I love movies like The Notebook and A Walk to Remember as much as the next girl. They were an important part of my middle school sleepovers, and I still hold a candle for Shane West. But I also know that these “awww”-worthy films are making healthy real-life relationships hard. They’re teaching us that your soulmate will write you 365 letters or build you a telescope. He’ll say things like:
So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s going to be really hard; we’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, every day. You and me… every day.
As a result of this romcom infusion, we grow up thinking that these displays are what a real relationship is about. Love is grand gestures and Shakespeare-worthy declarations. And if it doesn’t look or sound like that, then it’s not real and the guy (or girl) you’re currently dating must suck.
But let’s face it, sometimes people aren’t great at expressing their emotions. They’re not going to tell you that all of them loves all of you (haiiii, John Legend), but they’re going to show it in their own way. So as you fume about his lack of appreciation, you could also be missing your partner’s own, unique way of communicating love.
And in actual human life, real love is about more than having someone to swoop in and save your ruined birthday or declare “To me, you are perfect.” Healthy relationships are also about challenging each other and supporting each other in a way that no one else can. Your partner should help you grow to become the best version of you. Compliments are great, but knowing that someone has your back while you’re doing your thang is even better.
This brings me to Exhibit A, a Match message I recently received:
At its core, it’s sweet. Like, four Splendas in my morning coffee sweet, but it’s coming from a good place. It’s certainly better than the “Want to have casual sex?” messages that I receive (yep, that’s a thing).
But this person is never someone I would want to date, despite his nice words. Why? Because I don’t want someone who “may have the opportunity to view those gorgeous eyes in person.” I don’t want someone who has to win a bet to “get” to go out with me. That sounds like you’re trying out for American Idol. I’m not a contest or a prize to be won. I’m a person who needs a partner.
I want someone who is glad to be with me, but who also knows their own worth. I want someone who’s going to challenge me. Someone who’s going to tell me to stop being a baby and try x new thing I keep talking about but am scared to do. Someone to help me move past a career setback instead of letting me wallow until the end of time and tell me that they’re sorry that the mean person was mean to me. Someone who’s going to read my writing and give feedback when everyone else will just say, “It’s great! You’re so funny.” I want honesty. I want sympathy when necessary, but I also want someone who won’t let me settle for being a mediocre version of myself.
In romantic movies, we learn that we should be on the hunt for our #1 one fan who’s going to gush over us constantly. Prince Charming. The sweet guy next door who comes and puts your pieces back together when the bad boy breaks your heart. He’s probably the one who spent the first 3/4 of the movie following you around like a lost puppy. In real life, you’re better off with a partner who compliments you, comforts you, and will also encourage you to do and be better. This person should love your quirks, but not to be afraid to call you on your B.S.
The best relationships are those where you’re encouraging each other to try new things while offering a safety net in case said new thing doesn’t work out so great. If they want to build you a telescope or write you 365 letters, perfect, but they should also help you come up with a plan to ask for a raise or decide how to handle a fight with your sister. That’s a much more realistic and useful kind of love.