Escaping to an idealized fantasy is great. But where there is wish fulfillment, there will often be myths that are both satisfying and destructive at the same time.
For many people, these myths simply slip under their radar. But for someone like me - which is to say, an expert on relentlessly overthinking everything that catches my interest - they become increasingly apparent...
...and increasingly disturbing.
In the movie named after him, Jerry Maguire famously tells his love interest that she completes him.
In a movie I just finished watching, which I won't name because this is a bigger spoiler than "the characters in a rom-com get together", the main character discovers that the woman he loves is "enough to fill the hole in you" - that if he's with her, he'll no longer crave the attention and applause he's been pursuing his entire life.
Over and over, I've seen characters fall in lasting love in an insanely short span of time, with the strong implication that the relationship actually lasts.
Obvious incompatibilities or personality problems can be overlooked if love (read: lust) is strong enough. This is so pervasive that item 98 in The Evil Overlord List says,
If an attractive young couple enters my realm, I will carefully monitor their activities. If I find they are happy and affectionate, I will ignore them. However if circumstances have forced them together against their will, and they spend all their time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when they are saving each others' lives, at which point there are hints of sexual tension, I will immediately order their execution.
If it's motivated by love or the other person's emotional damage, it's OK.
Behaviour that would normally be scorned as being stalkerish or abusive is treated as passionate or romantic in wildly popular novels - after all, he's only behaving that way because he loves her SO very much, right?
Surely the very fact of being desired so intensely makes up for the mistreatment that comes along with it.
Or, if it isn't excused because the abusive party is in love, it's because he's damaged - and surely her love will change him, right?
I'll go through them one at a time. My first victim will be:
Even if they're insecure, emotionally unhealthy, and don't have much of a life of their own, they cling to the idea that a special person will come into their life and change everything... without them having to do the work of changing themselves.
The trouble is, nobody else can complete you, and you can't complete anybody else.
Each person has to complete themselves, and people who don't understand that are destined to either be alone, or to cycle through a series of codependent relationships filled with unrealistic expectations and disappointment, until they finally learn that Jerry is full of crap and "you complete me" is a myth.
But it is rather comforting, isn't it? To think that someone else will just come in and take care of all that hassle for you? Speaking of hassle, let's move on to...
They feel that maybe if they got that promotion, did a little better in their field, overcame a character flaw, or - of course - got that one special relationship, then maybe that hole would finally be filled.
The pain and feelings of inadequacy would go away, and they'd finally feel loved, secure, whole, and like they were good enough.
You can probably guess where this is going, since it's closely related to Jerry's example, but here goes:
No relationship is going to fill that hole in you.
I like to use the analogy that love is like a hospital.
It's a safe place to heal, to let down your guard, and to do the exercises that will identify and heal the wounds, repattern the old beliefs and habits, and help you do the growing you need to do in order to fill that hole.
But love is NOT a magic cure that heals wounds by itself, any more than simply being in a hospital will make a bullet hole go away.
This myth is one of the reasons why people get into abusive relationships. In some cases, the abuser expects their victim to be the solution to all their inner problems, to be perfect enough to fill the hole that is causing their pain, anger or insecurity.
And the abused believes that this is a realistic expectation - that if only they were better in some way, they could heal or change their abuser, or live up to their deluded expectations.
Needless to say, this myth pisses me off, because it leads to a LOT of pain and suffering in real life.
And yet, people love it, because what could be better than being let off the hook for ALL of the inner growth you would otherwise need to do?
Believing that your abusive relationship will get better if you could only fill the hole, that's what.
Many times, characters who fall in love don't know each other deeply, and sometimes they're even hostile to each other. But a spark of sexual tension flares up, or one of them rescues the other, and the deal is as good as closed.
This can be a bit more plausible if the movie itself covers a large span of in-story time. But it can still lead to deluded expectations, to people expecting a connection or commitment at blistering speeds, and to people not giving their would-be relationships the time they need to grow.
#4: Any Relationship Can Work if You Love Each Other Enough
It's intense, powerful, overwhelming, true, and it will definitely last for your whole life and overcome anything that could possibly get in its way.
...Unless, of course, you and your partner lack all the skills necessary to make your love last, and you spend all your time bickering and criticizing each other except during the intermittent occasions when you are saving each others' lives, at which point there are hints of sexual tension.
If I had a dollar for every couple who thought their love could overcome all the inner wounds, bad relationship skills, and lack of a desire to do the work it takes to maintain a relationship, only to find themselves falling out of love after a few months or years, I'd be as rich as some of the writers who promote this myth.
As with anything worthwhile in life, maintaining a healthy relationship takes a certain set of skills.
And if the participants lack the mutual respect, conflict resolution skills, and emotional maturity to create and keep a good romance, their 'happily ever after' probably isn't going to last much longer than the ending credits do.
#5: Love or Emotional Damage Excuses Abuse
I don't know how many little boys grow up hearing that kind of stupidity, but it's infamous as a way to excuse boys' bad treatment of little girls.
Boys, meanwhile, are told not to hit girls, and can get in trouble for it even if the girl started it.
And then there are the romance novels where one of the partners manipulates, humiliates, controls, degrades, terrorizes, or even physically harms their partner... but it's all right, because they're only doing it because they're so passionate about you!
Or if it isn't because of their overwhelming burning love for you, it's because they're emotionally damaged, and it's your responsibility to stick around and heal their wounded heart.
The trouble is, if you make it easy to continue their bad behavior by staying in a relationship with them, guess what happens?
You guessed right (I hope) - when you make it easy to keep misbehaving, they keep misbehaving! They don't have the motivation to change their ways.
Now, that's not to say that there have NEVER been instances where one partner decided to change and improve in order to become a better partner, because they loved their significant other so much.
But when a person is being abusive, and their partner condones or accepts their abuse, that just tells them that they don't need to change.
And no amount of passion, romance, or perceived responsibility for the other person's healing is going to make up for the catastrophic levels of damaged the abused partner will probably sustain before they realize the other person wasn't planning to change, and get the heck out of there.
And if that isn't horribly un-romantic, I don't know what is.
Have you noticed some disturbing trends in romance stories?
Do you have a myth you'd like to bust?
I'd love to hear from you in the comments.