All We Need is Love (And a Little Elbow Grease)
Romantic comedies are especially guilty in this regard, to the point where it's become a predictable trope. How many of them revolve around a man or a woman winning the affections of another already involved in an active relationship? We, as the audience, are supposed to cheer for the outsider in their efforts to disrupt an already existing couple so the outsider is able to fulfill their essentially selfish desires at the expense of another's. Sure, usually one half of the couple in the relationship triangle is portrayed as undeserving to make things easier, but the dynamic remains. I would never feel comfortable in a relationship where I essentially wooed someone out of another set of arms and into my own. After all, if I can do it to them, it stands to reason that someone can (and given the precedent already set, probably will) do it to me. The fear of this love and loss is written all over our reality shows, where beautiful people compete with other beautiful people to sway their affections away from the beautiful people who are waiting patiently in the wings. "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" print money year after year based upon this premise, and the public eats it up. Who will they pick? Will it be impossibly handsome doctor number three, or the built-like-a brick-sh*thouse pilot number seven? "I feel such a connection with him/her. I really think we could spend our lives together." Really? Based on your ten minute long moment by the pool while you were both in bathing suits and an entire production crew was milling about? You're sure it wasn't just the short lived promise of joy provided by whatever happens to be under those suits? There's always going to be someone prettier, more handsome, funnier or more engaging than whomever you're currently with. We may be able to win that contest once and secure a temporary victory, but time and sheer statistics are not on our side in that battle.
There are, to my mind, positive examples of functioning, healthy relationships that we can draw from in media as well. Hank and Marie on "Breaking Bad" spring to mind. Both characters are deeply, and disruptively flawed. Hank is driven by his need for recognition and success, without which he finds himself casting about for purpose and meaning. ("They're minerals Marie!") For her part, Marie is also more nutty than not. She's nosy, overbearing and has a predilection for the five fingered discount. Both characters have provided enough ammunition for the other should either decide that they've had enough. Yet, they endure. They stand together, in the face of their troubles and the moments where they undoubtedly are feeling something other than starry eyed affection for each other. You think anybody on "Grey's Anatomy" would have stuck with McDreamy if he'd had to crap in a bedpan, couldn't leave his house and started ordering
rocks minerals off of the internet? Fat chance.
Peter and Olivia on "Fringe" also had a functioning relationship that seemed to be threaded with a healthier dose of reality than we're used to getting in our fiction. Their dynamic was one of give and take, with the other always picking up the slack when either faltered. Peter was impulsive and headstrong. Olivia was emotionally wooden and stilted. Peter drew her feelings out into the open through coaxing and comforting and Olivia provided the anchor that he so desperately needed. They weren't incomplete people without the other, but their individual strengths made the other a better person. It looked like work, but then most real relationships are.
Truthful depictions of love look more like work than we're comfortable with. It should be easy right? If it's meant to be, everything will just fall into place! No healthy relationships can survive without putting in the hours. Hank and Marie did the work, and god help them, they're the healthiest people in their family. (Besides maybe Walt Jr.) The key thing to remember though is that the work pays off. Surviving a storm together and coming out the other side provides a cornerstone you can build on rather than the smoke and mirrors that is infatuation. Real love is building something better for the future. Love isn't a state of constantly feeling like you're falling or dizzy when they're around, it's sticking around when you don't feel like it, until the feelings come back. Love is being willing to fall in (and possibly out of) love over and over again, not falling in love and then bolting the moment a shinier model comes along. With the examples we are given in the media we consume, it's no wonder that our societal expectations have begun to stray from the realities in our lives. Maybe it's time we start to try and tell some more realistic stories.