Sure, Brad and Angie seem have a picture-perfect life together. But how much of this is accurate and how much is inflated? Get wise to how the media impacts our love lives—your relationship will thank you.
Let’s say you’re driving from your home to Baltimore. You get together your underwear, your socks, your cell phone charger, a bottle of water and some snacks. But to get to your destination, you need a map or a GPS—something that can tell you which way to head to get where you want to go. The same can be said for most goals in life—you have to have a sense of what you’re aiming for to accurately get what you’re hoping for.
Love isn’t exempt from this. And just as it’s unlikely that you’re going to get to Baltimore if you have a map of Ypsilanti, Michigan, you might have a hard time arriving in Happy Relationship Land if your map is for Fairytale City.
Unfortunately, most of the love maps we utilize are of Fairytale City—and the media has a huge hand in that “love cartography.” We can’t turn sideways without running into unrealistic images of love.
In these media images, the main characteristics of love are as follows:
- Begins with fireworks
- Easy, unending sex and passion
- Connection with a life of its own
- Low to no conflict
- Certainty of belonging together
And the thing is, often (not always) the beginnings of relationships fit that description. This is the infatuation phase of love, and no wonder the media seizes the energy and feelings of that time: it’s dramatic, it’s a natural high and it makes for great movies and stories.
But studies show that the infatuation phase tends to last from three months to two years maximum. What do we do after those feelings shift? Or what if you never had them in the first place?
We can’t pick up a People magazine or watch a romantic comedy without seeing people kissing passionately and gazing into each other’s eyes; and since these are the most common images, we fill in the blanks and assume that those toe-tingling kisses and lusty glances happen at least as much (or more) behind closed doors.
The Huffington Post published an article entitled, “Romantic Comedies Don’t Really Make You Have Unrealistic Expectations About Love, Says Study.” The researchers in this study found that there wasn’t a “strong relationship between believing in “soul mates,” “love at first sight” and the idea that “love conquers all” and watching romantic comedies. They did find a link to higher idealism about love and romance from viewers who said they watched these movies in order to learn about relationships. But many people that might not ascribe to these clichéd phrases may still have subconscious beliefs that:
- I will know for sure when I’ve met the right person for me.
- When I’m truly in love, the sex will be amazing.
- When I’m truly in love, my partner will completely understand and support me.
I’m not arguing that we should stop proclaiming how awesome being in love is; having been in love myself, I know how you all but barely resist the urge to call your lover’s name from the rooftops. I simply think we need to be more honest about the other parts of love—the post-infatuation parts—in a way that normalizes and teaches us how to be just as proud and confident of the calmer, more ho-hum, but often deeper connection that is attached love.
By “attached love” I mean love that comes from a place of getting to know each other, learning how to communicate despite differences, developing trust, accepting each other’s strengths and challenges, risking vulnerability and being met with acceptance and support. This kind of love perseveres through moments of connection and disconnection. Through attraction and exhaustion. Through excitement and newness and taking out the trash and farts and laundry.
This is the kind of love we don’t see reflected in the media. Angelina and Brad walk down the streets with their dark sunglasses and their beautiful children and we long for their love, but we don’t see the tiff they just had over who was going to tell the personal shopper to buy mom her mother’s day present (just kidding).
But seriously, we need more honest representations of healthy, secure, not-always-jonesing-to-rip-each-other’s-clothes-off love. Because when we see ourselves represented in our world, we realize we’re not alone and we’re better able to accept and rejoice in real, down-to-earth love.
[image: via Nils Sautter on flickr]