We turn to film and TV not just for entertainment, but also for insight on our love life — but here’s why we can’t always trust what we’re led to believe about love.
I was only 14 years old when Pretty Little Liars first aired. Chock full of drama far more mature than your average teen’s life, crazy storylines, pretty young actresses playing fashionable teens, and tons of romance — my young teen self watched PLL for a guilty pleasure sort of entertainment, of course, but also something more. I saw the four female heroines and looked up to them in a way — they were gorgeous, intriguing, and most importantly, desired by the guys in the show.
We often believe the TV shows and movies we spend our hours, days, and years watching won’t have a lasting effect on us. After all, it’s just entertainment, right? But studies show that the entertainment we most faithfully and fervently consume influences us more than we know. We watch these stories unfold not just to be entertained for a while, but to gain new insight in our own lives, to gather wisdom and understanding for the way the world works, and to apply what we’ve discovered to real life.
But our tendency to allow films and TV shows to influence us this way can lead us into the trap of believing damaging narratives about the world, especially those about sex and relationships. We readily believe what Hollywood asserts as the truth about romantic relationships, or the actual meaning (or lack thereof) of intimacy, but as it turns out, they’ve been telling us flat-out lies — and harmful ones, at that. Here are the biggest lies Hollywood has pushed on women about sex and relationships.
Meaningless Sex Is Necessary for Self-Discovery
It’s not groundbreaking to point out that Hollywood typically treats meaningless hookups as fun and empowering. Love Life and A Nice Girl Like You rely heavily on the depiction of casual relationships to further the storyline, to illustrate their heroines as coming out of their shells, having fun, being independent women, and living their best life.
But even more than that, audiences are encouraged to see their meaningless flings as crucial to their growth and character development. Far too often, these stories portray their characters’ sleeping around as a fundamental step in becoming a whole, developed woman. They finally find themselves, grow out of their shyness or prudishness, or self-actualize. We’re to see the string of their meaningless hookups as totally necessary to their journey of self-discovery, never once questioning if she could’ve found herself without the help of guys. This only solidifies the harmful narrative that a woman needs a man in order to discover who she truly is.
Marriage Is Boring and Lacks Passion
We all know that marriage is becoming significantly less popular among Millennials and Gen Z. The falling marriage rates and the uncomfortably high divorce rates are clear evidence of that. But these trends don’t come out of nowhere. The way marriage is so often treated in films like Titanic undoubtedly influences our image of a lifelong commitment to one person.
After Rose survived the sinking and Jack didn’t, she went on to marry another man, have children, and live a full, long life. Despite this, after Rose dies as an old woman at the end of the film, a young Rose reunites with Jack in the afterlife, the man whom she knew for three days aboard the Titanic. This leads us to the conclusion that Jack was her single true love, and her marriage to a man she spent the last 60 years of her life with meant less than a fling lasting no longer than a long weekend — ultimately devaluing the meaning of marriage and lifelong commitment, and glorifying a passionate, fleeting experience with a man she barely knew.
Casual Hookups Have No Downsides
We’ve raised a generation of young adults who believe keeping a relationship as casual as possible is the best way to embark on any kind of intimate relationship. Young women watch Sex in the City and romanticize their I do whatever I want, single-girl approach to life. We believe this lifestyle only reaps positive results, like owning our sexuality, feeling independent and empowered, living our truth, or figuring out what we like.
We aren’t taught to acknowledge the downsides of this lifestyle: STDs, the shame and regret that can come along with the decision to sleep around, the hurt we can feel after desiring more from what started as a casual relationship and getting ghosted in return, or even the pain our slew of experiences might cause our future spouse or partner.
You’re Not Doing It Right If You Catch Feelings
There aren’t a lot of rules when it comes to casual relationships. That’s part of the draw, right? But the one rule that must always be abided by? Thou shalt not catch feelings. The whole idea of keeping a relationship casual, of course, is to never care too deeply for the other person involved. In fact, emotions are best kept out of the situation entirely. And if we do end up catching feelings, we’re led to believe we’re just not doing the casual thing correctly.
In reality, it’s completely normal to become attached to someone after being intimate with them, especially for women. It’s actually rooted in our biology. After an intimate experience, we’re wired to release a hormone called oxytocin, a chemical often referred to as the “love hormone” that’s released in order to help us feel bonded and safe in our environment. Our emotions aren’t something that can, or should, be thrown out the window so we can enjoy ourselves — they’re there for a reason. Catching feelings actually just makes us human.
Finding Your Soulmate Will Complete You
We all love the idea of our soulmate, the one person we simply can’t live without, or even being someone’s soulmate, someone’s everything — it’s an undeniably romantic and dreamy idea. Tom Cruise’s famous line from Jerry Maguire, “You complete me,” is meant to tell of a love that most only hope and dream for, a love that life isn’t worth living without.
While the idea sounds wonderful at first, this is an ultimately damaging and unrealistic view of love and relationships. We’re encouraged to treat another fallible human being as our everything, our one missing puzzle piece. But this will eventually let us down. When we rely on someone else to feel whole, we give them more power and influence than our significant other is supposed to have. And when we’re confronted with the humanness and imperfection of our significant other, the fantasy we’d built of them in our minds comes crashing down, ruining what could have been a good relationship. We will never be completed by someone else.
We’ll probably never stop looking to film and TV for insight and answers. It’s only human to do that. But it’s important to understand that these stories are really just that — stories. They’re not entirely based in reality, and they often fail to represent the real issues and pain that can come with hookup culture or the truths of romantic relationships.