “a lot of sleepless nights.” However, in The Back-Up Plan, smitten Stan’s ready to rear a sperm donor’s offspring after only a few dates with mom-to-be Zoe. In Knocked Up, Ben comes around after deciding to get his life together when he learns he’s about to be a father. But really, what are the odds?

Myth 6: When the Honeymoon’s Over, It’s All Over
Associate Psychology Professor Berit Brogaard says even she’s dated under the influence of Hollywood movie myths. Rarely making it “past the honeymoon phase,” Brogaard finds herself “bored” if she’s “not in the midst of an intense, romantic rollercoaster ride.” She goes on to admit that “I still think of my most…Hollywood-like affair as my best relationship ever.” Not surprising, considering that Holmes’ study discerned that love stories watched on the silver screen appear “novel and exciting, yet emotionally significant and meaningful,” blending the traits of new and long-term couples rather than revealing how real relationships mature. No wonder fans of films like The Back-Up Plan end up bailing when the honeymoon’s over; as Gottlieb sums it up, they “sought out romance and confused it with love” rather than embracing the reality that true love comes with its ups and downs.

Is There Hope for Realistic Romance in Film?
These myths (and the movies that perpetuate them) represent merely the tip of Hollywood’s idealized romantic iceberg. If you think you’re immune to these ideals, Gottlieb cautions, “on some unconscious level” you’re watching these movies “as if they were documentaries” instead of the fantasies they truly are. Holmes’ research seconds that sentiment: “While most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realize.”

If, then, Hollywood’s scripted notion of romance isn’t realistic, should we settle for love that’s devoid of romance entirely? Definitely not, says Galician. Real romance is “thrilling and fulfilling when based on shared values rather than chaos.” Need a model for true love that’ll last? Try getting to know some thriving twosomes in your own community, Gottlieb advises. Or get a cinematic reality check from movies that teach love lessons worth remembering.

For another perspective on Hollywood’s portrayal of romance, read Hollywood’s Best Love Lessons.

Christine Champ is a freelance writer based in the Northwest. Her writing has appeared on,, and in The Seattle Times.
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