Love is a Many Splendored Thing

Or is it?

Christina Sng
Feb 20 · 9 min read

“The sun always shines on TV.” ~a-ha

Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) with Angel (David Boreanaz) and Spike (James Marsters). Credit: Warner Bros.

Once upon a time, I thought so many of the relationships I watched on TV and in the movies were perfect, so romantic, so ideal. Now, I realize I was painfully wrong about most of them.

Poisonous, toxic relationships on film and television are often disguised as romantic, with such tropes as:

And of course, there are the blatant, outright horrors where the victims are blamed for their abusers’ actions:

Let’s examine some of the bad and ugly examples of what love shouldn’t look like before we circle back to what good relationships should be like and let me show you some examples from film and TV shows I love.

Please note: there will be spoilers.


1. Clearly the Monster: Gossip Girl and Fifty Shades of Grey

Many are blatantly wrong to start with, like Blair (Leighton Meester) and Chuck (Ed Westwick) from the hit TV series Gossip Girl.

How could she end up with that abusive monster, writers? She would have been great with Dan (Penn Badgley) where their relationship was based on friendship, shared laughter, and mutual respect, but that wouldn’t have tied up the story as nicely.

In the same vein, Christian (Jamie Dornan) treated Ana (Dakota Johnson) as his property in Fifty Shades of Grey. Why did she stay?

Credit: CW

2. Old Men and Their Teens: Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Buffy, and Angel

All these vampires and their teen infatuations. Yes, Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) from Twilight, Elena (Nina Dobrev) with Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) in The Vampire Diaries, Buffy with Angel and Spike in Buffy and Angel, and so many more.

Many people cringe when they see an 80-year-old man together with a 16-year-old. In fact, in some parts of the world, this is illegal! Yet, we celebrate these vampires (usually male) with over 150 years of life experience falling in love with a 16-year-old child?

No matter how emotionally stunted they are, this isn’t love. This is desire, passion, and possession. Inappropriate, no matter what culture or country you are from.

Honorable mention: Aria (Lucy Hale) and Ezra (Ian Harding) in Pretty Little Liars. He was her teacher!

3. Familial Relations: Clueless

I loved Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Josh (Paul Rudd) from Clueless. They were cute, respectful, and fun together.

But let’s be honest, there was always a tinge of discomfort there. They grew up as step-siblings and that familial bond can’t be forgotten.

Look at the photo below. How do you feel?

Credit: Paramount Pictures

4. Changing Yourself Completely for Another: Grease vs Grease 2

Come on, Sandy (Olivia Newton John). You were perfect as you were, yet you changed completely for Danny (John Travolta) in Grease, who by the way, sexually assaulted you at the drive-in.

No, forcing a woman to be intimate is not cool, nor is objectifying her with your friends, not even in the 1950s, and Sandy, nor is changing yourself completely to get a guy who never respected you in the first place.

On the other hand, Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) in Grease 2 had great respect for Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer). You could see in his eyes how he idolized her even when he was helping her with Hamlet. He never grabbed or groped her, and always let her take the lead.

On top of that, he learned to put together a motorbike, then learned how to ride it along with some really awesome stunts just to impress her as the Cool Rider. She fell in love with that guy AND the real him and got them both in the end.

He enhanced himself as a Cool Rider to try and get her but he didn’t change who he was. He was still the brilliant Michael Carrington who played the piano for the talent show, ran, and knows a few big words to impress English teachers. He was like Superman (Easter egg in the chemistry lab).

5. Misogyny to a Partner: Clueless, Buffy, and so many shows

You know the guy. He constantly puts down the woman he is dating and expects her to adore him back. Why do we women put up with this? Is it because the media has normalized it?

Here’s an example from a seemingly innocuous teen movie: Clueless.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Murray (Donald Faison) in Clueless was honestly awful, worse because it seemed like there were happy and sweet moments too. He called his girlfriend Dionne (Stacey Dash) “woman” in a possessive, derogatory tone and complained whenever she stood up for herself. Cher was right when she said Dionne could do much better.

Spike and Riley (Marc Blucas) in Buffy. Both were jealous and insecure and often took it out on Buffy. Riley was nasty and unsupportive to Buffy when Joyce (Kristine Sutherland) died. The bathroom scene where Spike tried to rape Buffy negated any good feelings I ever had for him. Angel did the smart and respectable thing by leaving her to live her life as a teenager.

This ties in with my next point.

6. He Treats Her Badly Because He Can’t Cope With Not Having Her: Love Actually and so many shows

I can’t tell you how many times I fell for this trope till now.

“He is mean to you because he likes you,” people say.

NO, he is mean to me because he is mean.”

This trope trains our girls to accept mistreatment by men because “they like us” and tells them “being liked by a man” is all that is important in life… which it is not.

