Breaking Up? Blame the Chick Flicks!

By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

My 20-year-old daughter tells me she thinks the reason so many young relationships fail is because of the “chick flicks.” You know: Those movies where the focus is entirely on the heady romance between a man and a woman for whom each other is the entire universe. She – and he – swoons over the other. Any blip in their relationship consumes their time and attention. He proves his love by doing anything to win her back. She proves her love by giving him another chance. Both are crazy in love.

A wise teacher of mine once said that the crazier in love a couple is, the more inappropriate the partners. He said that to love someone who makes you crazy is temporary insanity! I’m sure it’s not always the case but there is at least some truth to it. Romances that are a rollercoaster ride of falling head over heels, betraying or being betrayed, falling out, falling in again, and constant drama, drama, drama are relationships that are bound to fail. And yet – they do make the kind of story that makes a movie.

It’s hard to bring the high drama and romantic sentimentality of a chick flick home. Regular life with a regular guy is rarely as exciting as a wild fling in an exotic place with a totally inappropriate man who then dumps you only to return on his knees, begging for forgiveness. Sigh. Regular guys and gals who just might make a regular stable relationship are like Scouts: loyal, trustworthy, honest, helpful – and sometimes even a little boring.

Romances that have lots of promise are usually romances that evolve more gradually. The couple starts out as friends, or maybe as friends of mutual friends. They run into each other now and then. They hang out with the gang. They go for coffee and find they have more in common than they thought. They might go out. They find out they aren’t quite the fit they thought. They back up and go back to being friends. Over time, they realize the differences aren’t as important as they once thought and they come to be comfortable with each other. One day they realize they are more at ease with each other than with anyone else. They talk out their differences. They get together, this time for good. Once the commitment is made, neither would think of cheating. Neither one lies, yells, belittles, bullies, or throws dishes. As a movie, a plot like this would be a real snoozer. As the basis for love that will last, it’s a winner.

So why is it that so many young women throw off these promising relationships? Back to my daughter’s theory: The current generation has been brought up on Friends and Sex in the City. They have watched Say Anything, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, My Life in Ruins, and Twilight. TV sitcoms and movies promote the drama of searching for true and exciting love. They tap into our most basic, and primitive desire: to be someone’s everything. They seldom portray comfortable love with long days of simply going about the business of real life and being okay with being an important part of someone’s life, not all of it. Ordinary OKness doesn’t engage an audience.

Compounding the problem is the lack of role models for settled love. With a divorce rate hovering at 50 percent and with 40 percent of American mothers being single because they never married the child’s father, almost half of the 20- and 30-somethings of today are likely to have grown up in households with parents who were either searching for love or who had given up on it. Lacking models for stable relationships, they turn to the media. They come away believing something is wrong if sparks aren’t flying and violins aren’t playing. The result? When things get a little comfortable, even a little boring, they go searching again for the excitement of the pursuit and the intensity of romance. One of them cheats; the other finds out; they go through the angst of trying to re-establish trust; they cry to their friends; they fight; they make up; they fight again – and the relationship eventually falls apart. The drama is back but what could have been a perfectly good and lasting relationship got lost in the process.

If we got to see the relationships in chick flicks a year later, it would certainly be interesting. My guess is that the couples that thrived on intensity and drama, not stability and loyalty, would have fallen apart shortly after the credits finished rolling. But the rest of the couples would have settled into normal, everyday life; life that includes juggling time, divvying up chores, figuring out money, accepting each other when they don’t have their stage makeup on and taking each other for granted in that healthy, comfortable way that says “we’re together and we don’t have to constantly prove it anymore.”

I think my daughter has it right. Enjoy the emotional catharsis of the chick flick if you must. There’s nothing like a dose of fantasy and a good cry for entertainment value. But if you’re looking for lasting love, leave the romantic drama at the movies.

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APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2009). Breaking Up? Blame the Chick Flicks!. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/breaking-up-blame-the-chick-flicks/0002511
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    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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