Every young girl knew she’d end up dating the captain of the football team. We sighed and giggled. We had board games dedicated to the perfect outfit. At six, we wanted to be astronauts and pop stars. Adolescence was hard as we learned to accept that our dreams were on a dead connection to reality.
A sick part of our psyche must have stowed away the narrative fantasy, because we still dream: the 180 LSAT and cute frat boy who calls. Urban legends, right? Still, there’s something pervasive about hope. Who’s to blame for that?
Well, parents, friends and ourselves. But the media doesn’t get off easy on this one. Hollywood has taught us that being a princess with a pencil-thin waist should be a girl’s ultimate goal. Even if you’ve gotten over the Cinderella complex (and by age 18, I’d certainly hope so), the idea persists that marriage and a family are integral parts of life.
That’s because affluent American women today are promised everything. It’s possible, they say, to have a functional domestic life and a high-powered job with extra time to vacation in Aruba and your Tuscan villa. “Saved by the Bell” may have taught us that high school is a wacky dating game, but the entire media culture has pushed us toward post-feminist perfection. Men may have gone from gods of the universe to convenient accessories, but don’t believe for a minute that you can walk down the street without one.
If you missed the memo, check out any romantic comedy. You’re the beautiful, successful, mildly neurotic girl with wonderful friends and a fabulous apartment. Your life is great. It’s not until you meet your soulmate – the ruggedly handsome cad (Matthew McConaughey, probably) who pines for you – that you realize how empty your life was before. Even “Sex and the City,” after years of pushing female autonomy and sexual independence, chose the Disney wrap-up.
A friend of mine recently embarked on a relationship with someone she’d known since her first day of college: the guy who’d been there through all the bad-news boys and breakups, who’d stalwartly stood behind her through all the tough decisions and hopeless moments. And the first thing people say? Oh, I’m so glad you’re in a healthy relationship, I’m glad you’re happy? No.
“Oooh, it’s just like a movie.”
We don’t believe it; we’re too smart to honestly believe movies and the media are an acceptable mirror of reality. The rise of tabloid journalism has helped: flickering shadows of dolled-up celebrities may live happily ever after – but real ones don’t. In fact, brief celebrity marriage is one of our culture’s fondest jokes. Take Brad & Jen. The golden couple comically fused into the explosively well-inked Brangelina and, ahem, Vaughniston (Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, for those not up to date). It’s far more entertaining than tragic.
Witness the funniest fairy tale gone wrong in Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Just weeks after the birth of their little prince, the K-Fed is rumored to be busier partying than parenting. Britney’s in a hormonal rage, and Kevin’s reaction is to release an abysmal rap single. I’ve got the fairy tales burned into my cortex; I’m pretty sure the talentless prince never rode the fair maiden’s coattails.
So what happened to these purveyors of deceit that made them buy their own lies? Despite VH1’s assertion that celebrities can shoot laser beams from their eyes, the probable truth is that they’re human. They grew up in the same culture, complete with the same drive to sum up life in a coherent storybook.
We mock them, but we bought into it too. “Lies,” we may whisper at rom-coms and insipid pop songs, but we hope we’re wrong. Life would be easier as a movie – the witty banter, the token best friend, the endless mugs of gingerbread latte. But we’re brilliant, and we know better. Twenty-first century women shouldn’t cling to life goals that went out with feudalism. So we build new ones. We study for our LSATs, scour the Tuscan hills and wait by the phone for our football player.
Amanda wants to organize a Mall Madness slumber party. Join her by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.