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February 28, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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What Pop Culture Teaches Us About The Futility of Relationships and Love

What would love and relationships be without the arts? Film, literature, the drunk text—all of these have an indelible effect on how we perceive the parts of the world and ourselves that we are yet to see.

Of course these portrayals are fiction. Most love songs are lies, most lovers aren’t ‘the one’: we know this, we do. But how much of our idea of what love is, and what it should be, is based around the fiction we consume? Even when going through a relationship, we can’t help but be reminded of those we have seen on screen, or read about in books, even in the tiniest of ways. We imagine what the film of our life would be like. Is yours a tale of forbidden love, like Romeo and Juliet? Or is it a pathetic story of two self destructive personalities, breaking the hearts of their families and generally acting like damn fools, like Romeo + Juliet?

Comparing your life to that of characters designed solely to have exciting lives is tantamount to self-flagellation—or self-flagellation by proxy, if you are really creative—but people do it to themselves and others. Everything down to the soundtrack.

The formula of ‘Love’: Baz Luhrmann style

It is one of the most basic and oldest plots: boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again. Maybe, if they’re being really transgressive, they’ll change the genders—but it’s essentially the same catch, and the same chase, every time. The only problem with this is… all of it. As Salient’s own Constance Cravings once said, “Chase and catch is not the only way to make a relationship happen”. In fact, beyond being not the only way, it’s probably the worst. It creates an unhealthy power dynamic, in which one side is the perfect prize on a pedestal made entirely out of diamonds and whales’ smiles, while the other is the subservient chaser, defiling themselves to prove their love. Neither of these are good things to be, or good ways to look at another human being. People are not objects to be won, there is no honour in being Tom Hansen, and making someone jump through hoops does not prove that they are worthy of you—it shows that you are a terrible person.

Nonetheless, these emotionally stunted characters generally live happily ever after. Sure they’ve gone through a ‘boy loses girl’ phase, but they’re ignoring that, pushing that deep down inside themselves until they vent it once the movie is over—probably by punching the comedic sidekick.

Fighting your Lover’s Exes: What we should (and shouldn’t) learn from Scott Pilgrim

Everyone takes their own emotional baggage into a relationship, it may not be helpful, but it’s natural. This baggage is something you must overcome to get to an actual relationship (e.g. one not based on your, or their, past). So yes, you do have to fight their exes, though not literally. However, some battles you will not win, and others aren’t worth fighting. Rob from High Fidelity may seem charming as he dwells on his lost loves, but in the real world, someone that hung up over their exes would be undateable even if you could—if he has a playlist of music that reminds him of his exes, that’s a big red flag.

These Woody Allen-style, charmingly neurotic, always looking-backwards types must be stopped. It’s not fair to the new person to be constantly compared to the rose-tinted memory of someone else.

Youth without youth: How youthful love on screen has created the emotionally stunted person you are about to sleep with.

No-one stays in their relationship from High School forever. This is a fact: we wouldn’t lie to you. Yet fictional high schoolers are falling in ‘love’ with each other all the time, according to teen dramas. The suspension of disbelief is all well and good, but this is going too far.

The melodramatic times of Dawson and Pacey, Marissa and Ryan, Blair and Chuck: these happened to them before the age of eighteen. Their constant evocations of love seem wildly childish for people who still listen to Top 40. Love is the second most complicated and unexplainable of all human emotions, after swag, and many people have gone their entire lives without experiencing true love. ‘Love’ is subjective, and people do find it at different ages, but the hormonal expressions of kids who want to be in love, aren’t. It is foolish to think this will fall into your lap at such an early age—let alone beat yourself up about dying alone with close to nothing of your life left. It’ll be alright, just play the field a little more.

Are we neurotic because of pop culture, or is pop culture neurotic because of us?

Probably both. These relationship stereotypes do have a grain o’ the truth to them, but how much of that is self-fulfilling prophecy, as opposed to being bound to happen, is unknowable. What is knowable is that coming into a relationship with faulty preconceptions of how everything should pan out, because you read it in some excruciating Jane Austen novel, is a recipe for having bad relationships and misunderstanding love—both of which are things we should take less seriously.

In conclusion: there is no such thing as perfection. Movies aren’t real. And love is probably detrimental to your health and should be avoided at all cost. As Nina Simone once sang:

“Marriage is for old folks
Cold folks,
And it’s not for me!”

Enjoy your day.

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