There's a teachable moment in the timeless rom-com "The Holiday" that's applicable to our love lives long after the Christmas season ends. Iris, played by Kate Winslet, is out to dinner with her new friend and temporary neighbor, Arthur, who's an elderly, lonely widower who has retired from filmmaking in Hollywood.
Iris bursts into tears from across the table, lamenting her on-again-off-again relationship with Jasper, a toxic coworker who has been leading her on for years even though she's deeply in love with him. To make matters even worse, Jasper just publicly announced his sudden engagement at their office holiday party, moments after he walked into Iris's office and flirted with her as she gave him a very special Christmas present that she had been saving in her desk. Seeing Jasper move on without her was the very thing that inspired Iris to take a spontaneous vacation to Los Angeles and leave her troubles behind.
Through the tears, she admits to Arthur that she has been hung up on "one guy, an ex-boyfriend who just got engaged and forgot to tell me."
"So he's a schmuck," Arthur says with a shrug. "He let you go. This is not a hard one to figure out." Iris continues to cry as she agrees with him. Then Arthur says something to her that will change the course of her life forever.
"In the movies, we have a leading lady and we have the best friend," he says. "You, I can tell, are a leading lady. But for some reason you're behaving like a best friend."
Iris looks up at him and realizes in that moment just how pathetic she's been acting. "You're so right," she admits. "You're supposed to be the leading lady of your life for God's sake." She dabs her tears away and leans in.
"I've been going to a therapist for three years, and she's never explained anything to me that well," she shares. "That was brilliant – brutal, but brilliant. Thank you."
Bash The Holiday all you want for being a silly, derivative love story that offers nothing more than escapist Christmas fare for emotional women, but you can't deny that this scene offers useful advice to all the ladies out there who are still looking for love.
What Does It Actually Mean To Be a Leading Lady?
We've all been Iris at some point in our love life. We love someone who doesn't love us back. Our love interest chooses another woman over us. We're left alone, heartbroken, and hopeless. These are not foreign concepts to those of us who love boldly and refuse to settle. What determines whether we're the main character in our own love story, rather than the sidekick, is how we choose to pick ourselves up from these moments and rewrite our tale.
A leading lady is someone who takes responsibility for her own life instead of being passive. She takes control of her choices and shapes her future, refusing to be a victim. She opts in for this empowering mindset: this is not happening to me, this is happening for me.
Katherine Heigl as Jane Nichols in 27 Dresses is the perfect embodiment of the transformation from best friend to leading lady. After being a bridesmaid in 27 different weddings, devoting all her time to bringing other women's love stories to life, and loving her disinterested boss from afar without ever having the guts to say so, she finally takes the initiative in her own story and takes a chance on the cynical yet charming journalist, Kevin, played by James Marsden.
Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) of Legally Blonde is another example. She may be a bit vacuous in the beginning of the story and her decision to apply to Harvard Law School wasn't exactly rooted in the best of intentions, but she proves everyone wrong in the end. She picks herself up after her law professor makes an unwelcome advance on her, dries her tears, and devotes herself to the legal case at hand even though she was viewed as the bimbo underdog. And when her ex-boyfriend Warner comes crawling back at the first sign of her success, she proves her own self-worth and rejects his insincere gesture, instead choosing the stable and loving Emmett.
Sure, these are nothing more than movie characters, but their stories can teach us a little something about becoming the main character in our own love life rather than taking a backseat and passively allowing things to run their course.
Why Do So Many Women Fail To Act Like the Main Character of Their Own Life?
We live in the most luxurious, technologically advanced era that has ever existed in the history of humankind, which has left multiple generations of young adults feeling entitled and selfish. We no longer have to worry about the grave concerns that plagued our parents and grandparents – war, severe economic depression, etc. – which leaves us coasting through life.
People who know no struggle and expect things to be easy don't really have a reason to take responsibility for every aspect of their life, including (and especially) romance. We're so used to having things delivered to our doorstep, whether it's takeout from our favorite restaurant or a hookup secured through a dating app, that we forget what it means to take initiative.
Additionally, the value of marriage has decreased and women are even discouraged from getting married. When there's less urgency to find a high-quality husband and become a mother, there's less desire to live your life in such a way that will make you desirable to men who want a family.
To top it all off, we now live in a female-dominated society, where everything is created for women. Most advertisements, TV shows, films, and cultural figures are either made with the female consumer in mind or crafted by women. Women are now graduating from college and graduate school at a higher rate than men are. Women in their 20s earn more than their 20-something male counterparts and are more professionally successful. Whether or not we like to admit it, women do in fact dominate American culture.
All of this creates the perfect storm for women to take a backseat in their life, including when it comes to love. It's all too easy to point fingers at men and blame them for our own loneliness.
How Can We Start Acting Like a Main Character in Our Love Life?
What do Iris, Jane, and Elle all have in common? For one, they rejected the man that they knew was wrong for them, even if they had spent months or years pining after them. That's the classic behavior of a leading lady. She refuses to settle for a man that she knows deep down is not interested in her, regardless of how difficult that decision may feel in the moment. Staying in a toxic relationship and allowing yourself to get hung up on the guy who has strung you along is exactly what the best friend would do, because that doesn't make for a very interesting or inspiring storyline.
The first step to becoming the main character in your own love story is to rid yourself of the people and influences that you know are holding you back. That could include toxic ex-boyfriends, bad habits, or passive-aggressive friends who don't have your best interests in mind. Unfortunately, this is the hardest part of your story. It can feel impossible to break away from these people or daily choices, but having the gumption to do so will open the door for new experiences and love interests that can move your life forward.
Next, make active choices in your love life rather than waiting for things to happen. Consider getting off the dating apps and instead go out into the real world to meet people organically. This will require you to put yourself out there and get out of your comfort zone, but that's precisely what a main character does. Volunteer for a cause you're passionate about, join a new gym or fitness group, attend meetups for hobbies that you enjoy. These are all much worthier ways to meet people than scrolling through your phone. Being active in your everyday life is also a way to help you forget about that guy you know you shouldn't be texting. Keep yourself busy to stop yourself from reaching out to him in a moment of boredom or loneliness.
Finally, take responsibility and focus on the positive. You know what your flaws are – acknowledge them and work through them. An irresistible woman is a self-aware one, and she's not disillusioned about her own imperfections. Another common denominator between Iris, Jane, and Elle is that there was a very clear turnaround moment in their story: they chose to stop whining about their past and instead create their future. This is the ultimate way to seize your moment as the leading lady. Life is and will always be unfair. There will never not be people and events that affect you negatively and set you back, but dwelling perpetually on these moments doesn't serve you. Put on a beautiful dress, smile, and go after what you want instead of complaining about what you lost.
Being the main character of your love life is a lost art in our generation. As easy as it is to fall into the trap of allowing life to just pass you by, there's much more vibrancy and joy to experience when you take on the role of leading lady in your life. Plus, just as Iris says, putting on your big girl pants and shedding the role of the best friend is much more useful to your love life than years of therapy.
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