Here are five examples from much-loved movies:

Credit: Universal

1. We’re looking at you, Mark (Andrew Lincoln) from Love Actually who was awfully (excuse the pun) mean to his best friend’s wife Juliet (Keira Knightley) till that terrible reveal that he was in love with her all along.

2. Steff (James Spader long before The Blacklist) from Pretty in Pink who liked Andie (Molly Ringwald) but treated her like crap. Luckily, she was too smart to go for him.

More disappointingly, her best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer), who really should have known better, also turned to mean when rejected by her. He felt entitled to her and felt righteous enough to take it out on her when really, it had nothing to do with him. That is not love. That is entitlement.

In this unholy trio of men, Blane (Andrew McCarthy), who was peer pressured into dumping her because she wasn’t rich, was the least terrible choice because he came to his senses in the end. And she actually liked him romantically.

3. Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) in the Harry Potter movie series. Rewatch and note how many times he put her down. Yet, in the end, they were together. Even author JK Rowling regrets this pairing.

4. Snape (Alan Rickman) in Harry Potter was obsessed with Harry’s mother Lily (Geraldine Somerville). Obsession is not love. It did not excuse how he treated her in the end and how he treated Harry throughout his time in Hogwarts.

5. As much as I loved Mal (Nathan Fillion) in the TV series Firefly and its movie Serenity, he insulted his traveling companion and love interest Inara (Morena Baccarin) constantly because he had no courage to be with her. Yet she stayed on the ship!


On that note, let’s move on to what are good examples of healthy, happy relationships on TV and Film. Put your feet up and have a cup of tea because we are going to start smiling from here on.

Credit: CBS

1. Marshall and Lily, “How I Met Your Mother”

In the TV series How I Met Your Mother, Marshall (Jason Segel) and Lily (Alyson Hannigan) laughed together, they respected each other, they only had eyes for each other. They supported each other and they lifted each other up. They connected with their own language and private jokes. It is pure joy watching them interact with each other and within their group.

2. Zoe and Wash, “Firefly” and “Serenity”

In both Firefly and Serenity, married couple Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) frequently joked with each other, respected each other’s quirks and differences (they were very different!), and clearly loved each other very much. Actions demonstrated this, not words.

3. Buffy and Angel, “Buffy” and “Angel”

There was a smoldering passion between these two that was undeniable and it carried through the entirety of both series. Angel did the best thing for her because he loved her and that was why he left. He demonstrated true love for her as he knew she deserved better. She deserved a full life.

4. Mr. Bates and Anna, “Downton Abbey”

Mr. Bates (Brendon Coyle) and Anna (Joanne Froggat) in the British TV series Downton Abbey demonstrate what love truly is. Borne of mutual respect and friendship, they fell in love and continued to treat each other with kindness, compassion, and tenderness through the incredible hardships that would follow.

5. Glenn and Maggie, “The Walking Dead”

Despite the huge cast in the popular TV show The Walking Dead, we always saw deep respect and gentleness between married couple Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun). They did what was best for the other person and it shone through in the show. They were our favorite couple and with good reason.

Credit: Gene Page, AMC.

Because we are still taking life lessons from TV and film and Psychology Today (I know I am!), we can surmise that a happy and healthy love relationship consists of:

1. Mutual Respect

There is mutual respect in every way. Your partner respects your wishes when you say no and vice versa. You respect each other’s beliefs and fears. You admire each other as individuals.

2. Celebrating Each Other

There is an appreciation and celebration of what you each love to do. You give each other time and space to explore and pursue them. You do not inhibit these pursuits nor do you compete. You support each other wholly as partners, not co-dependents.

3. Compassion and empathy

You are both there for each other during good times and bad, there for each other when you’re in pain, there to celebrate each other’s wins and losses. Even if you do not understand, you are present with them with kindness and compassion in your heart for them.

4. Loving the Whole Person

You love ALL of each other. Not just how they look in your eyes, but how they really are.

5. Shared Laughter

You laugh together and joke together. Laughter truly makes the world go round and what is better than having a partner who shares this with you.

6. Loyalty and Faithfulness

You are both faithful and loyal to each other, and place that above everything else. You do not lie to each other.

7. The Willingness to Sacrifice for Each Other

I think the title says it all.

More essential qualities of a good relationship can be found at Psychology Today and Life Hack.

Brendan Coyle as Mr. Bates and Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates. Credit: Nick Briggs — Carnival Films/PBS

What can I conclude from all this?

True love is still a very much splendored thing when you do find it, even if it is on film and television.


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Christina Sng

Written by

Poet, artist, essayist, animal activist, mama | Author of Bram Stoker Award winner A Collection of Nightmares |



A home for conversations about all things cinema.

Christina Sng

Written by

Poet, artist, essayist, animal activist, mama | Author of Bram Stoker Award winner A Collection of Nightmares |



A home for conversations about all things cinema.

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