You’d think that after the numerous relationships and struggles people of our generation have encountered that we’d have a better understanding of how to love, and yet we continue to fail time and time again.
It’s easy to think of that as an exaggeration, but there’s truth behind it. In marriage, we promise “till death do us part,” yet the average length of one in the U.S. is a little over eight years. We’ve become so content in this world of heartbreak that we claim a national divorce rate of 41% to be low. So, why are we so bad at love?
I’m not suggesting that I have the answers on how to find success in love; I’m the last person to do that. But I do believe that expectations play a large part in our failed relationships, and we should be directing blame toward our perceptions created by media.
Instagram feeds are filled with edited pictures of “perfect” couples, and it’s impossible to avoid TikTok videos of partners joyously dancing. Social media is oversaturated with picturesque couples and perfect moments, leaving us expecting the same. And we should! We deserve to find someone who will cherish and make those perfect, movie-like memories with us. The issue, however, is that we hyper-fixate on those Instagram moments and often forget that our lives aren’t movies, or rather that movies aren’t real life.
We must remind ourselves that movies are fictional, and they often get it wrong when it comes to love. As heart-melting as it is in the film “Jerry Maguire” when Jerry professes that Dorothy completes him, the concept is truly “toxic,” as holistic health coach Josie Santi puts it. You can’t be dependent on someone else to make your life feel fulfilled. Santi describes how this dependency on your partner can lead to “insecurit(ies) and controlling behavior.” A relationship built upon that fragile nature is bound to crumble. When you instead see love as a bonus to an already happy and complete life, you and your partner are faced with less pressure and fewer expectations.
It’s strange how film and media put so much pressure on relationships that upon first glance may seem romantic but are riddled with toxicity. Another example of this is the idea of a soulmate; millions of people believe in this mesmerizing concept of partners being made for the purpose of loving each other. What could be more romantic than loving someone perfect for you? In a 2011 poll, 73% of Americans claimed to believe in soulmates. So many of us are simply searching to find our perfect partner, and admittedly I am one of them.
But psychological research suggests the idea of a soulmate may be more destructive than good. Social psychology researcher C. Raymond Knee compared the success of relationships based on whether people believed in soulmates or making things work. Knee found that the people with soulmate-focused beliefs were more likely to break up than those who believed in making things work. As much as I believe in soulmates, the reasoning against it speaks for itself. When we adopt the mindset that there’s only one perfect partner for us, we’re more likely to judge our significant other on “what they aren’t rather than what they are,” as Santi describes. We categorize any issue as a reason why our partner isn’t perfect, and we think that our soulmate would be better and less flawed.
We’re expecting perfection from imperfect beings. We pressure our partners and relationships by creating unrealistic expectations. Perhaps part of the issue is that we’re too quick to label someone as our soulmate without considering all of the work we have to do after finding that person.
One of the few films that have addressed this disparity between our expectations and reality of relationships is “500 Days of Summer.” While there are so many quotes to highlight, one that stands out is from the protagonist’s sister, Rachel Hansen. Early on she tells her brother, “Just ’cause some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap you do, that doesn’t make her your soulmate.” As obvious as Rachel puts it, why do so many of us make the same mistake? We have the right to want someone perfectly compatible with us, but we need to be less eager to label anyone as our soulmate just because they also listen to Taylor Swift or have the same hobby. We’re too often impatient, not knowing what we want. We think love should be fast and effortless because we constantly see it happening with ease on social media or in films.
One of my biggest gripes with movies is that they make falling in love seem too easy. The right person may be easy to love, but we constantly consume films where characters manipulate each other or rarely communicate their feelings. Regardless of the obstacles, or this behavior, they get their idyllic happy endings. We convince ourselves that love should be like that. But what happens to the characters after the credits roll?
The intrinsic and beautiful feeling that we long for goes beyond physical attraction or the initial sparks and butterflies. It goes beyond the screaming in our pillows out of joy. Love goes beyond the happily-ever-after, because love is a never-ending process.
The issue with happy endings is that after watching them, we tend to underestimate the effort that goes into real, lasting relationships. As essential as it is for two people to fall for each other, clinical psychologists John and Julie Gottman claim in their book “Eight Dates” that “the big secret to creating a love that lasts and grows over time is simple. Make dedicated, non-negotiable time for each other a priority.” As romantic and astronomically small the chances are of finding your soulmate, love isn’t by chance — it’s by choice. It’s the active choice to love another and to put in the effort to do so. Clinical psychology professor Elizabeth Kane believes that “to be romantic is to make a choice to wake up each day and ask yourself what you can do today to let your love know they are adored.”
The necessities for love are rather simple: People who have feelings for each other, and constant effort. With that being said, love fails instantly when just one aspect is missing. No matter how many playlists you make, no matter how you arrange the songs to remind your partner that they’re beautiful, no matter how much you try, if feelings are lost or efforts aren’t constant, the relationship is bound to end, and it’s not your fault but just the nature of the relationship.
We’ve convinced ourselves that everything is either wrapped up in a bow or that love has to dramatically end because of someone’s mistakes. The truth is that sometimes things just don’t work out. We can’t just pick someone to be our one true love. Sometimes, we don’t get our perfect movie ending, or at least not with them. But no matter how often we fail at love, we have to keep trying. In the end, what else do we have in this world but to love and be loved? The credits roll and love continues.
Nazim Ali is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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