It's the weekend after Thanksgiving and my biggest dilemma isn't whether to run out to the sales or decide which leftover to finish off: It's whether I should let my 2 daughters see a romantic comedy.
If you read the latest research, I'll be setting them up for a lifetime of ruined relationships if I keep spoon-feeding them the fantasy fulfillment dished out by all the rom-coms in theaters. Love and Other Drugs, Life As We Know It, even Tangled are potential lifetime spoilers perpetuating unrealistic expectations about love, according to the conclusions of two separate studies that claim movies like this destroy our love lives with their romantic myths.
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Researchers in Australia and Scotland have found that those who watch romantic comedies are more likely to believe in predestined love than those who prefer other movie genres. They are also more likely to believe that perfect relationships happen instantly and are less likely to believe that couples need to work at relationships. One marriage counselor commenting on the studies said that 90 minutes at the theater can "ruin life for weeks, months or even years afterwards;" that our love for romantic comedies is turning us into a generation of "happy-ever-after addicts."
Researchers at Heriot Watt University's Family and Personal Relationships Laboratory in Edinburgh completed a study of 40 Hollywood romantic comedies released between 1995-2005. They found that problems typically reported by couples in relationship counseling at their center reflect misconceptions about love and romance depicted in Hollywood films: that sex is always perfect, that people in love instinctively know what their partner wants without speaking, that most people fall instantly in love and that fate gives us just one perfect mate out there.
"If you think that's how things are, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed," said Dr. Bjarne Holmes, who led the research. "The problem is that 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."
Even though most of our own love stories have ended more like Wes Craven movies than Cinderella, why do we do it? Our heads tell us it isn't possible, but our hearts buy those movie tickets. From Bringing Up Baby and Roman Holiday to The Apartment and Breakfast at Tiffany's to You've Got Mail and Pretty Woman, we are addicted to love and the memory of its first buzz – and we want to relive it over and over again, if not in real life at least in the darkness of a movie theater. It's the reason we're all secretly fascinated with yet another upcoming royal wedding. We're still suckers for a fairy tale ending (even though Princess Di proved it doesn't exist).
The feminist in me hates these movies, particularly because most of the female leads are sorry messes who don't get their acts together until the man of their destiny enters their lives. But it's not just women who are victims here. I have a man friend who once told me he was convinced he should pursue a woman because he had seen certain signs that convinced him she was "the one" (which could have come straight out of Serendipity, in which John Cusack leaves it to fate to decide if Kate Beckinsale is the woman for him). Another man friend once waited for a sign to decide whether or not he should propose to his girlfriend. (Makes me wonder how many bad marriages can be blamed on Nike's "Just Do It" ad campaign.)
When I looked down the list of movies studied by the people in Scotland – You've Got Mail, Maid In Manhattan, The Wedding Planner, While You Were Sleeping – my heart sank. My daughters, ages 10 and 11, had seen practically all of them. Have I doomed them to disappointment by infecting them with Romantic Comedy Syndrome? What's a mother to do?
As I see it, I now have two options: I can keep the romance crap to a minimum and repeatedly explain to them that movies seldom reflect real life. Or I can let them see Annie Hall.